New Criticism

Topics: Literary criticism, New Criticism, Cleanth Brooks Pages: 15 (5580 words) Published: September 8, 2013
New Criticism
[pic]New Criticism is a name applied to a varied and extremely energetic effort among Anglo-American writers to focus critical attention on literature itself. Like Russian Formalism, following Boris Eikhenbaum and Victor Shklovskii, the New Critics developed speculative positions and techniques of reading that provide a vital complement to the literary and artistic emergence of modernism. Like many other movements in modern criticism, New Criticism was in part a reaction against the genteel cultivation of taste and sentiment that marked late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century criticism and against the prevalence of traditional philological and antiquarian study of literature in the academy. In its later stages, New Criticism displayed some resemblances to Structuralism, just as it had an impact on the development of the French nouvelle critique as exemplified in the early work of Roland Barthes. [pic]The far-reaching influence of New Criticism stems less from theoretical or programmatic coherence than from the practical (and pedagogical) appeal of a characteristic way of reading. The theoretical differences among the critics commonly described as New Critics (not necessarily by themselves)-- I. A. Richards, William Empson, F. R. Leavis, Kenneth Burke, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Yvor Winters, Cleanth Brooks, R. P. Blackmur, W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., René Wellek--are sometimes so great as to leave little ground for agreement. The New Critics tended to be eclectic on matters of theory, concentrating instead on what Blackmur called the critic's "job of work." [pic]For most of the New Critics that job is Practical Criticism or "close reading," in which the poem or literary text is treated as a self-sufficient verbal artifact. By careful attention to language, the text is presumed to be a unique and privileged source of meaning and value, sharply distinguished from other texts or other uses of language (particularly scientific language). Accordingly, the meaning of the poem is not conveyed by any prose paraphrase and is valued as the source of an experience (for the reader) available in no other way. For this among other reasons, opponents of the New Critics have frequently charged that they ignore history, ideology, politics, philosophy, or other factors that shape literary experience. While such charges are not entirely fair, they arise because New Criticism in practice came to focus almost exclusively on problems of interpreting individual texts. [pic]Partly for this reason, New Criticism can still be considered a movement, beginning after World War I with the critical work of modern poets and critics, especially T. S. Eliot, Richards, and somewhat later John Crowe Ransom, culminating some 30 years later in the work of explicitly academic critics, such as Wellek, Wimsatt, and Brooks. Since these decades coincide with the institutional rise of English departments and the development of academic literary criticism in the United States, New Criticism has exerted a complex and lasting influence on the shaping of educational programs in literature and, more generally, on the literary culture of the English-speaking world. [pic]The debt of the New Critics to Eliot was pervasive, but two germinal ideas from his essays shaped both New Critical theory and practice. In "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1917), Eliot argued that the literature of Western Europe could be viewed as a "simultaneous order" of works (3), where the value of any new work depended on its relation to the order of the tradition. Thus, the work of the "individual talent" does not so much express a personality as it affects and is affected by the literature of the past. Eliot was responding in part to complaints that modern poetry was too hard to understand, too austere, metaphysical, or unfamiliar. Eliot's essay asserts that difficult language reflects an equally difficult modern historical and psychological predicament. The point, however, is...


Bibliography: See bibliographies in R. P. Blackmur, Kenneth Burke, T. S. Eliot, William Empson, Northrop Frye, Murray Krieger, F. R. Leavis, I. A. Richards, René Wellek, and Yvor Winters; for R. S. Crane see bibliography in Chicago Critics.
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Cleanth Brooks, Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939), The Well Wrought Urn (1947); Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, Understanding Poetry (1938); Elliott Coleman, ed., Lectures in Criticism (1949); John Crowe Ransom, The New Criticism (1941), Selected Essays (1984), The World 's Body (1938); John Crowe Ransom, ed., The Kenyon Critics (1951); Robert W. Stallman, ed., Critiques and Essays in Criticism: 1920-1948 (1949); D. A. Stauffer, ed., The Intent of the Critic (1941); Allen Tate, Essays of Four Decades (1968); René Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature (1949); Philip Wheelwright, The Burning Fountain (1954), Metaphor and Reality (1962); W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (1954); W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., and Cleanth Brooks, Literary Criticism: A Short History (1957).
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M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and The Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953); Jonathan Arac, Critical Genealogies: Historical Situations for Postmodern Literary Studies (1987); Paul Bové, Intellectuals in Power: A Genealogy of Critical Humanism (1986); John M. Bradbury, The Fugitives: A Critical Account (1958); Edward T. Cone, ed., The Legacy of R. P. Blackmur (1987); Louise Cowan, The Fugitive Group (1959); Paul de Man, "Form and Intent in the American New Criticism," Blindness and Insight (1971); Wallace Douglas, "Deliberate Exiles: The Social Roots of Agrarian Poetics," Aspects of American Poetry (ed. R. Ludwig Columbus, 1962); Geoffrey H. Hartman, Beyond Formalism: Literary Essays, 1958-1970 (1970); C. Hugh Holman, "Literature and Culture: The Fugitive Agrarians," Social Forces 37 (1958); W. H. N. Hotopf, Language, Thought, and Comprehension: A Case Study of the Writing of I. A. Richards (1965); Vincent B. Leitch, American Literary Criticism from the Thirties to the Eighties (1988); Lee T. Lemon, The Partial Critics (1965); Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism (1980); John Paul Russo, I. A. Richards: His Life and Work (1989); Lewis P. Simpson, The Possibilities of Order: Cleanth Brooks and His Works (1976); Josef Szili, "The New Criticism," Literature and Its Interpretations (1979); E. M. Thompson, Russian Formalism and Anglo-American New Criticism (1971); Twelve Southerners, I 'll Take My Stand: The South and Agrarian Tradition (1930); Kermit Vanderbilt, American Literature and the Academy (1986); Eliseo Vivas, "The Neo-Aristotelians of Chicago," Sewanee Review 61 (1953); Grant Webster, The Republic of Letters: A History of Postwar American Criticism (1979); René Wellek, A History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950, vol. 6, American Criticism, 1900-1950 (1986).
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