Thursday, December 16, 2010

Discuss the main limitations of New Criticism.

The group of Chicago Critics pointed out various limitations of die New Criticism. These critics are called, 'Chicago Critics' because all of diem worked at the Chicago University. These critics formed a homogeneous group of their own. Their views and critical methods are similar with only little difference. The most important of this group was Ronald Crane. This group of critics published a volume of essays known as Critics and Criticism, 1952. These essays tlirow ample light on the aims and objectives of this group. Their main business is examination, interpretation and evaluation of literary criticism. This volume is concerned with the criticism of criticism.

In their criticism the critics of this group work with open mind. They do not strictly adhere to one particular approach or method of criticism. So they severely criticised the dogmatic assumptions of the New Critics. Their method is pluralistic, i.e. they use different methods or techniques of criticism. They are not slave to one particular method of criticism. Crane thinks that critical principles are not doctrinal absolutes; they are not historically necessitated shibboleths. They are mere instruments of inquiry and analysis. According to Elder Elson a poem has so many aspects and different techniques and metliods are used to tlirow lighl on different aspects of the poem. Each critic, studying the poem will use his own method. So it is wrong to say that any single approach is the right approach. He thinks (hat the approach to literary criticism is a synthetic one combining the intrinsic approach of the new critics, with all possible extrinsic approaches. In this connection Pritchard says : "Far from proclaiming any critical panacea, the Chicago Critics urge the application of literature of varied critical procedures. Their purpose being to understand die work of art, they bring to bear upon it whatever they believe will serve to elucidate it, no matter whence it may be derived."
The Chicago critics treat Aristotelian approach as the basis of their critical metliods. Their method is inductive one and concentrate on the textual study, the form, design and texture of a literary work. In this respect they resemble with the New Critics. They duly acknowledge the value of concentration upon a literary work, but they are not against such other approaches which may throw light on the meaning of that literary piece. They are critics of open mind. For example they follow the Aristotelian method, but they are not slaves to the so called 'rules and principles'.
These critics make a good use of all the possible ways of literary understanding. They use equally well both older and newer metliods. They neither adhere nor reject any one of these methods. They are deeply concerned with the literary tradition and they strictly follow it. The result is that their work is generally overloaded with learning. The New Critics totally rejected the classical Renaissance approaches to literary criticism. But Chicago school critics by following the traditional approach, have once more revived the classical and Renaissance approach. These critics have ably proved that there is much good in these traditional approaches. They are helpful in the true understanding of a literary work. According to them the aim of all the literary criticism is the illumination of the literary work under study. So all the available methods should be used to achieve this ideal. But they have no servile difference to authority. In this connection Pritchard remarks: "With all their investigation into classical and Renaissance literary theory, they have kept free from the excessive deference to authority which has hampered free investigation; and they welcome new approaches to literature with the same interest they feel in those of old. What the future course of these critics will produce, it is impossible to say; but they are undoubtedly one of the most interesting groups at present occupying the attention of literary men."
George Watson has rightly summed up the value of the work of Chicago Critics. In the Literary Critics he says : "The real merits of the school (New Critics) are not to be studied in its attempt to theorize. It is rootedly pragmatic and particular, a way of leaching rather than upon any coherent principle. In American universities in the thirties and forties it must have felt like a clean wind. But a leadership was already forming under the leadership of Ronald S. Crane in die late thirties in the Chicago school of neo-Aristotelians which, employing a more formidable scholarship and a less popular style, insisted upon a return to questions of design and structure by whatever method and upon whatever assumption seemed appropriate to the particular case. The Chicago view, according to Crane himself, was 'pluralistic and instrumentalist,' insisting that 'we must accord to critics the right of free choice as between different basic methods." This programme makes the Chicago Critics look more eclectic . than in fact they were. They represent a heresy of New Criticism—still neo-critical, after all—in their interest in structural analysis, as in Crane's examplary account of the plot of Tom Jones, and a diverging from the orthodoxy of the New Criticism only in two minor respects; in their slightly more tolerant attitude to historical date; and in their attacks upon what Crane called the neo-critical 'impoverishment of poetic dieory' through an incessant search of irony, tension, and paradox. But these are family quarrels. For Crane, too, accepts such neo-critical slogans as study 'poetry as poetry and not another tiling'. The Chicago School may, in its day, have shaken a little of the confidence of the New Criticism. But only in a radically anti-historically atmosphere in English studies could it ever have achieved a reputation of historical criticism."
The most influential and important critic of this school is R. S. Crane. Hence it is necessary to throw some light on his views regarding the functions and methods of criticism. In the words of Crane, the important functions of a critic is to "explore the possibility of a general critique of literary criticism defined as any reasoned and systematic discourse about the poetic arts and their product such as might yield objective criteria for interpreting the diversities and oppositions among critics and for judging the comparative merits of rival critical schools....It would appear that the only satisfactory approach to the existing diversities of criticism must be one that recognises a plurality of distinct critical methods—each of them valid within its proper sphere—and that insists, consequently, upon ascertaining, in methodical terms, what a given critic is doing, and why, before attempting either to state the meaning or judge the truth or falsity of his conclusions, or to compare his doctrine with those of other critics."
Regarding the pluralistic approach of criticism R. S. Crane observes: "We can derive from it the habit of viewing critical principles as neither doctrinal absolutes nor historically necessitated beliefs but instrumepts of inquiry and analysis, to which a critic need not commit himself dogmatically, but only hypothetically." As already hinted above the critics of this school have great reverence for Aristotle. In this connection, he remarks: "It is the merit of Aristotle, that he grasped the distinctive nature of poetic works as concrete artistic wholes, and made available, though only in outline, hypothesis and analytical devices for defining literally u id inductively the multiple causes operative in the construction of poetic wholes of various kinds and (lie criteria of excellence appropriate to each."
The New Critics: Their Limitations
In the end, the limitations and short comings of the New Critics as brought out by the censure of die Chicago group may be summed up as follows:
1.   The New Critics are not too much pre-occupied with textual analysis. Their excessive pre-occupation with words, images, paradox, irony, etc., makes them forget that the poem is an organic whole. In their pre-occupation with the parts they ignore the beauty of the whole.
2.        Their approach is dogmatic and narrow. According to them, it is through Textual study and analyses alone that truth can be arrived at. However, there are a number of other approaches : the historical, the sociological, the psychological, etc., and each has its own value and significance. All possible ways should be tried to arrive at the full truth
about a poem.
3.        A work of art has two functions, aesthetic and moral. While the older criticism erred in its over-emphasis on the moral concern of literature, the New Critics go to the other extreme in their entire neglect of it. Art cannot be divorced entirely from life.
4.        In their insistence on the objective and scientific study of a work of art, they entirely ignore the reactions of the critic. The subjective element cannot be totally done away with, and the impressions of the critic have their own significance.
5.   As T. S. Eliot has pointed out, textual analysis can establish only the literary quality of a work, to determine its greatness other methods are also necessary. Literature is certainly an art-form, but it has other values also, besides the literary.
6.  The textual approach may work well with some genres, but it is not equally effective with all genres. There are different kinds of poetry, and different critical techniques are needed for their evaluation. The same technique cannot be effective both with die lyric and the epic.
7.  The New Critics are wrong in ignoring the study of the history of literary criticism. A historical study shows that various critical tools have been used effectively in different ages and countries, and their use may be worthwhile in the present also. Thus, for example, the Aristotelian
literary philosophy and poetics may still he of use in evaluation and interpretation. A historical study is the only way of understanding the comparative merits of the rival schools of criticism. The critic must, therefore, master the critical traditions and from among the rival critical techniques choose the one best suited to his purposes.
8.  A poem is certainly an artistic structure, and must be studied as such. The understanding of the poetic meaning of a poem is essential and textual and structural study is an effective tool for the purpose. But social and biographical factors may also determine its meaning and a knowledge of them may also help the critic to illuminate the work under study. Hence, the new critic are wrong in totally ignoring the social mi Men of the poet.

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