# 6 = Volume 2, Part 2 = July 1975
Towards an Aesthetic of Science Fiction
Is science fiction literature?
Can it be judged by the usual literary criteria?
Such a statement requires not only justification but considerable
elaboration. Written science fiction is, of course, literature, although science
fiction in other media (films, drama, perhaps even painting or sculpture) must
be judged by standards other than those applied to the written word.1
Concentrating on science fiction as literature, primarily as prose fiction, this
paper will attempt to indicate some of the limitations critics encounter in
trying to apply traditional literary criticism to science fiction. To be brief,
the access of academic interest in science fiction that has occurred during the
last few years has led to considerable difficulty. Not only do academic critics
find themselves imprisoned by habitual (and unreflecting) condescension in
dealing with this particular genre; quite often their critical tools, however
finely honed, are simply not applicable to a body of work that—despite its
superficial resemblance to realistic or naturalistic twentieth-century fiction—is
fundamentally a drastically different form of literary art.
Fine beginnings have been made in the typology of science fiction by Darko
Suvin2 of McGill University, who builds on the parameters prescribed
for the genre by the Polish writer and critic, Stanislas Lem.3 Samuel
Delany, a science-fiction writer and theorist, has dealt with the same matters
in a recent paper concerned largely with problems of definition.4
One very important point which emerges in the work of all three critics is
that standards of plausibility—as one may apply them to science fiction—must
be derived not only from the observation of life as it is or has been lived, but
also, rigorously and systematically, from science. And in this context
"science" must include disciplines ranging from mathematics (which is
formally empty) through the "hard" sciences (physics, astronomy,
chemistry) through the "soft" sciences (ethology, psychology,
sociology) all the way to disciplines which as yet exist only in the descriptive
or speculative stage (history, for example, or political theory).
Science fiction is not fantasy, for the standards of plausibility of fantasy
derive not from science, but from the observation of life as it is—inner life,
perhaps, in this case. Mistakes in scientific possibility do not turn science
fiction into fantasy. They are merely mistakes. Nor does the out-dating of
scientific theory transform the science fiction of the past into fantasy.5
Error-free science fiction is an ideal as impossible of achievement as the
nineteenth century ideal of an "objective," realistic novel. Not that
in either case the author can be excused for not trying; unreachability is,
after all, what ideals are for. But only God can know enough to write either
kind of book perfectly.
For the purposes of the aesthetics of science fiction, a remark of Professor
Suvin's made casually at the 1968 annual meeting of the Modern Language
Association seems to me extremely fruitful. Science fiction, said Suvin, is
"quasi-medieval." Professor Suvin has not elaborated on this insight,
as he seems at the moment more concerned with the nature of science fiction's
cognitive relation to what he calls the "zero world" of
"empirically verifiable properties around the author."6 To
me the phrase "quasi-medieval" suggests considerable insight,
particularly into the reasons why critical tools developed with an entirely
different literature in mind often do not work when applied to science fiction.
I should like to propose the following:
That science fiction, like much medieval literature, is didactic.
That despite superficial similarities to naturalistic (or other) modern
fiction, the protagonists of science fiction are always collective, never
individual persons (although individuals often appear as exemplary or
That science fiction's emphasis is always on phenomena—to the point
where reviewers and critics can commonly use such phrases as "the idea as
That science fiction is not only didactic, but very often awed, worshipful,
and religious in tone. Damon Knight's famous phrase for this is "the
sense of wonder."7 To substantiate this last, one needs only a
head-count of Messiahs in recent science fiction novels, the abrupt changes of
scale (either spatial or temporal) used to induce cosmic awe in such works as
Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, James Blish's Surface Tension,
stories like Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall" and "The Last
Question," Arthur C. Clarke's "Nine Billion Names of God," and
the change of tone at the end of Clarke's Childhood's End or Philip Josť
Farmer's story "Sail On! Sail On!" (The film 2001 is another
case in point.)
The emphasis on phenomena, often at the complete expense of human character,
needs no citation; it is apparent to anyone who has any acquaintance with the
field. Even in pulp science fiction populated by grim-jawed heroes, the human
protagonist, if not Everyman, is a glamorized version of Super-everyman. That
science fiction is didactic hardly needs proof, either. The pleasure science
fiction writers take in explaining physics, thirtieth-century jurisprudence, the
mechanics of teleportation, patent law, four-dimensional geometry, or whatever
happens to be on the tapis, lies open in any book that has not degenerated into
outright adventure story with science-fiction frills.8 Science
fiction even has its favorite piece of theology. Just as contemporary
psychoanalytic writers cannot seem to write anything without explaining the
Oedipus complex at least once, so science fiction writers dwell lovingly on the
time dilation consequent to travel at near light-speed. Science is to science
fiction (by analogy) what medieval Christianity was to deliberately didactic
I would like to propose that contemporary literary criticism (not having been
developed to handle such material) is not the ideal tool for dealing with
fiction that is explicitly, deliberately, and baldly didactic. (Modern
criticism appears to experience the same difficulty in handling the 18th century
contes philosophiques Professor Suvin cites as among the ancestors of
science fiction.) Certainly if one is to analyze didactic literature, one must
first know what system of beliefs or ideas constitutes the substance of the
didacticism. A modern critic attempting to understand science fiction without
understanding modern science is in the position of a medievalist attempting to
read Piers Plowman without any but the haziest ideas about medieval
Catholicism. (Or, possibly, like a modern critic attempting to understand Bertolt Brecht without any knowledge of Marxist economic analysis beyond a vague
and uninformed distrust.)
An eminent critic (who knows better now) once asked me during a discussion of
a novel of Kurt Vonnegut's, "But when you get to the science, don't you
just make it up?" The answer, of course, is no. Science fiction must not
offend against what is known. Only in areas where nothing is known—or
knowledge is uncertain—is it permissible to just "Make it up." (Even
then what is made up must be systematic, plausible, rigorously logical, and must
avoid offending against what is known to be known.)
Of course didactic fiction does not always tell people something new; often
it tells them what they already know, and the re-telling becomes a reverent
ritual, very gratifying to all concerned. There is some of this in science
fiction, although (unlike the situation obtaining in medieval Christianity) this
state of affairs is considered neither necessary nor desirable by many readers.
There is science fiction that concentrates on the very edges of what is known.
There is even science fiction that ignores what is known. The latter is bad
How can a criticism developed to treat a post-medieval literature of
individual destinies, secular concerns, and the representation of what is
(rather than what might be) illuminate science fiction?
Science fiction presents an eerie echo of the attitudes and interests of a
pre-industrial, pre-Renaissance, pre-secular, pre-individualistic culture. It
has been my experience that medievalists take easily and kindly to science
fiction, that they are often attracted to it, that its didacticism presents them
with no problems, and that they enjoy this literature much more than do students
of later literary periods.10 So, in fact, do city planners,
architects, archaeologists, engineers, rock musicians, anthropologists, and
nearly everybody except most English professors.
Without knowledge of or appreciation of the "theology" of science
fiction—that is, science—what kind of criticism will be practiced on
particular science fiction works?
Often critics may use their knowledge of the recurrent and important themes
of Western culture to misperceive what is actually in a science fiction story.
For example, recognizable themes or patterns of imagery can be insisted on far
beyond their actual importance in the work simply because they are familiar to
the critic. Or the symbolic importance of certain material can be mis-read
because the significance of the material in the cultural tradition science
fiction comes from (which is overwhelmingly that of science, not literature) is
simply not known to the critic. Sometimes material may be ignored because it is
not part of the critic's cognitive universe.
For example, in H.G. Wells's magnificent novella, The Time Machine, a
trip into the 8000th century presents us with a world that appears to be
directly reminiscent of Eden, a "weedless garden" full of warm
sunlight, untended but beautiful flowers, and effortless innocence. Wells even
has his Time Traveler call the happy inhabitants of this garden "Eloi"
(from the Hebrew "Elohim"). Certainly the derivation of these details
is obvious. Nor can one mistake the counter-world the Time Traveler discovers below-ground; a lightless, hellish, urban world populated by bleached monsters.
But the critic may make too much of all this. For example, Bernard Bergonzi (I
suspect his behavior would be fairly typical) overweights Wells's
heavenly/demonic imagery.11 Certainly The Time Machine's
pastoral future does echo a great deal of material important in the Western
literary tradition, but it is a mistake to think of these (very obtrusive)
clusters of Edenic-pastoral/ hellish imagery as the "hidden" meaning of Wells's Social Darwinism. On the contrary, it is the worlds of the Eloi and the
Morlocks that are put in the employ of the Social Darwinism, which is itself
only an example of mindless evolution, of the cruelty of material determinism,
and of the tragic mindlessness of all physical process. The real center of
Wells's story is not even in his ironic reversal of the doctrine of the
fortunate fall (evolution, in Wells's view in The Time Machine, inevitably
produces what one might call the unfortunate rise—the very production of
intelligence, of mind, is what must, sooner or later, destroy mind). Even the
human devolution pictured in the story is only a special case of the iron
physical law that constitutes the true center of the book and the true agony of
Wells's vision. This vision is easy to overlook not because it is subtle,
indirect, or hidden, but because it is so blatantly hammered home in all the
Time Traveler's speculations about evolution and—above all—in a chapter
explicitly entitled "The Farther Vision." As Eric Bentley once
remarked, "clarity is the first requisite of didacticism."12
Didactic art must, so to speak, wear its meaning on its sleeve. The Time
Machine is not about a lost Eden; it is—passionately and tragically—about
the Three Laws of Thermodynamics, especially the second. The slow cooling of the
sun in "The Farther Vision" foreshadows the heat-death of the
universe. In fact, the novella is a series of deaths: individual death (as
exemplified by Weena's presumed death and the threat to the Time Traveler
himself from the Morlocks) is bad enough; the "wilderness of rotting
paper" in the Palace of Green Porcelain, an abandoned museum, is perhaps
worse; the complete disappearance of mind in humanity's remote descendants (the
kangaroo-like animals) is horrible; but the death of absolutely everything, the
physical degradation of the entire universe, is a Gotterdämmerung earlier views
of the nature of the universe could hardly conceive—let alone prove. As
the Time Traveler says after leaving "that remote and awful twilight,"
"I'm sorry to have brought you out here in the cold."
Unless a critic can bring to The Time Machine not only a knowledge of
the science that stands behind it, but the passionate belief that such knowledge
is real and that it matters, the critic had better stay away from science
fiction. Persons to whom the findings of science seem only bizarre, fanciful, or
irrelevant to everyday life, have no business with science fiction—or with
science for that matter—although they may deal perfectly well with fiction
that ignores both science and the scientific view of reality.
For example, a short story of Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Masters" (in Fantastic,
Feb. 1963), has as its emotional center the rediscovery of the duodecimal
system. To criticize this story properly one must know about three things: the
Arabic invention of the zero, the astounding importance of this invention for
mathematics (and hence the sciences), and the fact that one may count with any
base. In fact, the duodecimal system, with its base of 12, is far superior to
our decimal system with its base of 10.
A third example of ways science fiction can be mis-read can be provided by
Hal Clement's novel, Close to Critical. The story treats of an alien
species inhabiting a planet much like Jupiter. Some psychoanalytic critic, whose
name I have unfortunately forgotten, once treated material like this (the story
was, I think, Milton Rothman's "Heavy Planet") as psychoneurotic, i.e.
the projection of repressed infantile fears. And certainly a Jovian or Jovian-like
landscape would be extremely bizarre. Clement's invented world, with its
atmosphere 3000 times as dense as ours, its gravity three times ours, its total
darkness, its pine-cone-shaped inhabitants, its hundred-foot wide
"raindrops" that condense at night and evaporate each morning, can
easily be perceived by the scientifically ignorant as a series of grotesque
morbidities. In such a view Close to Critical is merely nightmarish. But
to decide this is to ignore the evidence. Clement's gas-giant is neither
nightmarish nor grotesque, but merely accurate. In fact, Mr. Clement is the
soberest of science fiction writers and his characters are always rational,
humane, and highly likeable. The final effect of the novel is exactly the
opposite of nightmare; it is affectionate familiarity. The Jovian-like world is
a real world. One understands and appreciates it. It is, to its inhabitants, no
worse and no better than our own. It is, finally, beautiful—in the same way
and for the same reasons that Earth is beautiful. Close to Critical
evokes Knight's "sense of wonder" because it describes a genuinely
possible place, indeed a place that is highly likely according to what we know
of the universe. The probability of the setting is what makes the book elegant—in
the mathematical sense, that is: aesthetically satisfying. If there is anything
grotesque in Clement's work, it is in the strain caused by the split between
idea-as-hero (which is superbly handled) and the human protagonists, who are
neither interesting, probable, nor necessary, and whose appearance in the book
at all is undoubtedly due to the American pulp tradition out of which American
science fiction arose after World War I. The book suffers from serious confusion
Science fiction, like medieval painting, addresses itself to the mind, not
the eye. We are not presented with a representation of what we know to be true
through direct experience; rather we are given what we know to be true through
other means—or in the case of science fiction, what we know to be at least
possible. Thus the science fiction writer can portray Jupiter as easily as the
medieval painter can portray Heaven; neither of them has been there, but that
doesn't matter. To turn from other modern fiction to science fiction is oddly
like turning from Renaissance painting with all the flesh and foreshortening to
the clarity and luminousness of painters who paint ideas. For this reason,
science fiction, like much medieval art, can deal with transcendental events.
Hence the tendency of science fiction towards wonder, awe, and a religious or
quasi-religious attitude towards the universe.
Persons who consider science untrue, or irrelevant to what really matters, or
inimical to humane values, can hardly be expected to be interested in science
fiction. Nor can one study science fiction as some medievalists (presumably)
might study their material—that is, by finding equivalents for a system of
beliefs they cannot accept in literal form. To treat medieval Catholicism as
irrelevant to medieval literature is bad scholarship; to treat it as somebody
else's silly but interesting superstitions is likewise extremely damaging to any
consideration of the literature itself. But non-scientific equivalents for the
Second Law of Thermodynamics or the intricacies of genetics—or whatever a
particular science fiction story is about—will not do, either. Science bears
too heavily on all our lives for that. All of us—willy-nilly—must live as if
we believed the body of modern science were true. Moreover, science itself
contains methods for determining what about it is true—not metaphorically
true, or metaphysically true, or emotionally true, but simply, plainly,
physically, literally true.
If the critic believes that scientific truth is unreal, or irrelevant to his
(the critic's) business, then science fiction becomes only a series of very odd
metaphors for "the human condition" (which is taken to be different
from or unconnected to any scientific truths about the universe). Why should an
artist draw metaphors from such a peculiar and totally extra-literary source?
Especially when there are so many more intelligent (and intelligible) statements
of the human condition which already exist—in our (non-science-fiction)
literary tradition? Are writers of science fiction merely kinky? Or perverse? Or
stubborn? One can imagine what C.P. Snow would have to say about this split
between the two cultures.
One thing he might say is that science fiction bridges the two cultures. It
draws its beliefs, its material, its great organizing metaphors, its very
attitudes, from a culture that could not exist before the industrial revolution,
before science became both an autonomous activity and a way of looking at the
world. In short, science fiction is not derived from traditional Western
literary culture and critics of traditional Western literature have good reason
to regard science fiction as a changeling in the literary cradle.
Perhaps science fiction is one symptom of a change in sensibility (and
culture) as profound as that of the Renaissance. Despite its ultra-American,
individualistic muscle-flexing, science fiction (largely American in origins and
influence)13 is nonetheless collective in outlook, didactic,
materialist, and paradoxically often intensely religious or mystical. Such a
cluster of traits reminds one not only of medieval culture, but, possibly, of
tendencies in our own, post-industrial culture. It may be no accident that
elaborate modern statements of the aesthetic
of the didactic are to be
found in places like Brecht's "A Short Organum for the Theatre."14
Of course, didactic art does not necessarily mean propaganda or political
Leftism. But there are similarities between Samuel Delany's insistence that
modern literature must be concerned not with passion, but with perception,15
Suvin's definition of science fiction as a literature of "cognitive
estrangement,"16 George Bernard Shaw's insistence on art as
didactic, Brecht's definition of art as a kind of experiment, and descriptions
of science fiction as "thought experiments."17 It is as if
literary and dramatic art were being asked to perform tasks of analysis and
teaching as a means of dealing with some drastic change in the conditions of
Science fiction is the only modern literature to take work as its central and
Except for some modern fantasy (e.g. the novels of Charles Williams) science
fiction is the only kind of modern narrative literature to deal directly (often
awkwardly) with religion as process, not as doctrine, i.e. the ground of feeling
and experience from which religion springs.
Like much "post-modern" literature (Nabokov, Borges) science
fiction deals commonly, typically, and often insistently, with epistemology.
It is unlikely that science fiction will ever become a major form of
literature. Life-as-it-is (however glamorized or falsified) is more interesting
to most people than the science-fictional life-as-it-might-be. Moreover, the
second depends on an understanding and appreciation of the first. In a sense,
science fiction includes (or is parasitic on, depending on your point of view)
However, there is one realm in which science fiction will remain extremely
important. It is the only modern literature which attempts to assimilate
imaginatively scientific knowledge about reality and the scientific method, as
distinct from the merely practical changes science has made in our lives. The
latter are important and sometimes overwhelming, but they can be dealt with
imaginatively in exactly the same way a Londoner could have dealt with the Great
Plague of 1665 ("Life is full of troubles") or the way we
characteristically deal with our failures in social organization ("Man is
alienated"). Science fiction is also the only modern literary form (with
the possible exception of the detective puzzle) which embodies in its basic
assumptions the conviction that finding out, or knowing about something—however
impractical the knowledge—is itself a crucial good. Science fiction is a
positive response to the post-industrial world, not always in its content (there
is plenty of nostalgia for the past and dislike of change in science fiction)
but in its very assumptions, its very form.
Criticism of science fiction cannot possibly look like the criticism we are
used to. It will—perforce—employ an aesthetic in which the elegance,
rigorousness, and systematic coherence of explicit ideas is of great importance.18
It will therefore appear to stray into all sorts of extra-literary fields,
metaphysics, politics, philosophy, physics, biology, psychology, topology,
mathematics, history, and so on. The relations of foreground and background that
we are so used to after a century and a half of realism will not obtain. Indeed,
they may be reversed. Science-fiction criticism will discover themes and
structures (like those of Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men) which may
seem recondite, extra-literary, or plain ridiculous. Themes we customarily
regard as emotionally neutral will be charged with emotion. Traditionally
"human" concerns will be absent; protagonists may be all but
unrecognizable as such. What in other fiction would be marvelous will here be
merely accurate or plain; what in other fiction would be ordinary or mundane
will here be astonishing, complex, wonderful. (For example, allusions to the
death of God will be trivial jokes, while metaphors involving the differences
between telephone switchboards and radio stations will be poignantly tragic.
Stories ostensibly about persons will really be about topology. Erotics will be
intracranial, mechanical [literally], and moving.)19
Science fiction is, of course, about human concerns. It is written and read
by human beings. But the culture from which it comes—the experiences,
attitudes, knowledge, and learning which one must bring to it—these are not at
all what we are used to as proper to literature. They may, however, be
increasingly proper to human life. According to Professor Suvin, the last
century has seen a sharp rise in the popularity of science fiction in all the
leading industrial nations of the world.20 There will, in all
probability, be more and more science fiction written, and therefore more and
more of a need for its explication and criticism.
Such criticism will not be easy. The task of a modern critic of science
fiction might be compared to the difficulties of studying Shakespeare's works
armed only with a vast, miscellaneous mass of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, a
few remarks of Ben Jonson's, some scattered eulogies in Richard Burbage, Rowe's
comments on Othello, and a set of literary standards derived exclusively
from the Greek and Latin classics—which, somehow, do not quite fit.
Some beginnings have been made in outlining an aesthetics of science fiction,
particularly in the work of Lem and Suvin, but much remains to be done. Perhaps
the very first task lies in discovering that we are indeed dealing with a new
and different literature. Applying the standards and methods one is used to can
have only three results: the dismissal of all science fiction as non-literature,
a preference for certain narrow kinds of science fiction (because they can be
understood at least partly in the usual way), or a misconceiving and
misperception of the very texts one is trying to understand. The first reaction
seems to be the most common. In the second category one might place the odd
phenomenon that critics inexperienced in the field seem to find two kinds of
fiction easy to deal with: seventeenth century flights to the moon and dystopias.
Thus Brave New World and 1984 have received much more critical
attention than, say, Shaw's late plays or Stapledon's work. The third category
has hitherto been rare because academic consideration of science fiction has
been rare, but it could become all too common if the increasing popularity of
college courses in the subject is not accompanied by criticism proper to the
subject. Futurologists, physicists, and sociologists may use science fiction in
extra-literary ways but they are not literary critics. If the literary critics
misperceive or misconceive their material, the results will be to discourage
readers, discourage science fiction writers (who are as serious about their work
as any other writers), destroy the academic importance of the subject itself,
and thus impoverish the whole realm of literature, of which science fiction is a
new—but a vigorous and growing—province.
1"Environments" and similar examples of contemporary art
seem to lend themselves to science fiction. For example, as of this writing, an
"archeological" exhibit of the fictional Civilization of Llhuros is
visiting our local museum. Strictly speaking, the exhibit is fantasy and not
science fiction, since the creator (Professor Norman Daly of Cornell University)
makes no attempt to place this imaginary country in either a known, a future, or
an extraterrene history.
2See particularly "On the Poetics of the Science Fiction
Genre," College English 34(1972):372-82.
3For example, "On The Structural Analysis of Science
Fiction," SFS 1(1973):26-33.
4"About Five Thousand One Hundred and Seventy-Five Words, Extrapolation
5At least not immediately. Major changes in scientific theory may
lead to major re-evaluation in the fiction, but most science fiction hasn't been
around long enough for that. I would agree with George Bernard Shaw that
didactic literature does (at least in part) wear out with time, but most science
fiction can still rest on the Scottish verdict of "not proven."
6Suvin (Note 2), p377.
7Damon Knight, In Search of Wonder (2nd edn 1967). The phrase is
8From time to time what might even be called quasi-essays appear,
e.g., Larry Niven, "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation," Galaxy,
9A dictum attributed to Theodore Sturgeon, science-fiction writer,
is that 90% of anything is bad.
10As of this writing, SUNY Binghamton is presenting a summer
course in science fiction taught by a graduate student who is—a medievalist.
11Bernard Bergonzi, The Early H.G. Wells (1961), p52ff.
12Eric Bentley, The Playwright as Thinker (New York 1967), p224.
13Kingsley Amis emphasizes that 20th-century science fiction is
predominantly an American phenomenon: New Maps of Hell New York 1960),
p17 (or Ballantine Books edn, p17), q.v.
14In Brecht on Theatre, trans. John Willett (New York 1962),
15In a talk given at the MLA seminar on science fiction, December
1968, in New York.
16Suvin (Note 2), p372.
17This phrase has been used so widely in the field that original
attribution is impossible.
18Suvin (Note 2), p381, as follows: "The consistency of
extrapolation, precision of analogy, and width of reference in such a cognitive
discussion turn into aesthetic factors...a cognitive—in most cases strictly
scientific—element becomes a measure of aesthetic quality."
19In turn, James Blish's Black Easter (which I take to be
about Manicheanism), Stapledon's Last and First Men (the Martian
invasion), A.J. Deutsch's "A Subway Named Moebius" (frequently
anthologized), and George Zebrowski's "Starcrossed" (In Eros in
Orbit, ed. Joseph Elder, 1973).
20Suvin (Note 2), p372.
Is science fiction literature? Yes. Can it be judged by
the usual literary criteria? No. Critical tools developed with an entirely different
literature in mind often do not work when applied to science fiction. In this essay, I
propose the following: that science fiction, like much medieval literature, is didactic.
Despite superficial similarities to naturalistic (or other) modern fiction, the
protagonists of science fiction are always collective, never individual persons (although
individuals often appear as exemplary or representative figures). Science fictions
emphasis is always on phenomena, to the point where critics can use such phrases as
"the idea as hero." I propose that contemporary literary criticism is not the
ideal tool for dealing with fiction that is didactic, or for assessing a new and different
literature. Applying traditional critical methods and standards to science fiction can
have only three results: a dismissal of all science fiction as non-literature, a
preference for certain narrow kinds of science fiction (because they can be understood at
least partly in the usual way), and/or a misperception of the very texts one is trying to
understand. The first reaction seems to be the most common. In the second category one
might place the odd fact that critics inexperienced in the field often find two kinds of
science fiction easy to deal with: seventeenth-century flights to the moon and dystopias.
Thus, Brave New World and 1984 have received much more critical attention
than, say, Bernard Shaws late plays or Olaf Stapledons novels. The third
category has been rare but it could become common if the increasing popularity of college
courses in the subject is not accompanied by development of a criticism proper to the