Modern literary criticism has a bewildering variety. There are various modes and techniques, currents and crosscurrents of criticism in vogue at present. Criticism has been influenced by new discoveries and esearches in the field of sciences, anthropology, sociology, psychology, I hilosophy and linguistics.
The Psychological Criticism
In the first place there is the psychological school of criticism which concentrates more and more on human psyche, exploring the hidden motives and urges behind a work of art. It believes that a work of art enshrines the unfulfilled desires and repressed instincts of the writer. It aspires to render criticism more scientific and technical and objective. And this school is itself divided into two groups, one of which would explain works of art from complete knowledge of the psychology of the artist, while the other finds more attractive psychological investigation of the processes of appreciation. The prominent critics of this school are I. A. Richards, Miss Maud Bodkin, Conrad Aiken, Robert Graves, Herbert Read, Trilling, Edmund Wilson, Van Wyck Brooks, Kenneth Burke and others.
The Sociological School
Under the influence of Marx and socialism, this type of criticism regards literature as a social institution. Followers of the sociological criticism try to study relations between literature and society. They practice evaluative, judicial criticism, based on non-literary, political and ethical criteria. They are not only students of literature and society but prophets of the future, monitors, propagandists. Edmund Wilson, F. O. Matthiessen, Newton Arvin, Harold Rosenberg and Caudwell are some major sociological critics.
Critics like Sir Herbert Read have tried to evolve a new type of criticism which is known as Ontogenetic Criticism. It seeks a synthesis between the psychological criticism and the sociological criticism. In his essay In Defence of Shelley, he wrote :”The only kind of criticism which
is basic, and therefore complementary not only to literary but also to ethical, theological and every other kind of ideological criticism, is ontogenetic criticism, by which 1 mean criticism which traces the origins of the work of art in the psychology of the individual and in the economic structure of society.”
By the late thirties both psychoanalytic and sociological criticisms had lost much of their vogue, and many of the younger critics turned ‘for guidance to a group that has since come to be known as the New Critics. These New Critics are mainly the followers of T. S. Eliot but they have also been deeply influenced by Coleridge, Henry James, Ezra Pound and I. A. Richards. This New Criticism flourished in the forties and fifties. The most important critics of this school were John Crowe Ranson, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and R. P. Blackmur.
The chief ideal before the New Critics was to free literature from the pressure and competition of science. They asserted that content and form are separable—that ‘the content of a poem could be located only in the specific dynamics of the form.’ They tried to read a poem as a poem and wereantihistorical.
New Criticism was decidedly an American movement. But a reaction had set against it under the leadership of Ronald S. Crane of the University of Chicago. The Chicago School of Critics known as neo-Aristotelians insisted upon a return to questions of design and structure. The New Critics have been criticised by Lionel Trilling for neglecting the historical sense.
While analysing a poem, a play or a work of literature, the New Critics very often laid stress on ambiguity, irony, paradox and tension. In fiction they stressed upon ‘the point of view’ and the metaphoric use of language. Critics like Cleanth Brooks and William Empson indulged in elaborating their complexities of interpretation without caring for the meanings imposed by history. In fiction, they laid emphasis on symbolism. They contributed for the refinement of critical sensibility.
The New Critics treated all literary works as if they were lyrics. Sometimes they provided monolithic readings that stiffen the poem into a moral allegory. In general, they seem to believe that criticism can or should become an impersonal technique approaching the precision of science. T. S. Eliot calls it ‘the lemon-squeezer school of criticism.”
The Valuation School
Another trend in modern criticism is what might be called “the correction of opinion.” The professional art critic’s function is solely the assessment of values. Thus Dr. F. R. Leavis entitles one of his published collections of literary essays Revaluation. Sir Herbert Read is also of the view that the science of literary criticism is ‘valuation by some standard, of the worth of literature.’ The major writer of evaluative criticism is Yvor Winters, Ernest Boyd’s book Literary Blasphemies is also in this tradition but is a distasteful example of it.
The Impressionistic School
As opposed to the valuational school of criticism is the impressionistic school which holds that the critic, first freeing his mind of all prejudices and arbitrary canons and rules, should make appreciative contact with the work of art before him. He should eschew judgement and put aside all temptation to praise or blame. He should describe the impression made by the work of art in his own mind in untrammelled appreciation. An impressionist tries to be truthful to reality. He is subjective and autobiographical. He gives his own impressions about a work of art. Impressionism favours art for art’s sake. The only necessary equipment of the impressionistic critic is his sensibility. This school has a large number of critics—Lamb, Hazlitt and De Quincey; Pater and Wilde; Anatole France and Jules Lemaitre in France; Saintsbury, Quiller-Couch and F. L. Lucas in modern England; Huneker Mencken and Nathan in America. In the writings of T. S. Eliot and T. E. Hulme and Ezra Pound, there has been an attack against this type of criticism.
There is another kind of criticism which is getting popularity these days. It is known as Exegetical criticism. It includes ‘textual amendation, the application of scholarship for the elucidation of symbolic significance and the investigation of artist technique.’ Mr.K. P. Blackmur has pointed out that upon scholarship all other forms of criticism depend. The greatest merit of this type of criticism is that it clears the recordings of literary works of art from inaccuracies and restores them to their original state. It tries to recover the meanings which words bore at the time when they were written. For this great scholarship is needed. Only scholarship can reconstruct the full symbolic implications pi the language. The chief exponent of Exegetical citicism was Caroline Spurgeon. She was chiefly noted for Shakespeare’s Imagery and What It Tells Us published in 1915. Her other works include Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion andKeats’s Shakespeare. Other notable critics of this school are Dover Wilson, John Livingston Lewis, W. W. Greg, Professor Child, Bradley, G. Wilson Knight, and John Middleton Murry.