When in the 1920’s the New Criticism first emerged in public it was limited to a small group of professors and students at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee). In only two decades its principles, values and proceedings were to become so pervasive and so much embedded in the study of literature, that they were almost equated with the very nature and essence of the critical art.

            The term New Criticism became established as the name of the School after John Crowe Ransom, one of its founders, published a collection of essays bearing that title, in 1941. In one of them, “Wanted: An Ontological Critic”, he announced that it was time to identify a powerful intellectual movement which deserved to be called “a new criticism”. The intention implicit in this name is obviously polemical: indeed the New Critics felt it was time to do away with the traditional approaches, which laid emphasis only on the historical, social, biographical or psychological contexts, on the moral or philosophical implications, or still on the textual-linguistic specific factors. In other words the traditional critics took into account extra-textual considerations and/or separated the form of the art object from its meaning, refusing to regard the work as an integrated art-form. Some of these concerns are similar to those of the Russian formalists, but between the two critical schools there are also important differences, which will be discussed later in this chapter.

          We can now remark that from the outset of the New Critics’ activity, their formalism never got an extreme, pure and hard nature, but was always infused with broader humanistic concerns and never severed all connections with what is outside the form of the literary text.

          The New Critics were first the members of an informal group of literary discussion, around the poet-scholar J. C. Ransom and his students Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and Cleanth Brooks. Ransom was editing The Fugitive, a poetry magazine which published mostly traditionally-patterned verse, and championed a conservative ideology, later on to be defined as Southern Agrarianism. In the 1930s other critics associated with them (such as T. S. Eliot,I. A. Richards, W. Empson,R. P. Blackmur, R. Wellek, W. K. Wimsatt, K. Burke, Y. Winters), while the New Critical principles spread in most universities, in literary circles and journals. By 1955 the current had completely lost its innovative image and was regarded by many as a dying trend, but in fact, as William Cain has pointed out, the New Critical attitudes, values and emphases became “so deeply ingrained in English studies”, that they were felt to be, for many decades, “the natural and definitive conditions for criticism in general”, and not “the legacy of a particular movement”. [1]

           The moderately revolutionary spirit of the New Criticism is nota pure product of the formalist 20th century. Some of its roots lie in the aesthetics of Kant and Coleridge, which was based on a theory of imagination emphasizing the concepts of harmony and poetic wholeness. Besides, in his Critique of Judgment, Kant insisted that aesthetic pleasure is purely disinterested: as a “free approval”, it is indifferent to the real existence of the contemplated thing. The New Critics are also indebted to the paradoxical Kantian notion of “purposeless finality”: in the same treatise the German philosopher maintained that those things which we like and consider beautiful seem to have been meant for the satisfaction of our needs and desires, although there is no rational evidence that there has been a purposeful intelligence to have produced them.

          In his Biographia Literaria, the English Romantic poet Samuel T. Coleridge propounded the organic principle as the constitutive definition of the poem: the whole is in every part, and every part can be found in the whole. The poem is that species of composition characterized, unlike works of science, by the immediate purpose of pleasure, and also by special metric and phonetic arrangements; it produces delight as a whole and this delight is compatible with the distinct gratification generated by each component part, which harmonizes with the other elements. [2] T. S. Hulme, a 20th century English thinker, elucidated Coleridge’s concept quite graphically in his Speculations: Essays on Humanism and the Philosophy of Art: unlike mechanical complexity, vital or organic is that kind of complexity “in which the parts cannot be said to be elements as each one is modified by the other’s presence, and each one to a certain extent is the whole. The leg of a chair by itself is still a leg. My leg by itself wouldn’t be.”[3]

          Actually the idea of organicism had been first highlighted in Aristotle’s Poetics, but the Stagirite had focused on plot, which acquired with him an almost immaterial, transcendental quality, and not on poetic language, not on figures and style.

          In Coleridge’s view, expounded in Biographia Literaria, a great poem is the product of both the primary imagination (a superior intuitive power, similar to the Kantian Vernunft, which conceives of the oneness of universals, like truth or beauty, and characterizes the creative poetic genius), and of the secondary imagination (the faculty, similar to the Kantian Verstand, possessed by every human being who intuitively realizes the oneness of an object or concept). The secondary imagination “dissolves, disperses, scatters, in order to re-create” [4] the material of the primary imagination; it represents creation as against vision.

          Another important principle which the New Critics borrowed from Coleridge’s poetic is contextualism. The English poet viewed the poem as a product of the form-creating man; it had an independent existence, within the organic system of mutual relationships among the terms that made up the context of the poem. Thus the poem was regarded outside any and all non-poetic contexts.

          The early development of the New Criticism was mostly influenced, from among the recent critical ideas, by the theories of I. A. Richards (who took over and expanded Coleridge’s contextualist thought), and T. S. Eliot. If the New Critics overlooked the psychological component in the critical doctrine of the English critic I. A. Richards, they took over in various forms his distinction between the symbolic and the emotive language, as well as that one between statements (conveyed by science), and pseudo-statements (conveyed by poetry, which impresses not through the “truth” it contains, but through its structural coherence). Richards’s emphasis on metaphor as a constitutive element of language, and on the determining role of irony and tension in poetry was also extremely influential with the New Criticism. High poetry is characterized, according to him, by a balanced poise - an equilibrium of opposite factors always in a state of tension; irony, for instance, brings them into the poem as contending, complementary impulses. When in 1930 Richards’s disciple, William Empson, published Seven Types of Ambiguity, this study, which apparently established the essential formalist strategies, was taken as a model by the American New Critics.

          Likewise T. S. Eliot’s “impersonal theory of poetry’, as he himself called it in “Tradition and the Individual Talent”,[5] had an important impact on the New Critical thought. In the writing of poetry, Eliot contends, there is a great deal which must be conscious and deliberate. “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” (21) However, there is one way of expressing emotion in the form of art: it is by finding an “objective correlative”, that is, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which will become the formula of that particular emotion. So, when the “external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience” are presented in the work of art, the emotion is “immediately evoked” (145). The well-known New Critical concept of “fallacy”, referring to the traditional critics’ erroneous emphasis on what is creation and interpretation and not on the text as such, owes a great deal to Eliot’s views above.

          Eliot’s persuasions affected the early New Critics not only by reinforcing their formalistic tendencies, but also as concerns their ideological affiliation, that is outside the limits of their formalism. His “Tory” social and religious views, his emphasis on the decadent condition of the current Western world, and his preaching a return to myth, to a “unified sensibility” and wholeness of being, made his doctrine largely converge with the Southern Agrarians’ conservative ideology.

          Although the New Criticism was not quite a homogeneous movement, especially in its later stages, the fundamentals of the formalist doctrine and hermeneutics promoted by this School are not hard to elicit, the more so as for several decades before and about mid century they prevailed in the critical discourse in America and not only there.      

          What is the literary work as an art form? What is the relationship between its structural components and its meaning (if it has any)? Can one speak about the content as distinct from the form of the poem? What is the best method to probe the essence of the literary text? These are a few of the questions the New Critics raised and discussed, establishing a kind of critical canon for about two generations.

          From the beginning we should notice that, unlike the Russian formalists, they were not concerned with the issue of literariness. That the texts they were analyzing were worth being called “poems”, or “literature”, nobody would question: this was taken for granted, as it was the works ofcanonical authors which they always turned to.

          More often than not those texts were comparatively shorter poems and the approach employed by the New Critics was an exacting CLOSE READING.Attention was paid to what the text says and how it does it: in general they favored precision and tightness,a discourse that employs irony and ambiguity. A poem contains everything that is needed for its interpretation, andcritics are at fault if they resort to arguments which take into account extraneous elements in their demonstration. Every word in the text is significant, not only through its denotative, but also through its connotative force. The word etymology itself maysupply important cues for the understanding of the work. Lost senses of the words, shades of meaning, rhetorical figures are all significant guidelines for the understanding of the literary object. As a “verbal icon” [6] the poem is characterized by an all-at-onceness of meaning, in which everyphonetic, syntactic, lexical and rhetorical element becomes significant.Like the Russian Formalists, the New Critics emphasized the principle according to whichform and content are inseparable. As Mark Schorer has put it, “modern criticism has shown that to speak of content as such is not to speak of art at all,but of experience; and that it is only when we speak of the achieved content, the form, the work of art as a work of art, that we speak as critics. The difference between content, or experience, and achieved content, or art, is technique.” [7] The meaning ofa literary text cannot exist, that is, outside and without an artful arrangement of words.

          What should be excluded from criticism, then? As a prescriptive (not only descriptive) critical movement, the School of Ransom, Tate, Brooks and the others stood out through its famous catalogue of“fallacies” and “heresies”. As early as 1937, in The World’s Body, J. C. Ransom had compiled a list of exclusions, setting out from the idea that it is easier to assert what criticism is not. Apart from the works of historical scholarship and of Neo-Humanism which R. S. Crane, too, had put on the negative list, Ransom first excludes PERSONAL REGISTRATIONS, [8] that is declarations of the effect the art-work has upon the critic as reader.

          Criticism, Ransom contends, should be objective, should cite the nature of the object rather than its effects upon the subject. Such criteria for judging the worth of a literary work as the readers’ impulse to read it twice, the psychological effects it has upon them (the oblivion of the outer world, the flowing of tears, spiritual ecstasy, and so on), are inappropriate for a well-founded critical undertaking. Even Aristotelian catharsis is an invalid criterion; moreover the Stagirite did not forget to analyze the objective features of the work as well. A less subtle type of commentary is the test used by Broadway producers who hire a dependable person to seat himself in a trial audience and count the laughs produced by the comical plot on the stage; yet, both Aristotle’s catharsis, Ransom remarks, and the latter method are concerned with the effects, and not with what is in the literary work.Likewise, the use of such vocabulary as: moving, exciting, pitiful, admirable, and even beautiful is actually uncritical, as it deals with properties discovered in the subject, not in the literary object. Ransom’s dismissal of receptionist criticism was later on clearly and strongly systematized by W. K. Wimsatt and M. C. Beardsley in the renowned essay “THE AFFECTIVE FALLACY” (1949).

          The second exclusion from the field of criticism concerns the procedures of “synopsis and paraphrase”, which make up the delight of high-school classes and women’s clubs, as Ransom sardonically remarks. Even if they are used by the genuine critic sometimes, he or she does not consider the plot as identical with the real content, but just as an abstract from it. The idea will be expanded later on by Cleanth Brooks, in “THE HERESY OF PARAPHRASE” (the last chapter of his book The Well Wrought Urn, 1947), where he opposed the notion of “content” or “subject matter” to that of “structure”, on which the value of a literary work actually depends. It is heretical to summarize the content of a text, and thus to overlook its form, because in this way you play off literary works against scientific ones.      

          Another item on Ransom’s catalogue refers to what he calls “historical studies”, in fact including historical, biographic, bibliographic ones, as well as “comparative literature”. The last one may be, however,a stimulating instrument of analysis, unless the critic resorts to mechanical analogies and is content with making parallel citations.

          Linguistic studies are also mentioned by Ransom on the negative list,though he is careful to distinguish between a mere recording of unusual, archaic or foreign words and allusions, and on the other hand, those linguistic references which are helpful to the understanding of the poem as a whole.Moral studies, too, may be partially helpful to the critic, provided the view of the whole content is not relinquished. Similarly, Ransom mentions in the end any other studies which represent an abstract or prose content taken out of the work, such as those dealing with Spenser’s view of the Irish question, Shakespeare’s understanding of the law, Milton’s geography, and so on. Literature furnishes materials for almost any domain of knowledge, but the critic’s business is to dwell on the literary assimilation of these sources.

          To Ransom’s catalogue of “uncritical” procedures we should add one more anathema: THE INTENTIONAL FALLACY, as it was named in another essay by Wimsatt and Beardsley, bearing this title and published first in 1946. It refers to the critics’ mistake of taking into account for their interpretation the “genesis” of the work, such as the author’s biography, psychologyandparticularlyhisintentions.“It is only because an artifact works that we infer an intention of the artificer”, the authors maintain. “ ‘A poem should not mean but be.’ [9] A poem can be only through its meaning - since its medium is words - yet it is, simply is - in the sense that we have no excuse for inquiring what part is intended or meant.”[10]                 

          If the value of a poem cannot be stated setting out from the author’s intentions, or from the reader’s reactions, if it does not depend on “content” or “subject matter” in the usual sense of these words, then in what terms can the critic approach it? Cleanth Brooks asserts that it is in terms of STRUCTURE that “the common goodness which the poems share will have to be stated”.[11]

          Before Brooks, Ransomwas also concerned with the nature of poetic structure, which he considered in opposition to that of science, setting out from the well-known pronouncement that “science deals exclusively in pure symbols, but art deals essentially, though not exclusively, in iconic signs”. [12] The phrase “though not exclusively” allowed Ransom to admit that the structure ofthe poem is an admixture ofbothabstract logic and “irrelevant, foreign” local matter. In other words, the poem is “a loose logical structure with an irrelevant local texture”.(114)

          For Brooks “structure” is not quite a satisfactory term, as he acknowledges in The Well Wrought Urn. Transcending Ransom’s use of the word, he means by it something far more internal than the metrical pattern or the sequence of images, far more complex than any statement abstracted from it.For instance, the structure of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock cannot be reduced to the heroic couplet as such (the heroic couplet has been used so many times with so different effects), neither to the mock-epic convention in general (although this term implies a certain attitude and is therefore nearer to the kind of structure Brooks has in mind). This concept of structure cannot be equated with “form”, which is usually conceivedas“a kindof envelopewhich‘contains’ the‘content’” (194). It is not only the material that counts, but also the ordering of the material, he claims.

          Yet, Brooks’s definition of “structure” is obviously one which goes beyond the territory of pure formalism into a broader humanistic field, as it includes philosophical and psychological elements besides linguistic and rhetorical ones: poetic structure means for him “a structure of meanings, evaluations, and interpretations”; it is informed by a principle of unity, which seems to be one of “balancing and harmonizing connotations, attitudes, and meanings” (195).

          On the other hand, the principle of unity does not involve the arrangement of the elements in homogeneous groupings, but it means uniting the like with the unlike. The process of structuration necessarily involves moments of conflict, tension, contradictory attitudes. Therefore positive unity is not achieved by an algebraic simplification,but by a harmonization of the opposites within the poem.

          This accounts. according to Brooks, for the frequent occurrence, in the New Critics’ lexicon, of such terms designating conflict or divergence as “ambiguity”, “paradox”, “complex of attitudes” and “irony” the last one being the “most annoying to the reader” (195) and Brooks’s favorite interpretive operator.

          The structure of the poem, according to Brooks, is like that of a play: it is based on conflict. Therefore the conclusion of any literary text is the working out of the various tensions which result from propositions, metaphors, or symbols, and the final unity is the outcome of a process resembling the development of a drama. Commenting on the “personae”, or the “speakers” in a poem, the New Critics emphasized the dramatic structure of the poem, based on an equilibrium of forces, be they rhetorical, symbolic, semantic, and so on.

          For Allen Tate the concept of TENSION was the most useful formal tool at the critic’s disposal, as irony and paradox were for Brooks. The principle of tension sustains the whole structure of meaning, and, as Tate declares in Tension in Poetry (1938), he derives it from lopping the prefixes off the logical terms extension and intension (which define the abstract and denotative aspect of the poetic language and, respectively, the concrete and connotative one). The meaning of the poem is “the full organized body of all the extension and intension that we can find in it”. [13] There is an infinite line between extreme extension and extreme intension and the readers select the meaning at the point they wish along that line, according to their personal drives, interests or approaches. Thus the Platonist will tend to stay near the extension end, for he is more interested in deriving an abstraction of the object into a universal, and will try to find the shortest way with the “dissenting ambiguities” in the intensive part of the scale. For instance, Tate claims, the Platonist is likely to declare that Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” is an invitation addressed to young men to behaveimmorally, and consequently he might want to censor it. Yet, this is only one side of the tension in the poem, for the rich intensive meaning, to which we should give equal weight, points to an essential phase of the human predicament, that is the conflict between sensuality and ascetism.

          In another illustration, Tate describes the metaphysical poet as beginning at or near the extensive end, and the romantic or symbolist one as beginning at the opposite point; however, each of them, “by a straining feat of the imagination tries to push his meanings as far as he can towards the opposite end, so as to occupy the entire scale” (86).

          Within poetic structure as seen by the New Critics the concept of metaphor acquired an almost theological status. Not only is it the essence of poetry, linking the concrete and historical with the abstract and universal elements in it, and differentiating poetry from scientific and ordinary language, but as Ransom states in “Poetry: A Note on Ontology” (1934), in any metaphorical assertion “there is a miraculism and a supernaturalism”. [14]

          In Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939), Brooks emphasized the essentially functional character of all metaphor, which is best evinced in the Metaphysical Poets’ verse. Their paradoxical conceits, in which intellectual and emotional qualities intermingle, contribute to achieve that “high seriousness” better than anything else. We cannot remove the comparisons from their poems without destroying their work, because those comparisons are not mere ornaments or illustrations. Metaphor is not merely subsidiary, as the Romantic and neoclassical accounts suggest. It is not just one alternative of the poets, but frequently the only means available to them. Brooks illustrates his view of metaphor with some verses from Andrew Marvell’s poem, “The Definition of Love”: As Lines so Loves oblique may well/ Themselves in every Angle greet;/ But ours so truly Parallel,/ Though infinite can never meet. In Brooks’s words, “if we count as part of his statement, not only the proposition in its logical paraphrase, but the qualifications which it receives from the poet’s emphasis and the poet’s attitude - obviously the ‘what’ that is stated is stated by the metaphor, and only by the metaphor”.[15]

          Thus with the New Criticism, as an echo of Coleridgean poetics, metaphor ceased to be a mere decorating device and became a means to insight, a way to discover truth. In the latter part of our century, metaphor, which had been the queen of figures for a long time, began to lose its unique place and the critics’ interest turned more and more to metonymy, as a reflection of the contemporary shift from the emotive and the sensory to the intellectual. Thus even Murray Krieger, the New Critics’ offspring, preferred to define the poem, in Theory of Criticism (1976), as a “metonymic metaphor”, a case of fusion between metaphor and metonymy. One of his examples is taken from Alexander Pope’s epic poem The Rape of the Lock: in From silver Spouts the grateful Liquors glide,/ While China’s Earth receives the smoking Tide, the phrase “China’s earth” is both a metonym, referring to the porcelain object of art (a tea cup), and a metaphor, standing for the whole body of China, with its mushrooming population. [16]

          If it is through metaphor that the mimetic and the cognitive values of literature intermingle, the wholeness of the poem (as a reflection of the oneness of reality) rests upon other principles, which are essential for the ontology of the text: paradox, irony and ambiguity. Particularly the first two concepts are so often mentioned in connection with each other by Brooks and otherNew Critics, that, functionally and intrinsically, it seems that they tend to merge into a single complex rhetorical unit. Celebrated in turn as the essence of poetry, paradox and irony equally contribute to unifying the opposites in the poetic experience and to controlling the tensions within the poem from a rhetorical and semantic vantage point.

          As a neo-critical term, PARADOX becomes prominent with the publication of Brooks’s The Well Wrought Urn (1947): paradox springs “from the very nature of the poet’s language”, in which “connotations play as great a part as the denotations”.(8) Setting out from T. S. Eliot’s notion ofthe “perpetual slight alteration of language, words perpetually juxtaposed in new and sudden combinations”, [17] Brooks insists that poetic language is essentially disruptive, unlike that of science (which is intent on stabilizing its vocabulary): the terms used in the poem continually modify each other, violating their dictionary meanings.For instance in Wordsworth’s sonnet “It Was a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free”, the contradiction between the calm evening and the nun’s breathless adoration (suggesting a state of tremendous excitement) is only apparent: the two states (and the two notions) go very well together, in the context of this poem.

          Otherwise, Brooks admits, few will agree that poetry is the language of paradox, because the latter defines the hard, bright and witty discourse of sophistry, not that of the soul, which is mainly emotive. Yet, if we consider Wordsworth’s poetry for instance, his typical poem appears to be based on a paradoxical situation, although it is characterized by simplicity and direct attack. In some cases, the paradox not only underlies the poem, but even informs it. Wordsworth himself, Brooks points out, let the intention of paradox be read in his poetry, when he admitted that his purpose was “to choose incidents and situations from common life”,but to handle them in such a way that “ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect”.(7) Otherinstances of paradoxical poems are, in Brooks’s reading, John Donne’s “Canonization”, in which the author daringly treats profane love as if it were divine love, and John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. The paradox of the speaking urn reaches a climax in the enigmatic final pronouncement, “beauty is truth, truth beauty”,which in fact is not a violation of the objective correlative doctrine, but a “speech in character”, supported by the dramatic context.

          Actually in Brooks’s theory the use of the term “paradox” is so much expanded that it tends to refer to any kind oftext which expressively produces “awed surprise” (6).

          IRONY, in Brooks’s glossary the twin brother of paradox, has a very similar role to play in the poem. According to the New Critics’ precursor, I. A. Richards,irony is characteristic of poetry of the highest order, as it brings in the opposite, complementary impulses, in order to achieve a “balanced poise”.When they talk about this poetic principle, Richards, Brooks and other new Critics do not primarily have in mind verbal irony (a rhetorical or verbal mode based on a figure of ambiguity), but the so-called situational irony. The latter type was first described by the German romantic theorists, especially Friedrich Schlegel, who defined it as a means of revealing, through ambivalence, the paradoxical essence of the world. It brings into relief the weakness of the human spirit confronted with the incomprehensible nature of life. One example of “romantic irony” is the position of the fully conscious artist , who must be both creative and critical, who allegedly means to give an account of reality, though he knows it is impossible, and whose work is meant to be about the world, though it is fiction.

          In The Well Wrought Urn, Brooks states that this kind of irony isthe critics’ most general term which points out to that “recognition of incongruities” pervading all poetry and to the poet’s controlled acceptance of them; it also points out to the “kind of qualification which the various elements in a context receive from the context” (209).

          We expect, of course, to find irony in Alexander Pope’s mock-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock, but there is a more profound irony where one may expect it less, such as in Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn, or in Wordsworth’s ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. Thus in the last poem, Brooks contends,


the thrusts and pressures exerted by the various symbols are not avoided by the poet, but played one against the other: in a “perverse” mode of thought, it is the child who is the best philosopher, it is from shadows that the light emerges, growth into manhood appears as an incarceration within a prison. [18]


          Poems do not contain abstract statements: any assertion is made under the pressure of the context, and this makes it be potentially ironic. Even the arithmetical truth, 2+2=4, becomes ironic within the framework of a poem by Lawrence Housman.

          The ironic tone can be affected by the skillful disposition of the context: the question in Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard becomes a rhetorical one, as the obvious truth is suggested by the adjoining images. “Honor”, “storied urn”, “animated bust”, as personifications (be they sculptures, or words on grandiloquent epitaphs), get in ironic contrast with the humbleness of the country churchyard graves and consequently appear empty, flat and lifeless:

                  Can storied urn or animated bust

              Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?

                  Can Honor’s voice provoke the silent dust,

                  Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of death ?

          Celebrating dissension among the words and among the partial meanings of the literary work, the New Critics actually praise the organic wholeness of the poem, as an essential axiological prerequisite. This and the method of close reading have probably been the most powerful influences their school has exerted on the forthcoming generations of critics for about two decades.

          However, their doctrine grew little by little out of fashion beginning with the late 1950s, as the archetypal, psychoanalytical, and mainly structuralist approaches to literature were gaining ground. Of all these trends, structuralism was the only one possible to place in the same category of doctrines with the New Criticism, that is doctrines which imply the autonomous nature of the art object. But apart from that, the cherished beliefs and goals of structuralism were so radically different that the two trends can hardly be viewed as relations.

          Actually one can find some convergence between the New Critical persuasions and some poststructuralist views; it is no wonder that the deconstructive school has been described as a kind of New New Criticism. Harold Bloom’s interest in the poem as such, and his emphasis on the autonomy of literature, the deconstructors’ belief that the surface of the text is only apparently quiet, and their method of searching the text with a magnifying glass for relevant details can be mentioned in this respect; likewise, the poststructuralist notion of the death of the author, or the idea that there is nothing outside the text. The deep motivations of these tenets put forward by the New Critics and, respectively, by postructuralist authors are, however, as wide apart as can be.

          Of all critical doctrines that have prevailed on the English-speaking scene in the postwar decades, the New Criticism is perhaps the best qualified to be called a real school of critical approach to literature. Though it lacked the tightness and the scientific rigor of other formalist currents, like the Russian school or the structuralist movement, though it was not the product of a single, circumscribed philosophical voice, and it was not spared the centrifugal moves of some dissident voices, such as Yvor Winters, Kenneth Burke and others, the New Criticism had the inner resources and the power to endure in the academic world for several decades. Todayits closest (hostile) brother, the deconstructive school, is out of commission, too, and cultural criticism has decisively taken the lead. Yet, even now, some of the New Critical procedures, like close reading, the search for irony and paradox, are still there, hidden, as it were, on the side of the road, for fear the conservative aesthetic ideology they carry along be untimely recollected.

[1] Cf. William E. Cain, The Crisis in Criticism: Theory, Literature, and Reform in English Studies (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 105.

2] Cf. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. J. Shawcross (London: Oxford University Press, 1907), vol. II, 10-11.

[3]Thomas E. Hulme,Speculations: Essays on Humanism and the Philosophy of Art (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1924), 139.

[4] S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, vol. I, 202.

[5] Cf. T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays (London: Faber & Faber, 1932), 17. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.

[6] The term was used byW. K. Wimsatt (a latecoming New Critic)as the title of a book published in 1954: The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press).

[7] In “Technique as Discovery”, Hudson Review I (Spring, 1948), 67.

[8] Cf. John Crowe Ransom, ‘Criticism, Inc.’, The World’s Body (New York: Scribner’s, 1938), 342.

[9] The final two lines in Archibald MacLeish’s poem “Ars Poetica”.

[10] W. K. Wimsatt, The Verbal Icon, 4.

[11] Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1947), 193. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.

[12] In John Crowe Ransom, The New Criticism (New York, 1941), 135. Next quotation cited parenthetically in the text.

[13] Allen Tate, “Tension in Poetry”, in Collected Essays (Denver: Alan Swallow, 1959), 82. Next quotation cited parenthetically in the text.

[14] Cf. John Crowe Ransom, The World’s Body, 139.

[15] Cleanth Brooks, “Metaphor and the Tradition”, in Modern Poetry and the Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 16.

[16] Cf. Murray Krieger, Teoria criticii ..., 244-6, 283-6.

[17] Quoted in Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn..., 9.

[18] Cf. Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn...,210.



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