Personal criticism: A type of literary criticism, often associated with feminist criticism and sometimes referred to as autobiographical criticism, in which critics incorporate their personal reactions, histories, and experience into their readings of literary texts. Personal critics are openly skeptical of the claims to reason, logic, and objectivity made by many male critics, particularly New Critics and other formalists.
Personal criticism developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly in the work of feminist critics Jane Tompkins, who questioned the “public-private dichotomy, which is to say, the public-private hierarchy that is a founding condition of female oppression” in “Me and My Shadow” (1987), and Nancy K. Miller, who defined the approach in Getting Personal: Feminist Occasions and Other Autobiographical Acts (1991) as “an explicitly autobiographical performance within the act of criticism.” Although personal criticism is sometimes contrasted with the politically engaged work of feminists associated with cultural criticism or postcolonial theory, the emphasis on race, class, and ethnicity brought to bear by these groups made personal feminist criticism possible by demonstrating that woman is not a single, monolithic, or deterministic category but rather an umbrella term covering a vast range of identities and experiences.
With the advent of more personal feminist critical styles came a new interest in women’s autobiographical writings — and a critique of traditional autobiography, with its emphasis on action, intellectual self-discovery, and public renown, as a gendered, “masculinist” genre. Arguing that the lived experiences of men and women differ, one such critic, Leigh Gilmore, developed a theory of women’s self-representation in her book Autobiographics (1991).
Practitioners in other areas of literary criticism have also embraced the personal approach. For instance, many ecocritics, influenced by the personal style of much nature writing, have employed personal criticism, as did queer theorist David Halperin in Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (1995).