The Origins of Criticism complements the usual, history-of-ideas approach to the topic precisely by treating criticism as a social as well as a theoretical activity. With unprecedented and penetrating detail, Ford considers varying scholarly interpretations of the key texts discussed. Examining Greek discussions of poetry from the late sixth century B.C. through the rise of poetics in the late fourth, he asks when we first can recognize anything like the modern notions of literature as imaginative writing and of literary criticism as a special knowledge of such writing.
Serving as a monumental preface to Aristotle's Poetics, this book allows readers to discern the emergence, within the manifold activities that might be called criticism, of the historically specific discourse on poetry that has shaped subsequent Western approaches to literature.