[PDF Notes] What is ‘New Criticism’?

The expression ‘new criticism’ was first used in 1910 by Spingarn, a professor of the University of Columbia. Different critics, whether of England or of America, evolved new metaphors, which went a long way in strengthening the movement of the New Criticism. T.S. Eliot’s popular critical idiom is objective correlative, which is the external equivalent of the emotion of the poet. Richards is known for his distinction between “referential” and “emotive” meanings.

The New Critics at the earlier phase were sharply divided into two groups – the realists and iconoclasts, and the aesthetic rebels. The realists included Brooks, Bourne, and Mencken, Lewis Mumford, Ludwig Levisohn, and Max Eastman. The aesthetic rebels, were George Santayana, Lewis Gates, Huneker, and last but not the least J.E. Spingarn. They were directly influenced by T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.

The influence of Richards on the New Criticism is great. But no less great is the influence of T.S. Eliot. Eliot did not set much store by interpretation. To him comparison, analysis, and elucidation were of supreme importance, “And any book”, says Eliot, “any essay, any note which produces a fact even of the lowest order about a work of art is a better piece of work than I nine-tenths of the most pretentious critical journalism.

F.R. Leaves started a literary journal, named The Scrutiny, in which the scrutinizers proceeded by “a minute and brilliant examination – by a scrutiny – of actual passages”. “No treatment of poetry”, he says in the Introduction to Revaluation, “is worth much that does not keep very close to the concrete: there lies the problem of method….”

The New Critics, with hardly any exception, confined themselves to the exploration of the artist’s craftsmanship. They wanted to rescue art from moralist and academic systems, conventions and abstract dogma. “Systems become tyrannies overnight.” The New Criticism is a challenge to romanticism, which is an expression of personality and unbridled imagination.

The New Criticism has been in vogue for the last four decades, and its influence has never been on the wane.

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