Literary Theory and CriticismNew Criticism

What is New Criticism in Literature? | Principles of New Criticism

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New Criticism was made prominent by John Crowe Ransom in his book “The New Criticism”, published in 1941. It refers to a movement in literary criticism which began in the 1920s. Notable critics in this mode were the Southerners, Cleanth Brooks, and Robert Penn Warren, whose book “Understanding Poetry” and “Understanding Fiction” worked remarkably to make this dominant criticism teaching literature in American Colleges. Other prominent critics of this movement were – Allen Tate, W. K. Wimsatt, William Empson, Yvor Winters, R. P. Blackmur, and Kenneth Burke. They advocated for the ‘autonomy’ of a literary text that can stand alone according to their perspective. For them, the author is not essential. The words of the independent text are the most relevant thing for a reader. They wanted the readers to look deep into a text’s language, which is poetry in this case. Talking about New Criticism, J. A. Cuddon, in his book “The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory”, writes: “The New Critics advocated ‘close reading ‘and ‘detailed textual analyses of poetry rather than an interest in the mind and personality of the poet, sources, the history of ideas and political and social implications.”

What were the principles of New Criticism?

The first law of this criticism is that it shall be objective, shall cite the nature of the object, and recognize the work’s autonomy as existing for its own sake. In analyzing and evaluating a particular work, they avoid reference to the author’s biography and temperament and personal experiences, to the social conditions at the time of its production, or its psychological and moral effects on the reader. The New Criticism is often classified as a type of formalism for its focus on the literary work in isolation from its attendant’s circumstances and effects. The formalistic approach adopted by the new critics implied an awareness of form. It is seen as insensitivity to the text’s words, denotative and connotative values, implications, awareness of multiple meanings. To get the from and read in a formalistic way, we look at the overall structure, shape, interplay, tone/mood, interrelationships, denotations and connotations, contexts, images, symbols, discover what constitutes the uniqueness of the work.

Read About: What is Russian Formalism in Literature?

The principles of the New Criticism are verbal. That conceives literature to be a special kind of language whose attributes are defined by a systematic opposition to the language of science and practical and logical discourse. The explicative procedure analyzes the meanings and interactions of words, figures of speech, and symbols. The emphasis is on the “organic unity” in a successful literary work, its overall structure with its verbal meanings.

The third principle focuses on the essential components of any literary work of literature, whether lyric, narrative, or dramatic, are conceived to be words, images, and symbols rather than character, thought, and plot. These linguistic elements, whatever the genre, are often said to be organized around a central and humanly significant theme and to manifest high literary value to the degree of “tension,” “irony,” and “paradox,” in achieving a “reconciliation of diverse impulses” or an “equilibrium of opposing forces”; that is what Abrams writes in his book “A Glossary of Literary Terms.”

The new critics distrusted paraphrase. Because it necessarily means the loss of the context, of the poem’s experience, and hence of the poem’s whole meaning. For the New Critics, paraphrase was, as Brooks put it in The Well Wrought Urn, a ‘heresy.’ As well as the ‘heresy of paraphrase,’ there are two major textual approaches associated with New Criticism. These are the ‘intentional fallacy’ and ‘affective fallacy.’ Both were developed in essays published by Wimsatt in collaboration with Monroe Beardsley, were collected in The Verbal Icon.

Intentional fallacy signifies what is claimed to be the error of interpreting and evaluating a literary work by reference to evidence, outside the text itself, for the intention- the design and purposes- of its author.

Furthermore, on the other hand, affective fallacy signifies confusion between the poem and the results (what it is and what it does)’. It is the error of evaluating a poem by its effects – especially its emotional effects –upon the reader. As a result of this fallacy, “the poem itself, as an object of specifically critical judgment, tends to disappear,” so that criticism “ends in impressionism and relativism.”

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