Guide to Week 6: Thursday
In the web page hyperlinked to this week's reading in Hirsch's article, I have abstracted key terms and theoretical principles that are important to his revision of New Critical theory and its interpretive methods. After you have read Hirsch, review the terms and principles, and make sure you understand them. The first portion of our discussion will be a review of Hirsch, and then we will look at some broader issues like those below.
Hirsch's restatement and adjustment of some of New Criticism's central theories also constitutes an important re-assertion of its critical methods' importance, and it sets out the form in which many "Neo-New Critics" still practice the craft of literary interpretation today. Hirsch gains the most ground on the author's side, taking up Wimsatt and Beardsley's three types of evidence and looking more closely at what knowledge of what the author and the author's contemporaries knew as a measure of what the literature's language might most accurately mean. He addresses the readers' experience of the work as part of his method of estimating era-specific and sub-culture-specific word use. Does his article ever address emotional affect? Can you see a place where it could have done so? Can you accept Hirsch's version of New Criticism as part of your theory of interpretation, and can you use some or all of his methods when you interpret this week's "Working With" assignment? Or will you stick to the concepts proposed by Wimsatt, Beardsley, and the theory and methods in Tyson's summary of Empson, Brooks, Blackmur and Richards?
You should consider carefully Hirsch's employment of the philosophical notion of a "horizon" of linguistic awareness or meaning. When we are reading literature from any but our own time and culture, how are we to determine what the authors' linguistic horizons were for the purpose of determining their words' probable meaning? (Note: this Hirschian determinate "meaning" does not preclude many kinds of "significance," most of which probably would arise from our own interaction with the text with our own "linguistic horizons.") The best test available would be to have read all or most of the literature of the era, and to have read all of the author's works, so that your own horizon merged with hers/his. Since this takes years to accomplish, undergraduate students frequently use the Oxford English Dictionary as a short-cut. The OED arranges its definitions chronologically, from the oldest recorded use of the word to the most recent. Find the usages which date from the year in which the work in question was written, and you have a fairly good basis for believing you know the author's likely sense of what the word means. It would be cumbersome to perform this search for every word in a work, but wise students know which specific words in the text are central to their theses, and they make sure they look up those words before trusting their Modern English dialect to interpret their meanings. The OED is available from the Julia Rogers Library's web site via the "Quick Links" menu, "Databases A-Z."
"Working with New Criticism" Paper Aids--
NC method demo on the Shakespeare sonnet.
Evidence Tests: New Critical "Intentional Fallacy" and "Affective Fallacy" on "Cat in the Rain"
As you prepare to analyze the Dickinson poem, try to remember that you are preparing to teach your reader something about it: "The critic is not a contributor to statistical countable reports about the poem, but a teacher or explicator of meanings. His readers, if they are alert, will not be content to take what he says as testimony, but will scrutinize it as teaching. [W&B, "Affective Fallacy" 354] The teacher-student relationship of the New Critics' publications helps explain how theories arise, develop their doctrines and methods, and mature into social systems.
Tyson offers you a synthesized "how-to" for New Criticism's overall aims in interpretation on page150, and a thorough application of it to Lucille Clifton's "There's a Girl Inside" on pages 143-47, which refers to her explanation of NC's high-value interpretive terms on pages 139-43. To operate NC interpretation well, you will need to be extremely well-acquainted with those interpretive terms and how to apply them when reading a poem, and you will need to understand your overall aims of interpretation in terms of what NC considers the critic's most desired interpretive outcomes. Please review these pages carefully this week!
Pay attention to dates of publication and keywords in titles when searching for secondary scholarship to use with your presentations and papers. When reading previously published literary criticism, you often can tell what methods the authors are likely to use from the era in which the article was published. For instance, you are unlikely to encounter New Critics detecting "unifying themes" or emphasizing "paradox," "irony" or "ambiguity," or arguing for "transcendent human significance" for works of literature before 1937-67, just as you are unlikely to encounter Psychoanalytic interpretations of "unconscious anxieties" or "repressed trauma" much before 1900-1923, or Marxist interpretations of social class or false consciousness much before 1963-90. The more you know about the critical theory an article is using, the more confidently you can judge whether it is using it well, and whether you should be relying on it in your own work.
Click here for an important comparison of the verb Wimsatt and Beardsley use to describe criticism ("to explicate") and the verb Hirsch uses to describe the first and most important stage of criticism ("to construe").