New Criticism Explained
Beginning in the 1920's and coalescing in the 1940's, an interpretative approach emerged that did not define literature as essentially the self-expressive product of the artist nor as an evaluative reflection or illumination of cultural history. These "New Critics" opposed the traditional critical practice of using historical or biographical data to interpret literature. Rather, they focused on the literary work as an autotelic (self-contained) object. The New Critic explores and assesses the meaning of literature through an analysis of its internal form. From the 1940's through the 1960's formalist principles defined the mainstream standards of good criticism. While many of the assumptions underlying New Criticism have been rejected by newer critical theories, the close reading of the text espoused by formalism remains a common mode of discourse in the literature classroom. New Criticism Occurred Partially in Response To:
Biographical Criticism that understood art primarily as a reflection of the author's life (sometimes to the point that the texts themselves weren't even read!).
Competition for dollars and students from sciences in academia.
New forms of mass literature and literacy, an increasingly consumerist society and the increasingly visible role of commerce, mass media, and advertising in people's lives.
For the New Critic or the Formalist, the meaning of a literary work is not determined by the author's intention, nor by the reader's perception, nor by the cultural background. Rather meaning is determined by the “achieved content” of the text. A poem may obviously be produced within a culture milieu and by an idiosyncratic personality, and it may even allude explicitly to these external social or biographical contexts. However, for the New Critic the poem is not a cultural or biographical artifact but rather an autonomous and self-determinant (i.e. “autotelic”) art object. The meaning of...
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