Consider The Salient Features Of The New Criticism

The Rise of New Criticism :

The most noteworthy critical development of the second quarter of the century is the New Criticism, also known as the formalistic or Ontological criticism. The term New Criticism was first used by Joal E. Spingarn in an address at Columbia University on The New Criticism, and the address itself may be regarded as the manifesto of the New Criticism. However, the term came into general use after John Crowe Ransom published his The New Criticism in 1941. in which he studied four great contemporary critics and made a forceful plea for Ontological criticism. Ransom, as a matter of fact, is the key-figure in the movement, and if New Criticism has acquired the status of a School, it is largely owing to his able and persistent advocacy. As George Watson puts it, “Brooks and his group, who see the genuine tradition in Whitman, also avoid the main stream of American culture. To neglect Mark Twain and Whitman is to omit an important part of America; to neglect Longfellow and Poe is equally disastrous. The local interests of the local colorists prevent their becoming national. Canby found a common denominator for these varied approaches to America by reverting to the English fountain and following its course through all its American streams.” As a matter of fact, the movement is more noticeable for new emphasis in criticism than for novelty of ideas: some of its basic views may be even traced back to Coleridge. Besides, Ransom, William Empson. T.S. Eliot, L.A. Richards, R.P. Blackmur, Allen Tate, Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, and other brilliant practioners of this school of criticism.

Causes of Its Rise:

Various factors contributed to the rise of New Criticism. First, there was widespread dissatisfaction, both in England and America, with the contemporary literary situation. There were rapid scientific development and significant social change, but literature and literary criticism were stagnant. Victorian prudery, and the old-fashioned concerns with moral and social values came to be regarded as obstacles in the way of literary and critical development. Writers desired earnestly a positive approach to literary problems. Allied to this desire was the revolt, in nearly all critical camps, against academic overemphasis upon the background and environment of literature and concentration upon the author instead of the work. Dissatisfaction with the old, naturally led to thinking along new lines, and thus were sown the seeds of the New Criticism.

The New Critics: Their Contribution:

The New Critics have done valuable work and made considerable contribution to literary criticism. However, it is yet too early to make any definitive evaluation of their work and contribution. Therefore, it would be more fruitful to consider their basic tenets, tenets to which they all subscribe despite their individual differences. These basic doctrines and principles may be summarised as follows:

(a)To the New critics a poem, or a work of art, is the thing in itself, and the critic must concentrate all attention on it and illuminate it. The function of the critic is to analyze. interpret and evaluate a work of art. A poem is distinct from the poet and his social milieu; it is a definite entity in itself and must be studied as such. The critic must devote himself to close textual study, unhampered by any extraneous concerns.

(b) Moral and religious considerations, social, political and environmental conditions, the details of the poet’s biography, are a!! irrelevant and are all obstacles in the way of a real understanding of a work of literature. The literary critic must rid himself of all such extrinsic bias and prejudice. He must approach the work with an open mind, ready to study it, “as it is in itself.”

(c) The critic must now allow himself to be hampered and prejudiced by any literary theories also.

(d) A poem has both form and content and both should be closely studied and analysed before a true understanding of its meaning becomes possible.

(e) Words, images, rhythm, metre, etc., constitute the form of poetry and are to be closely studied. A poem is an organic whole and these different parts are inter-connected and these inter-connections, the reaction of the one upon the other, and upon the total meaning, is to be closely followed, and examined. That is why a prose paraphrase cannot convey the total, the poetic meaning of a poem.

(f) The study of words, their arrangement, the way in which they act and react on each other is all important. Words, besides their literal significance, also have emotional, associative, and symbolic significance, and only close application and analysis can bring out their total meaning.

(g) Poetry is communication and language is the means of communication, so the New Critics seek to understand the full meaning of a poem through a study of poetic language.

(h) The New Critics are opposed both to the historical and comparative methods of criticism. Historical considerations are extraneous to the work of literature, and comparison of works of art is to be resorted to with great caution and in rare instances alone. for the intent and aim of writers differ, and so their methods, their techniques, their forms, are bound to be different.

(i) They are also anti-impressionistic. Instead of giving merely his impressions, which are bound to be vague and subjective, the critic must make a close, objective and precise study of the poem concerned.

(j) In short, they concentrate on close textual study, on the study of the form, design and texture of poetry. The psychological state of the poet at the time of creation, as well as the effect of the poem upon the readers are to be allowed to divert attention from the text.

Further light on the critical doctrines of the New Critics could be thrown by a detailed consideration of the work and achievement of individual critics. Here let us now consider some of the more glaring short-comings of the New Criticism.

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The Chicago Critics:

Their Attack on New Criticism :The limitations of the New Critics were pin-pointed by a group of critics who have come to be known as the Chicago critics. They are called ‘Chicago critics’ because they all worked at the University of Chicago, and they form a homogeneous group with little difference in their views and critical methods.

The New Critics: Their Limitations :

The limitations and shortcomings of the New Critics as brought out by the censure of the Chicago group may be summed up as follows:-

  1. The New Critics are too much pre-occupied with textual analysis. Their excessive pre-occupation with words, images, paradox, irony, etc.. makes them forget that the poem is an organic whole. In their pre- occupation with the parts they ignore the beauty of the whole.
  2. Their approach is dogmatic and narrow. According to them, it is.through textual study and analysis alone that truth can be arrived at However, there are a number of other approaches, the historical, the sociological, the psychological, etc., and each has its own value and significance. All possible ways should be tried to arrive at the full truth about a poem.
  3. A work of art has two functions, aesthetic and moral. While the older criticism erred in its over-emphasis on the moral concern of literature. the New Critics go to the other extreme in their entire neglect of it. Art cannot be divorced entirely from life.
  4. In their insistence on the objective and scientific study of a work of art, they entirely ignore the reactions of the critic. The subjective element cannot be totally done away with, and the impressions of the critic have their own significance. 5. T.S. Eliot has pointed out, textual analysis can establish only the.literary quality of a work. to determine its greatness other methods are.also necessary. Literature is certainly an art-form, but it has other values, also besides the literary.
  5. The textual approach may work well with some genres but it is not equally effective with all genres. There are different kinds of poetry, and different critical techniques are needed for their evaluation. The same technique cannot be effective both with the lyric and the epic.
  6. The New Critics are wrong in ignoring the study of the history of literary criticism. A historical study shows that various critical tools have been used effectively in different ages and countries, and their use may be worthwhile in the present also. Thus, for example, the Aristotelian literary philosophy and poetics may still be of use in evaluation and interpretation. A historical study is the only way of understanding the comparative merits of the rival schools of criticism. The critic must, therefore, master the critical traditions and from among the rival critical techniques choose the one best suited to his purposes.
  7. A poem is certainly an artistic structure, and must be studied as such. The understanding of the poetic meaning of a poem is essential, and textual and structural study is an effective tool for the purpose. But social and biographical factors may also determine its meaning and a knowledge of them may also help the critic to illuminate the work under study. Hence, the new critics are wrong in totally ignoring the social milieu of the poet.



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