Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
New Criticism was the dominant trend in English and American literary criticism of the early twentieth century, from the 1920s to the early 1960s. Its adherents were emphatic in their advocacy of close reading and attention to texts themselves, and their rejection of criticism based on extra-textual sources, especially biography. At their best, New Critical readings were brilliant, articulately argued, and broad in scope, but sometimes they were idiosyncratic and moralistic.
The New Critics
Among the best-known figures associated with the New Criticism are:
- T.S. Eliot
- F.R. Leavis
- I.A. Richards
- W.K. Wimsatt
- Monroe Beardsley
- William Empson
- Robert Penn Warren
- John Crowe Ransom
- Cleanth Brooks
- The intentional fallacy: Wimsatt and Beardsley's essay of the same name argued strongly against any discussion of an author's intention, or "intended meaning." For the New Critics, the words on the page were all that mattered; importation of meanings from outside the text was quite irrelevant, and potentially distracting.
- Ambiguity: Several of the New Critics were enamored above all else of ambiguity and multiple simultaneous meanings. In the 1930s, Richards presciently borrowed Sigmund Freud's term "overdetermination" (which would later be revived in Marxist political theory by Louis Althusser) to refer to the multiple determining meanings which he believed were always simultaneously present in language; he called the opposing argument "the One And Only One True Meaning Superstition" (The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 39).
- Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity and Some Versions of Pastoral are among the preeminent New Critical works. Their broad taxonomic ambition, in both cases, ranges over a good portion of the literary canon in an attempt to define a literary device or trope.
- Richards's Practical Criticism is one of the most "theoretical" works of the New Criticism; that is, it is a reflection on critical method.
- Wimsatt and Beardsley concisely defined the two anathemas of the New Criticism in their well-known essays "The Intentional Fallacy" and "The Affective Fallacy."
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