NEW CRITICISM

The origin of New criticism is rather complex and apparently contradictory – especially in its theoretical and critical positions and practices. It is in sharp reaction to sociological or Marxian criticism which regarded literature as a product of society. It stressed on textual criticism. It is just like establishing a new professional criticism. The influence of Mathew Arnold’s concept of ‘poetry and culture’ is clearly perceptible in them. The New Criticism were also influenced by modernist poets/ critics like T.S Eliot and T.E Hulme, whose poetry and criticism emphasized the importance of the internal dynamics of poetic form.

At the foundations of the New Criticism was the idea of the critic as a kind of technician, whose specialized knowledge and skills enabled a form of close reading of literary texts that found meaning and value in form. The New Criticism flourished from the 1920s through the 1950s and was primarily concerned with poetry and poetic form. Though one can trace the origin of it back to a lecture – ‘The New Criticism’ delivered by Elias Spingarn in 1920, the term ‘New Criticism’ is used to refer to the theory and practice that was prominent in the American Literary Criticism until late 1960.

The term is coined after the John Crowe Ransom’s the most influential work “The New Criticism” in 1941. It is less a coherent literary theory than the critical and theoretical approaches all of which are grounded on the idea that the literary work is autonomous; and its unity and meaning are constituted primarily by formal and rhetorical features that take precedence over social, political and biographical contexts. Unlike historical criticism or biological criticism, New Criticism completely concerns with the text itself- with its language and organization with ontological discussion, It warms the reader against the critical practices which diverts attention from the text itself.

The distinctive practice of new critics is ‘close reading’- a detailed and subtle analysis of complex interrelations and ambiguities of the inherent elements of the literary work. It studies how the parts of the text relate with each other, how it contains and revolves ‘irony’, ‘paradox’, ‘tension’, and ‘ambiguities’. Their emphasis is on the organic unity of overall structure and verbal meaning. The conceive literary work as being a literary construct. They think about figures of speech, symbols, imagery, meaning with text. For them, the essential components of literary work are symbols, images, words rather than plot, character, theme and thought.

They tried to displace content of literary analysis and treat the work’s form and its content. Form was treated as self contained and autonomous entity deserving all critical attention. For them, the literary art is a complete entity in itself and the function of the critic is to analyze, interpret and evaluate the work of art, And his function should be unbiased with focus only on the text itself. The study of words, their arrangements, the way in which they act and react on each other is all important. Words, besides their literal meaning and significance, also have emotional, associative, symbolic significance; and only close reading and analysis can bring out their total meaning.

Unlike, the Reader Response Theory, their merit of the work is to be found in its language and structure. They view literary work as a self-sufficient, autonomous object whose failure and success, charms or lack of it are to be found in the work itself. The text is more important than reader and writer. New Criticism emphasizes on the complex interplay within a text.

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