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New Criticism

Forward into the Past: Reading the New Critics

Criticism never starts over; yet sometimes it suffers a forgetfulness, an ill nature, an ignorance of its soundings. There’s no going back, but there is a going forward that does not fear looking back. The complaint about “theory” is that it treats literature with the dispatch of a meat grinder—if you know the method, long before the poem has been dragged in by the tail you can predict whether the butcher will sell you the sausages of Derrida, or Foucault, or Lacan. It’s disheartening to see a poem raided for evidence of sins long defunct or treated with a forensics kit, as if it were a crime scene.

Willie Stark and the Long, Thinning Shadow of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men

I would argue that we are still under the mythos of populism, whether it be the relatively mild form promulgated by an aging William Jennings Bryan, who crossed verbal swords in the mid-1920s with Clarence Darrow over teaching Darwin in public schools, or the no-holds-barred demagoguery of the Huey Long who knew how to whip ragtag Louisiana crowds into a frenzy and how to put his stamp—many thought of it as fascist—onto American politics during the Great Depression.

Writing Life: Remaking a Norton Anthology

What redeems literary anthologists, if we're able to claim neither the creativity of the poet nor the analytic rigor of the cultural theorist? Having dedicated myself for years to constructing elaborate critical arguments, how did I get involved in what one of my friends called "pretheoretical" judgments about poem-gathering, a suspiciously curatorial practice in our supposedly post-canonical era?

A Model for Criticism

Robert Boyers has written a subtle and rewarding study of R. P. Blackmur. He comments well on the central terms and concepts in Blackmur's criticism, and he provides sharp and sensible examinations of the famous essays on Yeats, Eliot, Hardy, Lawrence, and others. But it is somewhat misleading to describe this book as being "about" Blackmur, since Boyers clearly has more ambitious (and polemical) aims.

Marveling At Empson’s Ways

But while William Empson is often praised and his influence noted in many places, he remains an elusive figure, a modern marvel whose “brilliance” we admire even as we feel somewhat uneasy about it.

Revolutionary Criticism

Grant Webster provides a detailed account of the New Critics and the New York Intellectuals; and he supplements these central sections of his book by analyzing the nature of critical schools and by supplying an excellent bibliography and sketches of the major American critics.