Before and After New Criticism:
an Overview


(The following  section contains1. notes taken by Kate Liu from "A Historical Survey of Literary Criticism,"Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice.   Bressler, Charles E.  Englewood Cliffs,
New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994: 11-30. 
2. the italicized parts: explanations offered by Kate Liu.)

I. Traditional literary criticism 
II. Modern literary theory & criticism
III. After New Criticism:

I. Traditional literary criticism

  1. Theoretical criticism--What is literature?   (It presupposes an ultimate truth, and universal values.)
  • Literature's nature and functions
    • Classical theory:
      Plato in The Republic: Poetry and art are telling lies and far removed from truth

      Aristotle (in response to Plato) --justifies poetry on two grounds: it imitates nature, and it has morally desirable effects on the human mind.
       defining the elements of literature; drama

      Neo-Classical theory:
      Renaissance: Sir Philip Sidney "poetic justice": "We see virtue exalted, and vice punished."
      Pope -- golden rules; restraint, good taste,
      Dryden: "wit": propriety of thoughts and words;  "proportion": the smooth and fitting adaptation of every part of a work of art toward the unified whole.  "Propriety": the quality that permits or encourages the integrity, the total harmony of a work of art.
      Samuel Johnson: Also insists on general nature and universal truth, he thinks that poet is "the interpreter of Nature"; challenge neoclassical dogma but respect "general nature"; defends Shakespeare

  • It's effects on the reader:
    • Aristotle -- catharsis; Plato: morality

      Horace, Sir Philip Sidney: to teach and delight

      Longinus -- the Sublime: when our intellect, emotions, and our will harmoniously respond to a given work of art; the idea of the Classic

  • Development of literature and lit. criticism since 19th c.

  • -- from the mirror to the lamp: from mimetic, rhetoric and moralistic theories to expressive theory (19-c Romanticism)
    -- focus on imagination

      Coleridge: primary imagination and secondary imagination
    -- reading as the subjective experience of sharing emotions

    -- institutionalization of literature

Matthew Arnold as a Victorian critic: "a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world."
--a disciplined activity that attempts to study, analyze, interpret, and evaluate a work of art.
--the critic: no longer the interpreter of a lit. work, the critic now functions as an authority on values, culture, and taste.
After his death in 1888—lit. theory and criticism become more diversified…