102(I didn't count) Indispensable(??) Works of Literary Criticism

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all content © A.E.M. Baumann

A Literary Criticism Library
– first run at the list, Mar. 7, 2016
– added a four or five left out since first posting, Apr. 2, 2016

Recently there was offered on Literary Hub by Jonathan Russell Clark a list of "102 Indispensable Works of Literary Criticism." It is, unfortunately for those who might read it, a more than questionable list, as not that much of it would fall under what one might consider literary criticism and the vast majority of it would not be considered scholarly. It is more, as a friend pointed out, a list of books of essays – and pop crit essays at that. As for the idea of "indispensable," the claim is patently absurd. Most of the texts offered are actually quite dispensible as regards the study of literature; indeed, most of them are probably interchangeable. Beyond even that, the presence of such as Stephen King, and far far more indicting, Stephen Pinker, reveals the list as so indiscriminatory and uncritically selected the idea of calling anything on the list "indispensable" becomes whole ungrounded: to wit, a list by the boy who cried "indispensable."

But, there is an inherent absurdity to the phrase "indispensable works of literary criticism" for the field of literary criticism – leaving out the massive body of pop criticism – is too broad for the term. Indepensible to what? Indispensable to a broad knowledge of the field? Indispensable to one particular field of study? To give a simple example, most of the works that might be considered "indispensable" to Marxist criticism will probably have little value within someone who, like myself, studies literature not as a social artefact but as an aesthetic object, and, if to a lesser degree, vice versa: the two fields may overlap but not by much, and mostly within the general.

So, finding the list laughable, prompted by half-in-just, across the globe prompt on Facebook, I've decided to once again try my hand at such a list.

I have started such lists before for fun, at times for personal use, but they have always failed because I have been too discriminatory, too focused, trying to create a list of "the best of the best" or "the most valuable" when such a list is really impossible. This time, again prompted by suggestion, I will instead create not a list of the "indispensable," which is absurd, but a list of "some of the most valuable"; not one that attempts to distill the whole of criticism and theory, but but a more personal list of works that I consider to have high value for anyone who might seriously pursue the study of literature. As said, my own study of literature has always been focused upon literature as an aesthetic object (which includes the pursuit of the writing of literature as an aesthetic object), and the list below will reflect that. Though, in no way are the works below limited by that personal focus.

As well, while the majority of the list below would fall safely within the idea of "literary criticism and theory" I will make no effort to limit myself thereto. As such, the list includes works that fall under philosophy, art and art criticism, mythological theory, social theory, queer theory, and even psychology. (To note, presently the inclusions from those fields will be short as many of my books I own in those fields are currently in boxes; thus, I lack prompts. If music seems missing, my readings in music have been too scattershot or too focused upon particular works to include here.) What is common to every book, however, is that I have found each of them, even when I did not wholly agree with their conclusions, as having high value toward prompting thought and exploration and toward the development of sophistication within the discourse of literature in general and the literary work as an aesthetic and symbolic object in particular. While the books below may not be found in the literature section in a library, they are all still very much part of the discourse of literary criticism.

The vast majority of the works below I own or have a great familiarity therewith. Most I have read through, some multiple times. Those I have not read through I have yet used well enough or often enough as resource. There are a couple that I own (or are familiar with) but have never read or know only casually, but still consider of high merit based on how they are appraised in other criticism. (They are marked by a †.) I will not list every book by any thinker, only those that I myself have found exceptionally fruitful. That a book is absent though its author is named means nothing. Of course, there are some major writers that can simply be generally recommended. Rather than making an overly long list of their works I will limit myself to but a few, an offering in the nature of recommendations to someone new to the writer.

Not all of these works do I agree with in their base assumptions; and, you will find works here that speak against each other. The point is not the conclusions of any specific book but the value of the book in creating positive and strong energies within the discourse of literature and the aesthetic. One of the difficulties of such lists such as this lies in the issue of what is implied – if accidentally – by books being not present on the list: the question always lingers whether they are absent because the list-maker was not familiar enough with them to include them or whether they are intentionally left off as not making the cut. To help with that I will include at the end a very short of list of works that are well known within lit crit and lit theory yet which I consider of detrimental value to newcomers, either because the arguments within are so fallacious that they will mostly harm discourse, not promote it, or because the value I found in the book lay primarily in taking arms against its arguments. Such books may have value to someone who is already grounded within the discourse of literary criticism, for whom the books can serve as counter ideas to be explored, but would create false and fallacious ideas within the thought of persons not grounded enough to be able to see the fallacies within the arguments. (A perfect example is Stephen Knapp's and Walter Benn Michaels's "Against Theory": an essay which may have caught a lot of popularity in the American pragmatist backlash – or should I say flailing – against continental theory, but whose arguments fall apart under any serious scrutiny.) That said, it should also be understood that no single work in this list should be used on its own: the value of the works below lie in their generating energies within the broader discourse. While there are some books in the list that I consider seminal, grounding (though I will not point out which), in truth every book below should be read against every other: the discourse of any subject is always what lies between. Thus the halmark of great literary criticism, as F.R. Leavis puts it in English Literature in our Time and the University:

And actually when one is engaged in analysis one is engaged in discussion, even if only implicitly. That is a point I made in saying that a judgment has the form, 'This is so, isn't it?'


Some comments on method:

Books that are commentary on books listed will follow that primary book. Though, it should be noted, such books are included not solely because they are commentary on a highly valuable work but because they themselves offer sufficient discursive energies to be included in the list. This, outside of large anthologies, will be my only break from an alphabetical listing. I will generally refrain from works that are too directly about any one literary writer or writers, and include those below because they speak also to broader subjects. I will not divide the list into topic categories at all. Not all of the works below might be considered major works of criticism or theory: again, the inclusion of any book is not because of its recognition value, but wholly because I found it personally very valuable (or consider it very valuable) within and toward the explorations, thought, and discourse of my own studies in literature. In short, in silly encapsulation, every work below I might offer to someone with the phrase: "I found this really interesting."

In the future, I would like to add essays such as what is found in anthologies (which, in truth, should be included in such a list). Also honorable mentions: books that were not that valuable to me particularly but are nonetheless obviously worthy of inclusion in such a list.


Anthologies – a short list of major anthologies; subject or event oriented anthologies are in the primary list


  • Chipp, Herschel B., and Peter Selz. Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics
  • Ellmann, Richard, and Charles Fedelson, Jr. The Modern Tradition: Backgrounds of Modern Literature
  • Kaplan, Charles, and William Anderson. Criticism: Major Statements
  • Morris, Weitz. Problems in Aesthetics: An Introductory Book of Readings
  • Richter, David H. The Cultural Tradition



Primary List


  • Abrams, M.H. The Mirror and the Lamp
  • Adams, Hazard. Philosophy of Literary Symbolic
  • Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays
  • Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis
  • Austin, J.L. How to Do Things with Words
  • Bakhtin, Mikhail. (I put his name here though my readings in him and on him have been scattered. Two books worth mentioning are Bakhtinian Thought by Simon Dentith. and The Bakhtinian Reader: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, and Volosinov edited by Pam Morris.)
  • Bal, Mieke. Narratology
  • Baker, David. Meter in English: A Critical Engagement
  • Barfield, Owen. Poetic Diction
  • Barthes, Roland. (generally) Criticism and Truth
  • - - - -. Image, Music, Text
  • - - - -. S/Z
  • - - - -. The Pleasure of the Text
  • - - - -. Lover's Discourse
  • Bataille, George. The Abscence of Myth, Erotism
  • Baudelaire, Charles-Pierre. (I have read his essays and such everywhere, so to pick a collection) Selected Writings on Art and Literature
  • Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations
  • Benveniste, Emil. Problems in General Linguistics
  • Berger, John. Ways of Seeing
  • Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy
  • Berlin, Isaiah. Against the Current
  • Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture
  • Bloom, Harold. Anxiety of Influence
  • - - - -. Agon
  • Bocala, Sandro. The Art of Modernism
  • Bodkin, Maud. Archetypal Patterns in Poetry
  • Bois, Yves-Alain, and Rosalind E. Krauss. Formless: A User's Guide
  • Booth, Wayne C. Rhetoric of Fiction
  • Bradbury, Malcolm, and James McFarlane, eds. Modernism: A Guide to European Literature, 1890-1930
  • Breslin, James E.B. From Modern to Contemporary: American Poetry, 1945-1965
  • Brooks, Cleanth. The Well-Wrought Urn
  • Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot
  • Brower, Reuben A., ed. On Translation
  • Bruno, Giordano. (generally) Cause, Principle, and Unity
  • Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
  • Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble
  • Campbell, Joseph. (generally; I'll pick one that is overtly literature oriented) Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce
  • Cassirer, Ernst. Language and Myth
  • - - - -. The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy
  • - - - -. Philsophy of Symbolic Forms (4 vols.)
  • Chatman, Seymour. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film
  • - - - -, ed. Literary Style: A Symposium
  • Chomsky, Noam. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax
  • Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria
  •      — Barfield, Owen. What Coleridge Thought
  •      — Barth, J. Robert. The Symbolic Imagination
  •      — Wheeler, Kathleen. Sources, Processes and Methods in
    Biographia Literaria
  • - - - -. Coleridge on Shakespeare
  • Couliano, Ioan P. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance
  • Croce, Benedetto. Guide to Aesthetics
  • Danto, Arthur C. The Abuse of Beauty
  • - - - -. After the End of Art
  • Delaney, Samuel. The Jewel-Hinged Jaw
  • - - - -. Starboard Wine
  • Delueze, Gilles. Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty
  • - - - -. Difference and Repetition
  • - - - -. Logic and Sense
  • De Man, Paul. Blindness and Insight
  • - - - -. Allegories of Reading
  • Derrida, Jacques. (generally) Of Grammatology
  • - - - -. Margins of Philosophy
  • - - - -. Writing and Difference
  • - - - -. Speech and Phenomena
  • De Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General Linguistics
  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction
  • - - - -. The Ideology of the Aesthetic
  • Eco, Umberto. A Theory of Semiotics
  • - - - -. The Limits of Interpretation
  • - - - -. The Role of the Reader
  • - - - -. The Open Work
  • Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane
  • - - - -. Images and Symbols
  • Eliot, T.S. (generally) The Use of Poetry
  • - - - -. The Sacred Wood
  • - - - -. On Poetry and Poets
  • - - - -. The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry
  • - - - -. Selected Prose of
  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays
  • Erlich, Victor. Russian Formalism: History - Doctrine
  • Empson, William. Seven Types of Ambiguity
  • Fletcher, Angus. Allegory (to note, Fletcher considered Edwin Honig's Dark Conceit as the single, primary work on allegory prior to his own work, though I have not read it)
  • Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality: Volume 1
  • - - - -. The Archaeology of Knowledge
  • Ford, Ford Maddox. Thus to Revisit
  • Frank, Joseph. The Idea of Spatial Form
  • Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams
  • Fried, Micheal. Art and Objecthood
  • - - - -. Manet's Modernism: or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s
  • Frye, Northrop. The Well-Tempered Critic
  • - - - -. The Anatomy of Criticism
  • - - - -. Fearful Symmetry
  • Fussell, Paul. Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
  • Gass, William. On Being Blue
  • - - - -. Fiction and the Figures of Life
  • Gastor, Theodor H. Thespis: Ritual Myth and Drama in the Ancient Near East
  • Gaull, Marilyn. English Romanticism: The Human Context
  • Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse
  • - - - -. Narrative Discourse Revisited
  • Gilson, Etienne. The Arts of the Beautiful
  • Gombrich, E.H. Art and Illusion
  • Graffe, Gerald. Literature Against Itself
  • Hartmann, Geoffrey. Beyond Formalism
  • Hassan, Ihab. Paracriticisms
  • Hollander, John. Rhyme's Reason
  • Hughes, Ted. Winter Pollen
  • Hulme, T.E. Speculations
  • - - - -. Further Speculations
  • Ingarden, Roman. The Literary Work of Art
  • - - - -. The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art
  • Iragaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman
  • Iser, Wolfgang. The Art of Reading
  • Jakobson, Roman. On Language
  • Jameson, Frederic. The Political Unconscious
  • Jung, C.G. (generally; I have read quite a bit in Jung, especially his work with alchemy, and find it almost always useful toward the exploration of the aesthetic; I will, however, offer one work I have not read but which has been recommended as teaching material more than once) Man and his Symbols
  • Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in Art
  • Kermode, Frank. The Sense of an Ending
  • Kitto, H.D.F. Greek Tragedy
  • Klee, Paul. Paul Klee on Modern Art
  • Koslovsky, Pierre. Sade My Neighbor
  • Koslovsky, Pierre, and Maurice Blanchot. Decadence of the Nude
  • Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language
  • Leitch, Vincent B. Deconstructive Criticism
  • Leavis, F.R. (generally). New Bearings in English Poetry
  • - - - -. Revaluation
  • - - - -. English Literature in Our Time and the University
  • Lyotard, Jacques. The Postmodern Condition
  • Macksey, Richard, and Eugenio Donato, eds. The Structuralist Controversy
  • Maritain, Jacques. Art and Scholasticism and The Function of Poetry
  • Martin, Wallace. Recent Theories of Narrative
  • Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. German Ideology
  • Mauriac, Claude. The New Literature
  • May, Charles F. The Short Story
  • Messent, Peter. New Readings of the American Novel
  • Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics
  • Mitchell, W.J.T. Iconology
  • Monk, Samuel H. The Sublime
  • Neumann, Erich. The Origins and History of Consciousness
  • - - - -. Art and the Creative Unconscious
  • - - - -. Amor and Psyche
  • Nichols, Peter. Modernisms
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. (generally) The Birth of Tragedy
  • - - - -. Beyond Good and Evil
  • - - - -. The Gay Science
  • - - - -. Human, All Too Human
  • Norris, Christopher. Deconstruction: Theory and Practice
  • Ortega y Gasset, José. The Dehumanization of Art
  • Perloff, Marjorie. The Dance of the Intellect
  • - - - -. Wittgenstein's Ladder
  • Perkins, David, ed. A History of Modern Poetry (2 vols.)
  • Phelon, James. Narrative as Rhetoric
  • Pound, Ezra. (generally) Selected Prose: 1909-1965
  • - - - -. Literary Essays of
  • - - - -. The ABCs of Reading
  • Praz, Mario. The Romantic Agony
  • Propp, V. Morphology of the Folktale
  • Read, Herbert. Icon and Idea
  • Rank, Otto. Art and Artist
  • Rosenberg, Harold. Tradition of the New
  • Redfern, Walter. Puns and their Kin
  • Richards, I.A. Principles of Literary Criticism
  • Riffaterre, Micheal. Semiotics of Poetry
  • Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. Narrative Fiction/Contemporary Poetics
  • Rosenthal, M.L. The New Poets
  • - - - -. The Modern Poets
  • Rubin, William, ed. "'Primitivism' in 20th Century Art (2 vols.)
  • Seurrat, Denis, and Dorothy Bolton. Literature and the Occult Tradition
  • Said, Edward. Orientalism
  • Schneider, Rebecca. The Explicit Body in Perspective
  • Sebeok, Thomas A., ed. Myth: A Symposium
  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet
  • Shklovsky, Victor. Theory of Prose
  • Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation
  • Stead, C.K. The New Poetics
  • - - - -. Pound, Yeats, Eliot and the Modernist Movement
  • Stevens, Wallace. Necessary Angel
  • Surette, Leon. The Birth of the Modern
  • Todorov, Tzvetan. The Poetics of Prose
  • - - - -. Genres in Discourse
  • - - - -. The Fantastic
  • Valency, Maurice. The Making of Modern Drama series (4 vol.) (included perhaps more because it is a fabulous reference)
  • Valery, Paul. The Art of Poetry
  • Vernant, Jean-Pierre, and Pierre Vidal-Naquet. The Myth of Tragedy
  • Vendler, Helen. The Breaking of Style
  • Welleck, René, and Austin Warren. Theory of Literature
  • Whorf, Benjamin. Language, Thought, Reality
  • Williams, William Carlos. Imaginations
  • - - - -. Kora in Hell
  • - - - -. Selected Essays
  • Wilson, Edmund. Axel's Castle
  • Wheelwright, Philip. The Burning Fountain
  • Wittig, Monique. The Straight Mind
  • Worringer, Wilhelm. Abstraction and Empathy
  • Yeats, W.B. Essays and Introductions



The Off List
Books considered so fallacious or counter-productive to developing a sophisticated discourse they not merely absent but intentionally left off the list.


  • Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in this Class?
  • Foster, Hal. The Anti-Aesthetic
  • Gioia, Dana. Can Poetry Matter?
  • Knapp, Stephen, and Walter Benn Micheals. "Against Theory," in Against Theory, ed. W.J.T. Mitchell
  • Steele, Timothy. Missing Measures