New Criticism

New Criticism - The formalist Approach #

New Criticism was a formalist movement in literary theory, It emphasized close reading, particularly of poetry, to discover how a work of literature functioned as a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic object.

From the 1930’s emphasis on works of art in themselves intensified. With an emphasis on form, design, craft, plot, structure, point of view, sentence structure, diction (connotative and denotative meanings) and use of allusions.

F.R. Leavis, English literary critic who championed seriousness and moral depth in literature and criticized what he considered the amateur belletrism of his time.

Leavis believed that literature should be closely related to criticism of life and that it is therefore a literary critic’s duty to assess works according to the author’s and society’s moral position.

Leavis’ criticism falls into two phases. In the first, influenced by T.S. Eliot, he devoted his attention to English verse. In New Bearings in English Poetry (1932) he attacked English late Victorian poetry and proclaimed the importance of the work of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, emphasizing wit and the play of intellect rather than late-Romantic sensuousness.

The Angry Penquins #

The united intention of shaking up the stagnant, insular art establishment of 1940s Australia, the Angry Penguins were forthright, unapologetic and devoted to their craft. A cluster of self-professed ‘angry’ and avant-garde young visual and literary artists, they sought to invigorate language and painting with a new, feisty and revolutionary modernism.

Their aim was to move towards an inspired, organic artistic vision building upon and beyond corresponding European movements such as surrealism and French symbolism. Adelaide University was the melting pot for this production of fresh modernist art, the environment in which the four founding members – Max Harris, Geoffrey Dutton, Donald Kerr and Paul Pfeiffer – met and established the Angry Penguins magazine.

The Angry Penguins are now arguably most commonly associated with the Ern Malley Literary Hoax. Writers James McAuley and Harold Stewart, by way of opposition to the Penguins’ attitude to literature, invented the figure of fictitious poet Ern Malley and sent his ‘body’ of work – created by McAuley and Stewart in one day – to Harris’s journal. Harris published the poems and the hoax had a significantly pejorative effect on the perception of modernism in Australia. This negativity surrounded the group until relatively recently, when the Malley poems were reconsidered by experts and judged to be excellent examples of surrealist craft in their own right.

We will look at a some of these in great detail:

1.Form or Structure #

– sometimes called scaffolding, shape, plot, patterns

  • the symmetry of the shape provides unity.

In novels or short stories and some plays, movies and T.V. plots, structural patterns are significant. Here are some prominent ones:

a) Rising Action – Climactic - a chronological beginning middle and end.

The model favoured by Aristotle because it creates a slice of life evoking a sense of realism, verisimilitude and emotional empathy -

Catharsis. Unity is the primary goal.

b) In Medias Res - The Flashback technique favoured by Plato The action begins at a high point of interest and then once the reader or audience is gripped, it will flip back to the beginning of the story and then progress through to the end. Plato stressed that this was a superior technique because the reader was constantly aware that the story was a story – not real life and so therefore more detached, objective and cerebral.

c) Horizontal - Episodic - The reader follows the first person participant narrator along a linear path of a series of episodes or random thoughts. This can be a journey of Quest (self-discovery), or in the modern novel a “Stream of Conscious” approach. Strong vibes of realism.

d) Vertical - A series of apparently disconnected incidents or episodes that are tenuously bound by the interaction of common geography, motifs, or ideas. Many feminist writers – Virginia Woolf, Margaret Laurence.

e) Convergent - An incident occurs at a central point and the author traces the situations, motivations and journeys as they converge on the crucial meeting.

Ex: The Bridge of St Louis Rey, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Towering Inferno, Cannon Ball Run II

a) Amorphous – random – chaotic experimental

Some novels, movies or plays appear to have no discernible structure. This is not wholly true as usually you can find some form. Many absurdist writers such as Catch 22, a war novel by Joseph Heller have been accused of simply shuffling the chapters like cards into a random order. Yet close analysis demonstrates a fundamental order perhaps cyclical.