(John Orley) Allen Tate 1899–1979
American critic, poet, novelist, and editor.
Tate is renowned as one of the most influential thinkers of the New Criticism movement. Considered a critic of rare integrity and commitment, he is noted for his impassioned attacks on positivist and purely scientific approaches to literature. Concentrating mainly on the criticism of poetry, Tate advanced the idea that literature is a primary means to understanding human experience. Such understanding is best promoted, in his view, by critics who devote the bulk of their energies to a close analysis of texts.
Tate's first literary essays were published in The Fugitive, an influential Southern journal founded by Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren, among others. Tate gained prominence with the publication of Reactionary Essays on Poetry and Ideas in which he presented his humanistic views in essays on Dante, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Emily Dickinson, and other poets.
Tate's books stress the conviction that positivism, or any critical method that "reduces" literature to something other than "an inexhaustible object of contemplation," is unsound. Positivist criticism was repellent to him because it placed great emphasis on the social, historical, and scientific aspects of literature. A religious man who subscribed to a humanist philosophy, Tate felt that critics should be deeply concerned with the spiritual and moral insights offered by literature. Throughout his career, he was considered a critic with a passionate love of literature and a deep respect for language.
(See also CLC, Vols, 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 14 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed., Vols. 85-88 [obituary]).