Richard Ohmann, "Teaching and Studying Literature at the End of Ideology," from English in America: A Radical View of the Profession (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1976).
Some specimen passages:
"American literary humanism . . . That is, we have held the study of literature 'to have a unique effectiveness in opening the mind and illuminating it, in purging the mind of prejudices, and received ideas, in making the mind free and active . . . an improvement in the intelligence as it touches the moral life'" (quoting Lionel Trilling 213, RO 1).
"Start with the familiar that the poem is a self-contained whole, autonomous [a premise] often disparaged . . . for seeming to absolve poetry of moral responsibility. [ . . . ] Second, the organic idea of poetry denies that the poem should be read as an avenue to the poet's intention or as part of his autobiography. And third, the New Critics mean to deny the 'affective fallacy' that the poem is its psychological effects on the reader. The intent of this ontological position is not to divorce literature from social and personal reality but to make the relationship an indirect one . . . The New Critics know that poems are related to life, but they want to let the poem create its own mimetic life before seeing how it fits the world outside" (3).
"The aesthetic experience, in [Eliseo Vivas'] familiar phrase, is a state of 'intransitive, rapt attention,' in which we feel all meanings and values to be in the art object rather than in the world beyond the object" (4).
"The world is complex, discordant, dazzling. We want desperately to know it as unified and meaningful, but action out in the world fails to reveal or bring about a satisfying order. The order we need is available in literature; therefore literature must be a better guide to truth than are experience and action" (5).
". . . the opponents of New Criticism offered no real alternative to it" (7).
Donald Bush's 1949 MLA talk's critique of NC: "the New Critics ignore historical context; they therefore make damaging errors; they glorify technical method and assume that 'literature exists for the diversion of a few sophisticates'; they are 'aesthetes' who 'create a moral vacuum." Poetry deals with morality and so should criticism" (7-8).
The Chicago "Aristotelian" Critics' "'pluralistic' criticism" in which students might write "an Aristotelian paper on a narrative poem, then a myth-and-ritual job on a Restoration comedy, and on to a synthesis of Brooks and Lovejoy applied to several metaphysical lyrics" [which] "left us free to make the choice appropriate to the critical occasion" (8).
"We wanted to move out of social action; we wished politics out of existence. But as Georg Lukacs says, 'everything is politics'; every human thought and act is 'bound up with the life and struggles of the community.' The denial of politics could not continue forever. For one thing, external events caught up with us and disturbed the great bourgeois peace of the fifties--the war in Vietnam, the uprising of the oppressed peoples here and abroad, the destruction of the biosphere through unchecked forces of the free-market economy. No walls built around the free play of intellect could exclude these world-historical events" (11).