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The Importance Of Distinction In Literary Theory And Criticism

1385 words - 6 pages

It has been said,
From the hour of the invention of printing, books, and not kings, were to rule the world. Weapons forged in the mind, keen-edged, and brighter than a sunbeam, were to supplant the sword and battle-axe. Books! lighthouses built on the sea of time! Books! by whose sorcery the whole pageantry of the world's history moves in solemn procession before our eyes. From their pages great souls look down in all their grandeur, undimmed by the faults and follies of earthly existence, consecrated by time (Whipple 386).
This particular description on the importance of books, fantastic as it is, can also easily be applied to the broader spectrum that books belong to, literature. Thus, it is easy to understand why such emphasis is placed on the “exegesis, interpretation, and evaluation, [of literature]” otherwise called literary criticism and/or theory (Groden , Kreiswirth and Szeman). The boundaries between the two, criticism and theory, blur according to Groden et al, however the boundary between their approaches is much more distinguishable. New Criticism and Marxist theory are examples of two different approaches to literary criticism. Both approaches share the same objective, in that they look to better understand literature, but their paths diverge on how exactly they go about this. It is the disparity between the ‘how’s’ that is so crucial to point out in literary criticism and if it is not made the entire subject becomes unorganized and much less effective. A perfect representative of this disparity can be seen with a comparison of the New Criticism and Marxist theories. A thorough understanding of the differences, similarities, strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches allows anyone studying literary criticism to better fulfill the purpose of the field of study. That is, by comparing and understanding the differences between New Criticism and Marxists theoretical approaches a person can be a better literary critic.
New Criticism is an intrinsic approach to literature developed by American critics in the early 20th century; many of these critics were influenced greatly by British forms of criticism. This is a simple enough overview, a concept that seems fairly straightforward. However, defining what a New Critic is and who they are is much more difficult. Cleanth Brooks, a person who many would describe or generalize as the stereotypical New Critic, says in his essay entitled The New Criticism that, “The New Critic, like the Snark, is a very elusive beast. Everybody talks about him: there is now rather general agreement as to his bestial character; but few could give an accurate anatomical description of him.” Because the New Critic is an ambiguous term it is more practical to define New Criticism by its main points, the key methods it uses to analyze literature. New Criticism focuses primarily on works of poetry, stressing the close reading of texts and detaching a piece of work from the reader and author as well as the...

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