Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The New Criticism by I.A. Richards | Literary Theory | Ugc Net Notes

The New Criticism 

I.A. Richards and T.S. Eliot are considered the "fathers" of New Criticism, In his book The New Criticism (1941), John Crowe Ransom begins his chapter on Richards by saying, "Discussion of The New Criticism must start with Mr. Richards. The New Criticism very nearly began with him." In terms of the influence he wielded, I.A. Richards is generally considered the most important theoretician in the first half of the twentieth century. We shall begin with a look at the positivist criticism he rejected. After a brief note on his life and writings in general, we shall examine his works, Principles of Literary Criticism and Practical Criticism. Next we shall discuss his views on language. The next section will provide a summing up, highlighting his achievements. The glossary will explain technical terms in detail. It is possible that you might find some other words difficult to understand, but I am sure you can solve this problem by using a good dictionary, such as the Concise Oxford Dictionary. It is a good idea to have a personal copy, at home. (The ninth edition is priced at Rs.425.00; you can get it at a discount at book fairs). Please note that Richards, like T.S. Eliot or W.K. Wimsatt and many other New Critics, often uses the term "poem" as a kind of shorthand for any artistic creation. What they say about a "poet" generally applies to all literary artists.

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THE NEW CRITICISM : POSITIVIST

The object of this philosophy was to extend to the humanities the methods and principles of the natural sciences. The positivist philosopher was concerned with perceptible facts rather than ideas, and how these facts arise, not why. All knowledge not wholly founded on the evidence of the senses was dismissed as New Criticism idle speculation. Positivism in literary criticism is summed up by Taine's famous slogan of "race, milieu, and moment". In the introductory chapter of his history of English literature published in 1863, the French scholar Hippolyta Taine said that a literary text should be regarded as the expression of the psychology of an individual, which in its turn is the expression of the milieu and the period in which the individual lived, and of the race to which he belonged. All human achievements can be explained by reference to these causes. Literary criticism was devoted to the causal explanation of texts in relation to these three factors. Critics paid attention to the author's life, his immediate social and cultural environment, and any statements he made about why he wrote. Research was directed towards the minute details of the writer's life, and tracing sources. Critics were not interested in the features of the literary text itself except from a philological and historical viewpoint. They disregarded questions concerning the value or the distinctive properties of literature, since these could not be dealt with in a factual or historical manner. Twentieth century criticism reacts against this extrinsic approach to literature. Attention shifts from the author to the text and the reader.

PRlNCIPLES OF LITERARY CRITICISM

In Principles of Literary Criticism, I.A. Richards set out to establish a theoretical framework for criticism which would fire it from subjectivity and emotionalism. He some isolated observations which could make profitable starting points for reflection. But they provide no answer to the central question of criticism: "What is the value of the arts, and what is their place in the system of human endeavors?" Richards proposes a psychological theory of art; art is valuable because it helps to order our impulses. In the second chapter, "The Phantom Aesthetic State", he dismisses the concept of a special aesthetic state. Modern aesthetics, starting with Kant, rests on the assumption that there is a special kind of pleasure which is disinterested, universal, and unintellectual and not to be confused with the pleasures of sense or ordinary emotions. They believed that art experience was a special kind of experience, in a class of its own, not to be compared with the experiences of ordinary life. Richards feels that there is no such special mode. The aesthetic experience is not a new or different kind of thing; it is similar to ordinary experiences. Richards uses a very graphic analogy to explain this point: "When we look at a picture, or read a poem, or listen to music, we are not doing something quite unlike what we were doing on our way to the gallery or when we dressed in the morning” (p. 10). Those who believe in a special aesthetic state would postulate a peculiar unique value for it. Richards believes that aesthetic experiences are not sui generis, that is, they do not merely have intrinsic value. It is possible to analyze art experience, and examine its value in terms of ordinary life, because it is not a special state cut off from ordinary life. According to Richards, "The two pillars upon which a theory of criticism must rest are an account of value and an account of communication" (p. 1 8). Richards believes that the human mind has developed because it is an instrument for communication. The arts are "the supreme form of the communicative activity" (p.18). Of course, the artist himself may not be conscious of this; he is not as a rule deliberately and consciously engaged in a communicative endeavor" (p. 18). The artist is concerned with getting the work "right", regardless of its communicative aspect. Whether it is a poem or a play or a statue or a painting, the artist is wholly involved in making the work embody his experience. He cannot stop to consider the communicative aspect. It is always there at a subconscious level. The very process of getting the work "right" involves endowing it with great communicative power; "efficacy for communication" (p.19) is a main part of the "rightness". . Criticism should not concern itself with the avowed or undeclared motives of the artist. Richards believes that the mental processes of the poet are not a very profitable field for investigation. It is dangerous to try to analyze the inner workings of the artist's mind by the evidence of his artistic work. It is not possible to verify what went on in the artist's mind, just as we cannot be sure what goes on in a dreamer's mind. Very often, the most plausible explanations of the artist’s mental processes may be quite wrong. To prove this point, Richards takes up Coleridge's famous poem, Kubla Khan. You would be familiar with the poem, and may have heard that Coleridge wrote it wider the influence of opium. Critics like Graves have presented a complex psychological explanation for the sources of the imagery in the poem. Richards points out that the explanation is much simpler: Coleridge was influenced by Milton. Richards examines lines 223-283 from Paradise Lost, Book IV. He quotes many lines from Milton's poem to establish it as the source of the underground river, the fountain, and the Abyssinian maid "singing of Mount Abora" of Coleridge's poem. Richards brings up this example to show the difficulties of speculating about the poet's mental processes; he feels that it would be a wrong application of psychology. Richards believes that the arts can improve the quality of our lives by communicating valuable experiences. It is not easy to communicate complex experiences; Richards believes that the arts provide the only way of doing so. "In the arts we find the, record in the only form in which these things can be recorded of the experiences which have seemed worth having to the most sensitive and discriminating persons" (p.23). He believes that "The arts are our storehouse of recorded values" (p.22). He gives a very high place to the artist. "He is the point at which the growth of the mind shows itself' b.47)

PRACTICAL CRITICISM

Richards asked a sample audience in Cambridge to describe their responses to a set of thirteen poems supplied without titles or the authors' names. The students were not given any clue to the period in which the poems were written. The students were encouraged to read the poems more than once, and given one week's time to write down their comments. A selection of these comments, (which he calls "protocols") forms the substance of the book, followed by an analysis of characteristic errors and suggestions for educational reform. Richards says in his introduction that he had three objectives:

  1.  To document "the contemporary state of culture",
  2. To provide a new technique for responding to poetry, and
  3. To reform the teaching of literature. The book Practical Criticism analyses the different mistakes of interpretation and evaluation that Richards saw in these responses, and seeks to identify their causes. He was concerned by the low level of critical competence' that was revealed, for he had chosen a set of educated Cambridge students. Let us look at the obstacles to proper response that Richards catalogs: I am following the system of numbering by alphabets used by Richards himself in Practical Criticism.

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