The Concept of History in Literary Criticism

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.3, 2019


The Concept of History in Literary Criticism



Nan Fan


The concept of history (lishi) in literary criticism has acquired a variety of meanings from ancient times to the present. The word not only describes the social realities of a given time found in a literary text, but also refers to the social and cultural context in which that literature originated and was disseminated over the course of humankind’s self-development. Once literature was separated from history, history evolved into an axial concept in literary criticism, forming a strong school of socio-historical criticism. Whether moral or aesthetic, or revolving around the unconscious or the formal, the axial concept of history is indispensable. The stress placed by Marxist literary criticism on aesthetics and history is highly significant. History exerted an inherent influence on the critical schools of psychoanalysis and formalism. The sememe of literary discourse is “life,” while that of historical discourse is “society”; the typical features of each constitute an important transitional mechanism between the two. Although literary and historical discourses complement each other, at times literary discourse may deviate from and even challenge historical discourse.