What is New Criticism?

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wafia | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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New Criticism is an approach to literature which was developed by a group of American critics, most of who taught at southern universities during the years following the First World War. The New Critics wanted to avoid impressionistic criticism, which risked being shallow and arbitrary, and social/ historical approaches which might easily be subsumed by other disciplines. Thus, they attempted to systematize the study of literature, to develop an approach which was centred on the rigorous study of the text itself. They were given their name by John Crowe Ransom, who describes the new American formalists in The New Criticism (1941).

New Criticism is distinctly formalist in character. It stresses close attention to the internal characteristics of the text itself, and it discourages the use of external evidence to explain the work. The method of New Criticism is foremost a close reading, concentrating on such formal aspects as rhythm, meter, theme, imagery, metaphor, etc. The interpretation of a text shows that these aspects serve to support the structure of meaning within the text.

The aesthetic qualities praised by the New Critics were largely inherited from the critical writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge was the first to elaborate on a concept of the poem as a unified, organic whole which reconciled its internal conflicts and achieved some final balance or harm. The New Critics privileged poetry over other forms of literary expression because the saw the poem as the purest exemplification of the literary values which they upheld. However, the techniques of close reading and structural analysis of texts have also been applied to fiction, drama, and other literary forms. These techniques remain the dominant critical approach in many modern literature courses.

The New Critics privileged poetry over other forms of literary expression because the saw the poem as the purest exemplification of the literary values which they upheld. However, the techniques of close reading and structural analysis of texts have also been applied to fiction, drama, and other literary forms. These techniques remain the dominant critical approach in many modern literature courses.

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literaryallusion | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

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New Criticism is a school of literary criticism that came about in the 1920's and 30's. The most important thing to the New Critic is the text. There is nothing outside the text. In other words, when you read a piece of literature you shouldn't worry about the author's intention, the author's history, etc. You should focus on what you see on the page. This school of criticism is inherently democratic because it allows anyone to be a critic. The person analyzing the literature need not have an extensive background in history or be extremely well-read. Previous to this school of criticism the world of literary theory was extremely exclusionary.

 

The main tool of a New Critic is called "close reading". A close reading of a text is done when the reader analyzes diction, meter and rhyme scheme where applicable, point of view, and much more.

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