The New Criticism Holds Sway (Great Events from History II: Arts and Culture Series)
Article abstract: More than a generation of writers and teachers emphasized the text itself in literary criticism.
Summary of Event
By the end of World War II, a method of literary study (particularly of poems) had gained primacy in American colleges and universities. The method, dubbed “New Criticism,” soon triumphed over other ways to interpret literature.
New Criticism was a reaction to and a rejection of previous literary studies that (according to the New Critics) had submerged poetry in historical, philological, cultural, and biographical studies. Spearheaded by early critics such as Thomas E. Hulme (1883-1917) and T. S. Eliot, New Criticism argued that poetry should be interpreted by the reading of individual poems. This may appear to be an obvious truism, but according to Hulme, scholarship in the Romantic age had focused on the poet, whose verbal expressions were seen not so much as poetry as versified statements about the poet’s emotional experience. Eliot, in his key critical work The Sacred Wood (1920), argued that the poet, rather than seeking to express emotion, should try to escape it by writing a poem, a construction of images, plot, and metaphors that embodies the truth intrinsic to the work itself. The author of a work, Eliot argued, is far less important than the work. Nor are the historical context or moral worldview from which the work comes very important. The New Critics...
(The entire section is 2120 words.)
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