How does New Criticism theory differ from that of Reader Response theory, and is emasculation a part of the Reader Response theory?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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New Criticism is based on the notion that a poem has an inherent organic unity and can be read independent of context, as in I. A. Richards' experiments in practical criticism. Meaning is made in poetry, according to new critics, by the ways in which the linguistic texture of the poetic object interacts with the generic functioning of the poetic medium. The poet, to a great degree, acts as a conduit for the tradition of poetry to the present age in a process that is almost impersonal, as T. S. Eliot pointed out in his seminal essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent,"  that acted to a great degree as a manifesto for the New Critical movement. The intention of the author has no bearing on the interpretation of the poem, according to Wimsatt and Beardsley's important New Critical essay, "The Intentional Fallacy." Wimsatt and Beardsley also criticise the "affective fallacy," which interprets poems by their effect on the reader.

What Wimsatt and Beardsley term the "affective fallacy" is actually the centre of reader response criticism, which centres the meaning of the poem on the way the reader responds to it. There are several different strands of reader response, a European one, emphasizing a cultural horizon of expectations, pioneered by Hans-Robert Jauss and Wolfgang Iser, one involving interpretive communities as constructed by intellectual disciplines, associated with Stanley Fish, and a popular psychological approach emphasizing student reading practices.

Emasculation is a topic discussed in gender theory, a third school of literary criticism unrelated to the other two.





Affective fallacy link:,TheAffectiveFallacy.pdf

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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thanatassa's discussion of New Criticism is very good, but the final item may need to be revisited. Reader response theory is indeed connected to the concept of "emasculation" -- or, more precisely, to the concept of "immasculation" -- through a highly influential work by Judith Fetterley, The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction (1978).

Consider the following passage from the ENG 211 source cited below:

According to Fetterly, in such a circumstance, the female reader "eavesdrops" upon a literary conversation that was intended entirely for male authors and readers.  Because women were and are raised in a language system and literature that still presumes its authors and readers are male, Fetterly argues that they become psychologically "immasculated"--not "emasculated," in the sense of having "maleness" taken away from them, but rather they learn to think and read and write like men.

I think, then, that it is fair to say that "emasculation/immasculation" is not a central part of all reader response theory but is certainly an important part of feminist reader response theory.


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