Modernism and New Criticism

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Modernism and New Criticism

The ways in which we define the importance of texts is constantly changing. We can look back and see critical theories used, such as Historical Criticism, Reader-Response Criticism and Psychoanalytic Criticism. Each of these theories offers a different way to interpret a text. However, when looking back over the texts of a specific era, shouldn’t the type of criticism we used for a book be based on that time period?

Defining the Modernist Era of literature seems almost impossible, since the definition of modernism often seems to constitute anything from being “new and common” to “new and uncommon” (Barzun). This term seems to be able to stretch from the 1500’s to present; but for the sake of this essay the Modernist Era in question is that from the early twentieth century (circa 1910-1940’s). Out of, and during, this era the critical theory named New Criticism came into play. Although, nowadays, the use of New Criticism is unpopular, it is essential to use when defining the Modernist Era.

Even though New Criticism isn’t used anymore, many of its basic constructs are. For example, the idea of close reading and using textual evidence (as will be done in this essay) are characteristics that were important to New Criticism. Now it is practically impossible to be in an English class, be it high school or college, and not have to use these skills when talking about a text. New Criticism basically theorized that the text itself was the most important aspect of writing; therefore, to understand the meaning of a piece of literature one must look to, and in, the text, rather than trying to define it by outside components, such as those used in Historical and Biographical Criti...

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...120). The text itself is one we can always count on and find meaning in, since it always there, unchanging.

Work Cited

Barzun, Jacques. “The Artist as Prophet and Jester”. The American Scholar. 69.1 (Winter 2000): 15-33.

Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism. New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc., 2003.

Eliot, TS. “The Waste Land”. The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Ed. Jahan Ramazani. New York: Norton, 2003. 472-487.

Eliot, TS. “Tradition and the Individual Talent”. The Sacred Wood. London: Methune, 1920.

Faulkner, William. Light in August. New York: Vintage Books, 1932.

Thody, Philip. Twentieth-Century Literature: Critical Issues and Themes. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1999. 117-152.
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