Before New Criticism - New Criticism

How To Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies - Sykalo Eugen 2024

Before New Criticism
New Criticism

To truly understand the rise and influence of New Criticism, we must look back in time and follow the historical currents that molded the field of literary analysis. The development of modernism and classical ideas of literature are just two of the many strands that make up the intellectual fabric that preceded the emergence of New Criticism.

Before New Criticism

Literary Interpretation: An Introduction to Classical Foundations

The origins of literary interpretation can be found in the intellectual debates that took place in ancient Greece and Rome on the nature of writing and its social functions. In his "Poetics," Aristotle and others established the foundation for centuries of literary analysis. The classical tradition offered a fundamental framework for addressing literature by highlighting the significance of mimetic representation, catharsis, and the coherence of form and substance.

Formalism and the Renaissance: A Resurgence

The Renaissance saw a resurgence of interest in classical literature as well as a growing obsession with formalism, or the notion that a work's form and structure are essential to its content. This formalist approach was reflected in the writings of critics such as John Dryden and Ben Jonson, paving the way for a more in-depth examination of the structure and workmanship of literary works.

Romanticism's Ascent: Accepting Subjectivity

Literary analysis saw a dramatic change in the late 18th century with the arrival of the Romantic era. The Romantics, who included writers like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, promoted subjectivity and emotional expression in literature. An era where personal interpretation and emotional response became crucial to literary appraisal was ushered in by this break from the classical principles.

Historical Realism: A Reversion to Neutrality

With the rise of Victorian Realism during the 19th century, the pendulum swung back towards objectivity. Authors such as Charles Dickens and George Eliot endeavored to portray societal issues in great detail, so anchoring literature in a more impartial examination of the human condition. In contrast to the Romantic emphasis on subjectivity, critics of the era conversed about the moral and ethical implications of literature.

Modernism: Ambiguity and Fragmentation

Modernism underwent a profound metamorphosis in the 20th century, defying convention and embracing ambiguity and fragmentation. Authors such as Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot disrupted conventional narrative frameworks, bringing in an air of unpredictability and dislocation. This time frame broke with the assumptions of Victorian realism and challenged critics and readers to consider the intricacies of a world that was changing quickly.

Russian Formalism and Aesthetic Formalism as the Forerunners of New Criticism

Other forms of formalism had already made their mark on American literature before the arrival of New Criticism. Proponents of aesthetic formalism, such as I.A. Richards, emphasized the unity of form and content while focusing on the inherent qualities of a literary work. A more methodical examination of literary components was made possible by the rigorous attention to language and structure that Russian Formalism, with its proponents such as Roman Jakobson and Viktor Shklovsky, brought.

We see the tides of literary theory rise and fall as we move through different historical periods, each movement adding to the complex tapestry of interpretive perspectives. The Romantics' exploration of emotional landscapes, the Victorians' realism, the Modernists' avant-garde experimentation, and the foundations laid by classical thinkers all contributed to the formation of New Criticism, a movement that would elevate literary analysis with its own distinct viewpoints and approaches.