I certainly have encountered new criticism prior in my studies, but I certainly had no idea that it was called new criticism, nor what this term technically meant. It was fascinating to study the methods new criticism uses and as well as the ones it refuses. While I understand the merit of it, I could not imagine using formalism exclusively. I think it is an extremely useful tool to help get involved in the nitty gritty of the text and I think it is instrumental in grasping what constitutes good writing (which, in turn, serves as an example to anyone attempting to create good writing themselves). I also think that our study of the study highlighted its flaw—just as we could not understand how formalism was used exclusively when it was created until we looked at it in light of the history of English studies, we cannot understand how a piece of literature works or does not work until we look at it in the light of the history of the author’s personal life and the history of the world at the time it was written.
I am grateful for formalism because it is the most scientific and basic English studies can get. Once you bring in the outside factors surrounding the piece, you are more susceptible to bring in outside factors surrounding yourself as the reader. Two readers of complete different moral compasses will undoubtedly see a text differently, but neither can deny that certain words or devices are used to accomplish the task of supporting the theme. Also, it feels safe to me. For example, in my English 202 class, we have a variety of different topics or responses we can use to write a paper. I’ve chosen the one that examines the text formalistically because that feels like less of a risk than choosing to examine the implications of the authorial intent on the main character’s morals. I feel like there are more ways to go wrong with the latter than the former.
One thing I was surprised about in class is that most people thought the Leavises were extreme and kooky. Well, actually, no. I rather agree with both accounts. I also agree with the Leavises ideas, even the ones that seemed outlandish to some. I particularly liked the quote in that reading that declared that a “teacher of literature was no longer just a teacher like any other, but rather ‘a missionary’. Indeed… the study of literature for its own sake was practically a religious duty and literature itself almost a religion” (14). I am completely comfortable with looking at literature as a nearly religious experience. It is, for me at least, a huge source of morality and indeed, a certain kind of morality that cannot be obtained elsewhere. This is why I love reading and discussing reading so much. I think that in present day America, we are too busy worrying about offending people’s beliefs to state or challenge our own. Sure, it’s nice to be considerate of other’s feelings, but over-consideration only serves to make one’s understanding of themselves weaker and less meaningful. These big questions need to be tackled and literature provides a medium distant enough from personal experience that conversation can emerge with less shyness.
This is where I stop myself from ranting further. Also, I would like to state that I still do not know what the fated question that is integral to everyone studying English is, and it still haunts me.