New Criticism Essay

1811 words - 7 pages

New Criticism

New Criticism is an approach to literature, which was developed by a
group of American critics, most of whom taught at southern
universities during the years following the First World War. 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. The New Critics wanted to avoid
impressionistic criticism, which risked being shallow and arbitrary,
and social/ historical (Marxist) approaches, which might easily be
subsumed by other disciplines. They were given their name by John
Crowe Ransom, who describes the new American formalists in his book
The New Criticism (1941). The movement took its first inspirations
from TS Eliot and IA Richards’ thoughts on criticism. The far-reaching
influence of New Criticism stems less from theoretical or programmatic
coherence than from the practical appeal of a characteristic way of
reading. The theoretical differences among the critics commonly
described as New Critics( 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.

As much as they abhorred the new "scientism" that passed for authority
in the modern era, the New Critics believed the study of literature
could be more organized and systematic than it had been in the past.
Specifically, they believed they could isolate the object of their
work just as other "sciences" had isolated their objects of study. For
the New Critic, the province or object of the activity of criticism
would be the text "itself” and not its historical context, not its
author, and not its bibliographic history. These were specialized
areas of inquiry "scholars" might worry about in the privacy of some
graduate library. What the New Critics wanted to discuss was the part
of literature that made literature "literary" i.e. its FORMAL
characteristics. New Criticism was so influential that for many
teachers in North America and Britain, it became not a method of
criticism, but criticism itself and alternatives to its interpretive
strategies have until recently been regarded with deep suspicion.

The New Criticism asserts that every text is autonomous. History,
biography, sociology, psychology, author's intention and reader's
private experience are irrelevant. William Wimsatt and Monroe
Beardsley describe two other fallacies which are encountered in the
study of literature . The Intentional Fallacy is the mistake of
attempting to understand the author's intentions when interpreting a
literary work. Such an approach is fallacious because the meaning of a

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