Learned, well-versed in the theory of literary criticism, he rejected the conventional approaches and repeated the Crocean view that art is expression and criticism is the study of that expression. He is thus anti-historic. In his opinion, the critic should closely study the work concerned, find out the intention of its author, and then try to examine how well he has succeeded in achieving it, and what technique he has used to achieve “this end. In this way, criticism should hold a mirror to literature, as literature holds it upto nature. The main concern of the critic is to find out “What has the poet tried to express and how has he expressed it?”
Joel E. Spingarn is a pioneer in New Criticism in America’. In 1910 he delivered a lecture at Columbia University on The New Criticism, and the address may be regarded as the manifesto of the New Criticism. I. A Richards credited Spingarn “with beginning the New Criticism and the right way.”
Spingarn is opposed to both judicial and impressionistic schools of criticism. He has demolished the old techniques. He has attacked dogmatic criticism. He is critical of the three prevalent American approaches : (a) the concept of literature as a moral force, (b) the concept of literature as propaganda for new ways of life, and (c) the concept of literature as wholly external to man which in the later nineteenth century had produced the mechanical, sterile notion of art for art’s sake. He has done away with the types of criticism which judge literature on the basis of morals and also with race, the time, the environment of a poet’s work as an element in criticism.
Influenced by Eliot and the Freudian psychology, Burke has acquired a recognized eminence among the New Critics. His major books are Counter-Statement and The Philosophy of Literary Form, etc. Burke is of the opinion that artist must concentrate on the form, and that form and content, structure and meaning are inseparable from it.
Taking Hamlet for his text, Burke advanced the proposition that ‘form’ refers to the creating and satisfying of an appetite in the auditor’s or reader’s mind, so that proper form in a work is equivalent to the psychology of the audience. The Freudians, he charged, in focusing their research upon the .mist’s possible neurosis are investigating the wrong subject to furnish information about literature. In literature, form in our scientific age has been gradually supplanted by information; and we erroneously think of psychology as information, rather than as artistic effect. Science is interested in fact not in aesthetic effect. It tends to lay emphasis upon information, analyzing the psychology of the hero rather than studying the effective arousal and satisfaction of the reader’s desires. He further remarks, “In art excellence, form, and the psychology of the audience are practically synonymous : art converts emotion into eloquence, which coincides with form and so achieves that creation and satisfaction of desire which is the end of art.” Thus laying stress on the psychology of the readers, he goes against the basic tenet of the new criticism that a work of art is the thing in itself, and it should be studied as is to be taken into account. He is thus guilty of what the New Critics call the ‘affective fallacy’.
John Crowe Ransom
John Crowe Ransom is the most eminent and most influential of the New Critics. He is the founder of the Kenyan Review and the author of God Without Thunder (1930), The World’s Body (1938) and The New Criticism (1941). He has read a great deal of literature and philosophy and his approach to literary criticism is largely formalistic, with its stress on verbal and textual analysis.
In his first work, God Without Thunder, 1930 and in The World’s Body, 1938, he differentiates between science and poetry, and points out that the scientist regards the myths as lies, or at best incorrect attempts to explain natural phenomena, while the poet sees myths and symbolic representation of
particular truths. Science may be clear about general principles, but it ignores particular matters so necessary for poetry. Both poets and scientists see the actual world, but poetry sees objects as actual wholes, while science sees them as specimens of a type. Both the poet and the scientist are moved by curiosity, by a desire to know, but the scientist is more easily satisfied. The scientist is satisfied merely by the externals which enable him to clarify the object and put it to a peaceful use; the poet wants to know the object as it is in itself without any desire to put it to practical use. He wants knowledge without desire, so his knowledge is more thorough and real. Science has only surface knowledge and so it sees things as ‘thin’, while poetry contemplates the ‘inner essence’, and sees things as ‘thick’. The poet then expresses himself in artistically beautiful form which gives aesthetic satisfaction to his readers. Any kind of roughness or imperfection is inexcusable in poetry. Thus Ransom is very much concerned with poetry as an art-form. The poet should care only for artistic effects divorced from moral or useful ideas.
Ransom then points out that modem poetry is superior to Victorian poetry, for, “it is a poetry of things, and not of ideas” or beliefs. The older poetry was a poetry of ideas, it expressed the ideas and beliefs of the poet and his age. and it suffered from a dessociation of sensibility, and it was vague. Man by his very nature is more interested in things than in ideas, and when he deserts things even temporarily, he recollects them and dreams of them. Art is an expression of such dreams and recollections, and carries within it the pleasure of recognition.
Imagination enables the poet through the exercise of recollection, to imagine even the objects which he may not be actually contemplating at any particular moment, and such images constitute the texture of the poem. Ransom differs from the New Criticism in thus differentiating between the ‘Texture’ and the ‘Structure’ of poetry. Rhyme and metre, as well as a rational meaning which can be constructed fairly well by the rational faculty, are included by Ransom in ‘structure’. Thus Ransom brings a dual concept to bear upon poetry. Thus duality of structure and texture, the relations of words and phrases, sounds and images with each other in a poem are grouped by other New Critics under the heading ‘structure’. To Ransom, they form the “texture” of the poem; while ‘structure’, according to him, is more comprehensive and includes the argument or the development of the theme in a poem.
In The New Criticism, 1941, Ransom points out that the critic must first study the structural properties of a poem, and then move on to an appreciation and judgement of its texture. The critic who can analyse structure alone is as much a critic of prose as of poetry. As the poet proceeds, details are added to the poetic texture which overflow or depart from the original. Metaphor is one such detail. It is a sort of second poem and so it diffuses the attention of the readers. According to Ransom in this way, Poetry thus often transcends its ostensible argument by adding an ambiguity or analogy, for analogy, however suspect by scientists, is valid for poetry. Since the textural quality of the poem so thoroughly overwhelms its structure, the critic should devote his most careful attention to texture, realizing that he is analyzing an ontology, an order of existence which cannot be traced by scientific modes of thought.” Metaphor and analogy enlarge the scope, impart ambiguity, and add to the richness of texture. They are quite valid in poetry, though not always in prose.
Ransom is critical of a number of practitioners of the new school. He regards T. S. Eliot as an academic scholar whose concern with tradition enables him to place a poet in the right tradition, but prevents him from evaluating and judging his work as it is in itself. His attention is diverted by tradition, and his sense of values is blunted. He looks backward rather than forward. He is also critical of Cleanth Brooks. Excessive verbal and extual analysis has made poetry seem to many readers as being without any order, and they fail to perceive it as a whole. Thus excessive analysis has a centrifugal effect, and to compensate for it there must be a corresponding effort at synthesis but synthesis is entirely ignored by Cleanth Brooks and other New Critics. Brooks, in presenting paradox as a principle of poetry, has failed to establish a satisfactory unifying basis for the poem. Paradox is not rest, but a precarious state which the reader tries to escape by resolving it. Ransom recommends instead renewed attention to structure. His plea is for a more liberal and comprehensive outlook. He also enlarged the scope of criticism. He said that his new criticism and its tenets were applicable to the style of fiction too. This he said in The Kenyon Review (1950).
In another article he criticised Coleridge who had so much been honoured by Cleanth Brooks and I. A. Richards and praised Wordsworth for his theory of poetic diction. He finds in Wordsworth’s theory of diction a human passion for a concrete object. He realized that the animal appetitive faculties, which science and business serve as instruments, deal in generalized abstractions, whereas the affections focus upon concretions. To support this new startling application of Wordsworth’s theories. Ransom introduced novel terms for three of the four devices which he noted in poetic language. These are first, Singular Terms or Spreaders, to illuminate the vivid concreteness of objects and events; secondly, Dystatical Terms or Rufflers, which deliberately cultivate logical confusion : inversions, ambiguities, ellipses, asyndeton, and the like; thirdly, Metaphorical Terms or Importers, which introduce foreign objects by analogy or association; and finally metres. By using almost exclusively the first and fourth of these devices, by keeping his eye steadfastly fixed upon his subject, and by expressing in meter the fruits of his contemplation, Wordsworth composed poems whose purity of style has finally won Ransom’s earnest admiration. He recognized here the similarity which has been noticeable from the first between his and Wordsworth’s approaches to poetry.
Thus Ransom occupies an important place as a theorist of the new school of criticism. While subscribing to its main tenets he has tried to enlarge its scope and correct its excesses.
In prominence as a New Critic, Allen Tate stands next to Ransom. Born in Kentucky, he studied at Georgetown and Washington, and graduated in 1922 from Vandcrbilt University, Tennessee. He edited the Hound and Horn from 1931-34, and Swanee Review from 1944-46. His important critical works include Reactionary Essays in Poetry and Ideas (1936), Ransom in Madness and The Forlorn Demon (1953).
Allen Tate is opposed to theories which connect literature with history, sociology, or with any other of the sciences, or which would like to use it for propaganda. The critic should concentrate his attention on the poem, and see how well it has been done as it has been done, or “how it should have been done is not criticism. The purpose of a poem is not to confirm any theory, for then it would be no poem but propaganda. The notion that poetry has some moral and social ends is not poetic but philosophical.
While Ransom stressed that poetry deals exclusively with objects, and rigorously included ideas from its domain, Tate is more receptive to ideas. There are certain ideas and beliefs which are the common heritage of the people and the poets, and if such ideas and beliefs are used by the poets, they, sharing those beliefs with the readers, would be left free to concentrate on the structure of poem. For example, Dante shared belief in medieval theology with his readers and thus he could concentrate fully on its structure and the artistic gain was enormous. Similar is the case with the Paradise Lost of Milton. In the modern age, there is no commonly shared system of beliefs and ideas, and so art tends to be abstract. Lack of such a common animating idea is a fatal deficiency in American literature. Like Eliot. Tate also believes in the importance of tradition. Poets should make use of tradition, of traditional beliefs and ideas, but they should also modify tradition by their use of it. Hence in the work of a great poet there is always a tension between the old and the new, between tradition and experiment.
Poetry has two meanings : denotative (indicated or signified by sign) and connotative (emotional). “To indicate the denotative aspects of language, Tate uses the term extension and intension to denote its connotative aspects.
Tate is against the historical or moral criticism. The critic should not make a moral judgment, rather he should deliver a total judgment.
Yvor Winters is another eminent New Critic. His critical works include Notes on the Mechanics of the Poetic Image : The Testamenf of a Stone (1925); Primitivism and Decadence : A Study of American Experimental Poetry (1932): Moule’s Curse: Seven Studies in the History of American Obscurantism (1938); The Anatomy of Nonsense (1943), and The Function of Criticism; Problems and Exercises (1962).
Winters differs both from Ransom and Cleanth Brooks. From Ransom he differs in as much as he considers the logical structure of a poem as important as its texture, and from Cleanth Brooks in as much as he regards prose paraphrase as significant and valuable. In his moral concerns, he differs from most other members of the group. Mere pleasure cannot be the end of art. Truth is not poetry, but poetry is truth plus something more, a complete experience.
In The Anatomy of Nonsense (1943) attacks the romantic literary tradition. The romantic theorist, being usually deficient in reason, leaves reason out of his poetic theory and sets up a mechanism to defend his deficiencies. Poetry, however, is composed by and for the intelligent. By words the poet communicates his rational understanding of his subject together with the feeling it generates. The poem’s value resides in the relation between its rational core and its feeling. Since poetry is for the intelligent, the critic must add to his poetic capacity scholarly discipline. The romantic critic’s avoidance of scholarly training leaves him incompetent to judge poetry.
Winters’s critical focus is on the literary form itself and the method by which the form achieves expression of a valid human perception of experience. A good critic must master the whole of a poem. Though not against innovation and experiment, he recognises the value of tradition and convention. The critic must be a man of scholarship for taste—one’s feeling of Tightness and completeness—is formed and refined by the study of the greatest masters, he is all admiration for the older kind of poetry, and thinks that American poetry is the loser for having abandoned tradition. In this respect. Winters is in close agreement with T. S. Eliot. His principle is. “That technique has laws which govern poetic (and pernaps more general) morality more widely than is commonly recognized.
William Empson, from the other side of the Atlantic, has been a patent formative influence on the New Critics. It was the influence of Richards which made him a critic of literature. It is on his first work the Seven Types of Ambiguity that Empsons’s fame as a critic chiefly rests and which has enjoyed wide popularity and aroused considerable interest. This was followed by some Versions ofPastoral(1935) and the Structure of Complex Words (1951), but it is for his first work that Empson is chiefly known.
The seven types of ambiguities (difficulties) which he lists are :
1. “When a word, a syntax or a grammatical structure, while making only one statement, is effective in several ways atonce”, we have syntactic ambiguity.
2. The second kind or difficulty arises when two or more meanings are added to die single meaning of the author.
3. When two ideas, which are connected only by being both relevant in the context, are given in one word simultaneously, the meaning becomes ambiguous and difficult to follow.
4. When two or more meanings of a statement do not agree among themselves, but combine to make clear a more complicated state of mind in the author, we get the fourth kind of difficulty.
5. When the author discovering his idea in the act of writing, not holding ii all in his mind a tonce, and so, lor example, he uses a simile which applies to nothing exactly, but lies half-way between two things between which the author is moving, the meaning of the poem is difficult to comprehend.
6. This kind of difficulty arises when a statement is contradictory or irrelevant so that the reader is forced to invent statements of his own and they are liable to come in conflict with one another.
7. “When the two or more meanings of a word are the opposite meanings defined by the context, so that the total effect is to show a fundamental division in the writer’s mind”, it becomes difficult to the readers to follow the meaning of the work.
According to George Watson, “Empson did not invent the technique of verbal analysis which dominated critical fashion in the forties and fifties, but he was the first to systematize it, and he popularized much of its characteristic jargon (ambiguity, irony, tension). And the technique cannot reasonably be dismissed as a passing phase, as Eliot tried to do in his sneer about the lemon-squeezer school of criticism”, Verbal nuance, ‘ambiguity’, characteristic poetic fact, and it is arguable dial die property of poetry to suggest more than it suites is what makes it what it is.”