Criticism & Truth: On Method in Literary Studies

Jonathan Kramnick
University of Chicago Press
December 2023

A defense and celebration of the discipline of literary studies and its most distinctive practice—close reading.

Does literary criticism offer truths about the world? In Criticism and Truth, Jonathan Kramnick offers a new and surprising account of criticism’s power by zeroing in on its singular method: close reading. Long recognized as the distinctive technique of literary studies, close reading is the critic’s way of pursuing arguments and advancing knowledge, as well as the primary skill taught in the English major. But it is also more than that—a creative, immersive, and transformative writing practice that fosters a unique kind of engagement with the world. Drawing on the rich and varied landscape of contemporary criticism, Kramnick changes how we think about the basic tools of literary analysis, including the art of in-text quotation, summary, and other reading methods, helping us to see them as an invaluable form of humanistic expertise. Criticism and Truth is a call to arms, making a powerful case for the necessity of both literature and criticism within a multidisciplinary university.

As the humanities fight for survival in contemporary higher education, the study of literature doesn’t need more plans for reform. Rather, it needs a defense of the work already being done and an account of why it should flourish. This is what Criticism and Truth offers, in vivid and portable form.