New Criticism Explained
|| New Criticism
was a highly influential school of Formalist criticism that flourished
from the 40s to late 60s.
New Criticism Occurred
Partially in Response To:
that understood art primarily as a reflection of the author's life (sometimes
to the point that the texts themselves weren't even read!).
Competition for dollars
and students from sciences in academia.
New forms of mass literature
and literacy, an increasingly consumerist society and the increasingly
visible role of commerce, mass media, and advertising in people's lives.
Criticism Tends to Emphasize:
The text as an autotelic
artifact, something complete with in itself, written for its own sake,
unified in its form and not dependent on its relation to the author's life
or intent, history, or anything else.
The formal and technical
properties of work of art.
The critic's job is to
help us appreciate the technique and form of art and the mastery of the
That the "Western tradition"
is an unbroken, internally consistent set of artistic conventions and traditions
going back to ancient Greece and continuing up to this day, and that good
art participates in and extends these traditions. Similarly, criticism's
job is to uphold these traditions and protect them from encroachments from
commercialism, political posturing, and vulgarity.
That there are a finite
number of good texts (a notion now often tied to "the canon" of texts traditionally
taught). The closer that a text comes to achieving an ideal unity, where
each element contributes to an overall effect, the more worthy it is of
Studying literature is
an intrinsically edifying process. It hones the sensibilities and discrimination
of students and sets them apart from the unreflective masses.
That "cream rises," and
works of genius will eventually be "vindicated by posterity."
That there is a firm and
fast distinction between "high" art and popular art.
That good art reflects
unchanging, universal human issues, experiences, and values.
and analyses are vital to understanding literature. The text's relationship
to a world that extends beyond it is of little interest.
Associated With It:
John Crowe Ransom,
Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and Cleanth Brooks. New Critics also frequently
looked to the work and criticism of T.S. Eliot and the essays of Matthew
Arnold for inspiration.
Sometimes Made of New Criticism:
That it's emphases on
technique, unity of effect, and the autotelic status of art works best
on the lyric poem, but has problems with larger, more historically recent
forms like the novel.
That it makes the Western
tradition out to be more unified than it is by ignoring diversity and contradictory
forces within it, and more monadic than it is by ignoring the exchange
between non-western and western cultures (Aristotle, for instance, central
to new critical concepts, was introduced to medieval Europe via the Islamic
That artistic standards
of value are variable and posterity is fickle. Particular pieces of art
are viewed as important because they do important cultural work, represent
values that segments of the culture (say editors and English professors)
believe are of vital import, or help us understand our history.
That the values New Critics
celebrated were neither unchanging nor universal, but instead reflected
their own, historically and experientially specific concerns, values and
That context is just as
important as form to understanding a work of art.
TO LEWIS CARROLL PAGE
Academic year 1998/1999
28 Mayo 1999
©a.r.e.a./Dr Vicente Forés López
©Inmaculada Pascual Osuna
Universitat de València Press