Origin of New Criticism
The origins of the New Criticism date back to the early 20th century, but it didn’t see widespread popularity until after World War I. New Criticism emphasizes the intrinsic value of a work of art, no matter its creator or subject matter, and demands that criticism remain objective and avoid delving into personal opinion and interpretation of the piece. New Criticism was born in America in 1934 when John Crowe Ransom wrote an article entitled The New Criticism, in which he defined his theory as the interpretation of poetry as poetry and as nothing else.
Emerging in post-World War I America, principles of new criticism arose as a reaction to the proliferation of non-literary influences on literature. The term new criticism was coined by John Crowe Ransom and applied to ideas introduced by Cleanth Brooks. Cleanth famously argued that while it may not be possible to enjoy art without understanding its intention or historical context, we can still appreciate it on its own terms.
Among other things, they are credited with moving poetry away from preconceived notions about genre or content and instead focusing on authorial intent, audience response and objective meaning. Unlike Romanticism, which praised the work’s transcendent qualities in order to create an aura around itself, New Critics wanted readers to focus on literary analysis.
In 1929, American poet and critic John Crowe Ransom delivered an influential lecture at Harvard University called Criticism as Pure Speculation. He wrote that criticism should not reflect any outside ideology but instead be driven purely by curiosity. In his view, this would let readers know whether they shared common interests in taste with a particular writer or not.
The principles of New Criticism were established by I . A. Richard a great English poet and writer in his work, An Introduction to Understanding Poetry. New Critics felt that poetry is autonomous, self-contained, and independent from the author’s intention. It is meant to be read for its own sake; it does not have reference beyond itself; it does not need to please any audience other than its author; it is meant only for the reader who has mastery over language.
They believed poems are shaped according to their means of expression–not shaped according to their meanings–and meaning can never be fully understood without understanding how words are shaped in a poem. So they concentrated on close readings of individual poems within the confines of text without considering anything external such as historical context or biography.
Principles of New Criticism
Some of the notable principles of New Criticism are as follows.
- The work should be taken as an independent unit and not judged by its social, moral, or political implications.
- Critics should describe their impressions in detail without overtly judging what they read.
- Aesthetics (sensory) aspects matter significantly more than other things like themes or intentions.
- New Criticism assumes that all texts have meaning, but it can only give an account for purpose on the surface level.
- Important terms like theme or metaphor are irrelevant because these levels cannot be observed with reading alone.
- It rejects relativism and universalism about aesthetics and insists on a personal response to beauty in art.
- The poetic form’s intent is less important than how well it achieves its goal, which includes formal elements such as sound and imagery as well as rhythm and rhyme scheme.
Favourable Reaction to New Criticism
New Criticism has changed the way we read. It is also a post-World War I school of Anglo-American literary critical theory that insisted on the intrinsic value of a work of art and focused on the individual’s work alone as an independent unit. These critiques were written by critics such as John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and others who saw it as their duty to make poetry more accessible to all. Critics would do this by examining language in great detail and striving for clarity in one’s writing.
Notable Works Reflecting New Critical Approaches
We have traditionally believed that the shift in criticism had begun with the Romantics, namely Wordsworth, Coleridge, and later Eliot. Their literary stance tended to be more focused on an organic unity of literature, an organic unity that many argue is lost under Modernism.
However, new research from scholars like Frank Lentricchia has illuminated this as false, and it has become clear that new criticism was not born out of Romanticism. They instead point to how post-war Modernism catalysed radical critique at what seemed like a fevered pace across disciplines–most notably sociology and philosophy–of how knowledge is constructed through written texts and images.
In turn, this made way for new approaches to reading and writing, which were then quickly applied to the study of literature, most notably by professors John Crowe Ransom and William K. Wimsatt at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. New Criticism advocated for strict readings of individual texts without attention paid to their authorial intent or outside sources such as historical context or biography.
To sum up, New Criticism arose as a reaction against prevailing schools of criticism. The existing schools of thought tended to treat literature as illustrative of social and historical background, purpose, or function but new criticism considered literature as illustrative of something other than itself.