The new criticism: a worked exmple

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the new criticism: a worked example

http://www.textetc.com/criticism/the-new-criticism.html

TRADITIONAL . MODERNIST .

CRITICISM . THEORY . WORKSHOP .

EXHIBITS . RESOURCES

THE NEW LITERARY CRITICISM

Overview
New Criticism does not cope well with this poem. Perhaps, by their lights, it is hardly a poem at all: doubtful aesthetic independence, the lines lacking inevitability ofphrase, the rhythm shambling and not providing structure and autonomy. Equally clearly, it is not prose either. Corrections suggested by the New Criticism would certainly make the poem more accessible, and possibly more pleasing, but they would also change the nature of the piece.

Introduction
The name is misleading, since the New Criticism is now anything but new, having been "overtaken" by aplethora of approaches under the umbrella of Literary Theory. But for some thirty years, from the thirties to the sixties, New Criticism was the dominant activity of university literature departments on both sides of the Atlantic. The approach was unhistorical, dismissed authors' intentions and biographical matters as unknowable and/or irrelevant, and brought an armoury of sharp analytical tools tobear on what the poem precisely said to a contemporary reader. If its presiding genius (though hardly devotee: he practised very little close reading himself) was T.S. Eliot, the founding fathers were I.A. Richards and William Empson. Richards had no time for the Edwardian prose-poetry in which contemporary literary criticism was couched, and argued for analysis in the cool, strictly-defined andwell-supported language of the sciences. Empson looked into the complexity of literary language, and suggested that poems were often successful by deploying meanings at different levels. Behind lines and phrases lurked many ambiguities and paradoxes, which held the poem together in creative tensions. Further developed by K. Burke, J.C. Ranson, R.P. Warren and Cleanth Brooks, the approach looked forthree characteristics from poetry. First was self-sufficiency: the poem should be independent of biography, historical content or effect on the reader, which were called the intentional, historical and affective fallacies. Second was unity: the poem should be a coherent whole: a very traditional view. Third was complexity: which was sometimes, though not always, held to be the central element ofpoetry. {1} The New Criticism did not go uncontested. The Marxist critics felt that literary criticism ought to be a history of man's ideas and imaginings in the (economic) setting which shaped them. {2} The Christian apologists felt that the arts had a civilizing mission, and deprecated the subversive attitudes of many Modernist writers. And the historicists sought a continuity between westernindustrial societies and the medieval past. {4} Divisions between the schools were not clear cut, and there was little of the acrimony and technical elaboration that now characterizes literary criticism. But academic criticism did become more specialized and remote, and to cater for a self-educating middle class there sprang up literary journalism, which continues, somewhat attenuated, to thepresent day.
{3}

Published Examples
IA Richard's Practical Criticism: a Study of Literary Judgement (1929). Cleanth Brooks's The Well Wrought Urn (1947).

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10/28/11 10:27 PM

the new criticism: a worked example

http://www.textetc.com/criticism/the-new-criticism.html

Michael Schmidt and Grevel Lindop's British Poetry Since 1960 (1972). Calvin Bendient's Eight Contemporary Poets(1974). P.R. King's Nine Contemporary Poets: A Critical Introduction (1979). Christopher Ricks's The Force of Poetry (1987).

Independence
First we look for unity, the ability of a poem to stand on its own feet, without any scaffolding of theory, social or historical context, author's intentions or preoccupations. And here we meet the first obstacle.

The Architects But, as you'd expect, they...
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