New Criticism

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New Criticism was the dominant trend in English and American literary criticism of the early twentieth century, from the 1920s to the early 1960s. Its adherents were emphatic in their advocacy of close reading and attention to texts themselves, and their rejection of criticism based on extra-textual sources, especially biography. At their best, New Critical readings were brilliant, articulately argued, and broad in scope, but sometimes they were idiosyncratic and moralistic.


The New Critics

Among the best-known figures associated with the New Criticism are:

Key concepts

  • The intentional fallacy: Wimsatt and Beardsley's essay of the same name argued strongly against any discussion of an author's intention, or "intended meaning." For the New Critics, the words on the page were all that mattered; importation of meanings from outside the text was quite irrelevant, and potentially distracting.
  • Ambiguity: Several of the New Critics were enamored above all else of ambiguity and multiple simultaneous meanings. In the 1930s, Richards presciently borrowed Sigmund Freud's term "overdetermination" (which would later be revived in Marxist political theory by Louis Althusser) to refer to the multiple determining meanings which he believed were always simultaneously present in language; he called the opposing argument "the One And Only One True Meaning Superstition" (The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 39).

Eliot's Relationship to New Criticism

Eliot’s relationship with New Criticism was complicated. In 1956, he claimed that he failed “to see any school of criticism which can be said to derive from myself,” referring to the New Criticism as “the lemon-squeezer school of criticism." He never understood the ways that The Waste Land had come to be interpreted by the New Critics, noting in “Thoughts after Lambeth” (1931) that “when I wrote a poem called The Waste Land some of the more approving critics said that I had expressed the ‘disillusionment of a generation,’ which is nonsense. I may have expressed for them their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention."


  • Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity and Some Versions of Pastoral are among the preeminent New Critical works. Their broad taxonomic ambition, in both cases, ranges over a good portion of the literary canon in an attempt to define a literary device or trope.
  • Richards's Practical Criticism is one of the most "theoretical" works of the New Criticism; that is, it is a reflection on critical method.
  • Wimsatt and Beardsley concisely defined the two anathemas of the New Criticism in their well-known essays "The Intentional Fallacy" and "The Affective Fallacy."
  • Brooks's The Well-Wrought Urn is among the best known examples of New Critical poetry explication. Also often referenced for its essay "The Heresy of Paraphrase" and its discussion of paradox in literature.
  • Ransom's essay "The New Criticism," from which the movement received its name.

See also

External links

he:הביקורת החדשה


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