New Criticism Concepts, Methods, and Terms:
In addition to William Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, New Criticism first developed in mainly in America through the work of displaced Southern critics like Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, and John Crow Ransom, who established a movement known as "The Fugitives" that gave New Criticism its philosophical motivation in seeking refuge from 1940s-50s post-war cultural materialism in a kind aesthetic-religious embrace of literature as a source of cultural integrity. In England, at Cambridge, I. A. Richards and his student, William Empson, developed the importance of ambiguity and other rhetorical "tropes" for packing additional meanings into literary language. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., wrote the last "canonical" statement of New Criticism's methods that added an important test of "meaning" (the "horizon of interpretation") and a crucial separation of "meaning," which does not change and is the product of competent reading, from "significance," which does change and is the product of interpretation. For a list with dates of publication of NC's "Bible" articles and books, click here. For specific essays and books, see Tyson's reading lists on 164-5.
New Critical methods can work with any work of literature, but they are especially effective at explaining works like lyric poems in which meaning is very densely packed in elliptical sentences or phrases, i.e., sentences in which words are simply left out for economy and to force readers to supply them. For this reason, many New Critics call all literature "poems," including works in prose. They treat novelists' word choices with as much careful scrutiny as those of a sonneteer. These same close-reading methods work well for longer works, like novels, epics, romances, and major dramas, but the analyst must select numerous passages for close reading to demonstrate that an interpretive pattern is widely distributed in the work, rather than being a local exception.
Phenomena, Actions, and Interpretive Practices New Criticism Opposed as Irrelevant to Literary Criticism--
|author's intention||biographical fallacy||genetic fallacy|
|reader's affective response||impressionism||relativism|
|paraphrase||heresy of paraphrase||poem as artifact vs. poem as meaning|
Attributes of poems' language ("figures") you should seek by "close reading" in "objective" or "intrinsic criticism" (New Criticism)--
|denotation||implication (vs. inference)||connotation|
|image||symbol (image with literal and figurative meaning)||metaphor or simile (image with only figurative meaning)|
Note that irony, ambiguity, and paradox are only a few of the poetic figures which a New Critical reading might discover implying thematic connotations implied in a poem, but in the early history of New Criticism, they were the most commonly discovered strategies by which poems resolved their tensions into themes of universal significance. To see more figures defined, which you might possibly use in a New Critical analysis, click here.
What are the attributes of a good verbal object (AKA "poem")?--
|complex tensions (often embodied in figurative language, producing connotations)||resolution of tensions in a theme||universal significance|
Review of the NC methods at work in Cleanth Brooks, "The Motivation of Tennyson's Weeper," The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (N.Y.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, 1947, rpt. 1975).
Do you want to test your skills as a New Critic?