These past couple of weeks have been a struggle while sitting in this class. New Criticism, a concept that has been taught to me very differently in the past, has been very hard to digest. Last semester I took a class where we were taught both, New Criticism and Post-Colonial Criticism, but the class required us to only use the later. Post-Colonial Criticism is a style that looks for political, social, and economic meanings in the text. We would often question the author’s intent, and look for a context of the written work. This was all we did. It was an entire semester of this practice and I grew to love it. Now that I am in Practice of Criticism I felt bombarded by this discourse, which has been told to me was the wrong way of doing things. I felt like there was no way that someone in his or her right mind would use this to approach literature. I would complain to fellow English majors about how New Critics were ruining the world. Taking poetry and reading it backwards to find new meaning, I mean come on.
Then something happened, I had an epiphany of sorts, an existential realization as to why New Criticism is a great thing. I will give background to explain how I got there. My brother, a person who I send all of my creative written work to, is someone who will read very carefully and send back a lot of critics. I always would welcome the criticism for I knew it could be helpful. Unfortunately my brother is always trying to look for hidden meaning in my work to create some kind of psychological diagnosis of me. “Brian are you depressed?” “Brian is this about that one time that this happened?” “Brian are you not telling me something?” “Is this about this thing that happened in the world today?” and so on. Never would he say anything of substance and it would infuriate me. I was looking for technical critics about clarity, form, style, maybe see how it made him feel, what images did it conjure up? The thing is he would only be looking for stuff like author’s intent, and context. This made me frustrated because he wasn’t assessing the work, he was analyzing me, and I felt like that once I wrote the piece it wasn’t about me anymore, it was about the reader.
So back to my existential realization, I was harshly critical of New Criticism yet I wanted to be criticized by New Critics for my own work. I wanted the world to get rid of New Criticism but I wished it on myself. Sartre has said, “When a man commits himself to anything, fully realizing that he is not only choosing what he will be, but is thereby at the same time a legislator deciding for the whole of mankind – in such a moment a man cannot escape from the sense of complete and profound responsibility.” (Sartre) This quote is very relevant to my understanding of New Criticism. I have wished New Criticism on myself but did not wish it to the world, now I have come closer to understanding the discourse and think that it is a very relevant Criticism. My brother’s critics infuriated me, and in a way that was what I was doing in my English class last semester.
I am not saying that Post-Colonial Criticism is bad, because I think that it is very relevant when dealing with Orientalist texts. This is now the great debate that exists in my mind. What criticism should be used and is there one that is better? Well I don’t feel as if I have come to any conclusion yet, which makes me happy. College to me is a place where our beliefs are flipped upside down and questioned. If we lived in a world were we just accepted ideas, it would be in my opinion a terrible world.
This was a very important realization to have during this class because I was becoming very uninterested with the material, and now I feel like I have the motivation needed to engage in the class discussion. This experience has given me an open mind and I am excited to expand my knowledge of literary philosophy. Anyways I thought I would share this here, hope that this was interesting for it was exciting for me. Enjoy your night and best luck on all of my classmate’s essays.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Paragraph 11. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm