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View Full Version : Message boards -- the New Critic's worst nightmare



ColoradoGuy
06-18-2007, 02:15 AM
Consider two cliché Lit/Crit punching bags: New Criticism (http://www.sou.edu/English/Hedges/Sodashop/RCenter/Theory/Explaind/ncritexp.htm) vs. New Historicism. (http://www.sou.edu/English/Hedges/Sodashop/RCenter/Theory/Explaind/nhistexp.htm) Put crudely, New Criticism treats the text in isolation, claiming the provenance of a text gets in the way of understanding it. A corollary to this is there is such a thing as great literature, aspects of which can be identified and studied to determine why some texts are great and some are not. In contrast, New Historicism revels in context, how the text is part of the web of the historical times where the author lived. Also, many things can be Great Art besides dead white male products.

Online message board posting is the perfect blend: none of us know anything about each other, a nod at the New Critics, but what we post is ephemeral silliness (including this post, of course). It is the opposite of Great Literature; a pixel-destroying power failure can wipe out all we write.

Of course both schools of criticism are officially dead, but not being a card-carrying lit critter I don't know that. Still, it seems to me reading message board posts makes us all New Critics, even though what we post would make those self-important guys fifty years ago cringe and deny any relationship to us.

Higgins
06-18-2007, 04:08 AM
Consider two cliché Lit/Crit punching bags: New Criticism (http://www.sou.edu/English/Hedges/Sodashop/RCenter/Theory/Explaind/ncritexp.htm) vs. New Historicism. (http://www.sou.edu/English/Hedges/Sodashop/RCenter/Theory/Explaind/nhistexp.htm) Put crudely, New Criticism treats the text in isolation, claiming the provenance of a text gets in the way of understanding it. A corollary to this is there is such a thing as great literature, aspects of which can be identified and studied to determine why some texts are great and some are not. In contrast, New Historicism revels in context, how the text is part of the web of the historical times where the author lived. Also, many things can be Great Art besides dead white male products.

Online message board posting is the perfect blend: none of us know anything about each other, a nod at the New Critics, but what we post is ephemeral silliness (including this post, of course). It is the opposite of Great Literature; a pixel-destroying power failure can wipe out all we write.

Of course both schools of criticism are officially dead, but not being a card-carrying lit critter I don't know that. Still, it seems to me reading message board posts makes us all New Critics, even though what we post would make those self-important guys fifty years ago cringe and deny any relationship to us.

It depends on what you want to get out of your criticism...if you want a greater appreciation for the great posts of the past...the perfect gems of posts where even one smilely could not be moved even a tenth of an inch without introducing some whiff of imperfection...well, then, New Criticism is what you want.

From what I've seen New Historicism doesn't even reach that minimal level of sophistication through appreciation. It seems the basis of New Historicism is really just Old Ego-centricism....using New Historical methods, you could answer the question: "What would I have meant if I had made that post?"

Indeed...putting yourself in somebody else's shoes may be all very nice, but it is methodological suicide...as can be seen from those recent New Historicist books on Shakespeare...which answer the question: "What would Shakespeare have been trying to say if he had been a New Historicist?"