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New Criticism

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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. ...read more.


The more complex the themes are and the more closely they contribute to a central theme (unity) the better the work. Usually, the New Critics define their themes as oppositions: Life and death, good and evil, love and hate, harmony and strife, order and disorder, eternity and time, reality and appearance, truth and falsehood, emotion and reason, simplicity and complexity, nature and art. The analysis of a text is an exercise in showing how all of its parts contribute to a complex but single (unified) statement about human problems. New Criticism is distinctly formalist in character and the method the reader must use is "close analysis." The reader must look at the words, the syntax, the structure (usually, "the argument"),the rhythm, the meter, the theme, the imagery, metaphor etc. The interpretation of a text shows that these aspects serve to support the structure of meaning within the text. The New Critic will ask the following types of questions while analyzing a piece. How DOES a succession of images suggest a DIRECTION in a poem? How DOES a METAPHOR link some words with a deeper set of ideas suggested in others? ...read more.


The New Critics privileged poetry over other forms of literary expression because they saw the poem as the purest exemplification of the literary values, which they upheld. However, the techniques of close reading and structural analysis of texts have also been applied to fiction, drama, and other literary forms. These techniques remain the dominant critical approach in many modern literature courses. Because New Criticism is such a rigid and structured program for the study of literature, it is open to criticism on many fronts. First, in its insistence on excluding external evidence, New Criticism disqualifies many possibly fruitful perspectives for understanding texts, such as historicism, psychoanalysis, and Marxism. Since New Criticism aims at finding one "correct" reading, it also ignores the ambiguity of language and the active nature of the perception of meaning described by poststructuralists. Finally, it can even be perceived as elitist, because it excludes those readers who lack the background for arriving at the "correct" interpretation. However, defenders of New Criticism might remind us that this approach is meant to deal with the poem on its own terms. While New Criticism may not offer us a wide range of perspectives on texts, it does attempt to deal with the text as a work of literary art and nothing else. ...read more.

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