A Brief History of Criticism

After Ellen Bryant Voigt's exploration of Cleanth Brook's and John Crowe Ransom's definitions of the parts of the poem, I realized it was important for me to refresh my knowlege of the types of criticisms. I knew from the beginning that while I wanted to build on the New Critic's movement, I didn't want to look at any poem under strict New Critics guidelines. Part of my reason for working on this project wasn't just to learn about those elements of a poem that I have termed the "interior" ones, but also the "exterior" elements. Without the ability to look at the exterior, I would be able to fulfill the full objective of developing my aesthetic.

As a result of that realization, I decided to brush up on my history of poetic movements in contmporary poetry. Nothing substantial, just reading through the tiny print entries of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. I will write about that in the next section.

But to the criticism aspect, in the introduction to Reading Like a Writer, a writers' handbook on the close reading of prose, Francine Prose takes a few swipes at the state of literary criticism in academia once the New Criticism movement ended. She credits the New Critics for their attention to what is in the text only. Students after New Criticism were “instructed to prosecute or defend these authors as if in a court of law, on charges having to do with the writers' origins, their racial cultural and class backgrounds" (10). To combat that style of teaching, she "organized classes around the more pedestrian, halting method of beginning at the beginning, lingering over every word, every phrase, every image, considering how it enhanced and contributed to the story as a whole" (11).

When I read this introduction years ago when the book came out and re-read it for the purpose of this project, I thought that this sounded like the perfect, perhaps the only valid, way to read in an academic setting. I couldn't remember why the other criticisms seemed like a good thing to me when I learned about them during my senior year literary theory class.

To refresh my memory, to play a devil's advocate, I turned to a slim volume I found in the stacks of the private high school library where I worked, Jonathan Cutler's Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. I liked this book so much, I ended up purchasing my own copy. Afterwards, I found out that other teachers and professors like this book as a reference. As I discussed its contents with my friend, she decided to make it her book club's next book. This was so that they could have a common language in discussing the books they picked and also in chosing the next book for the group.

I turned to the back of the book and the brief descriptions of the literary movements. I also examined the section on literary theory and poetry.