Literature on Trial traces the rise of modern literary criticism in Central and Eastern Europe during the eighteenth century. S.D. Chrostowska juxtaposes the discourse's written forms in three linguistic-cultural regions — Germany, Poland, and Russia — to show how fluid the relationship once was between the genres of criticism and those of literature.
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An alternative history of literary criticism, Literature on Trial marks a shift from earlier studies' focus on aesthetic principles to an emphasis on the development of literary-critical forms. Chrostowska relates cultural and institutional changes in these areas to the formation of literary-critical knowledge. She accounts for the ways in which critical discourse organized itself formally and deemed some genres ‘proper’ while eliminating others. Analysing works by Lessing, Goethe, and Karamzin, among others, Literature on Trial brings a fresh theoretical perspective to the links between genre as a discursive strategy and socio-political life.