|Poetry and New Criticism|
I. What is poetry? Compare the following sentences:
"Do you see Mary sitting under the tree waiting for Joseph and me?"
Do you see Mary Sitting under the tree Waiting For Joseph and me?
Consider the difference between language and the visual arts, between "discursive" and "presentational" symbolic transformation (see Susanne Langer, Philosophy in a New Key [2nd ed. New York: New American Library, 1951] 76-89). Discursive symbolism is temporal, requiring time to communicate itself through a linear progression of words, controlled by logical, syntactic relations and limited by word denotations. Presentational symbolism is spatial, requiring no time to be grasped as a whole and not subject to the constraints of logic or extrinsic structures. While rational thinking is discursive, intuitive knowledge is presentational.
While language is by nature discursive, all literary uses of language pull toward more presentational forms of symbolic transformation, with poetry the most directly presentational through its emphasis on the specific properties of words (sound, rhythm, arrangement, past history, connotations, etc.). This is also called linguistic foregrounding; in other words, poetry calls attention to the signifier. Poetry creates presentational effects by undermining the discursive nature of its medium, language, in many different ways; a poem requires reflexive reading (or re-reading), in which individual sections are examined in the light of an awareness of the whole piece. However, poetry is never purely presentational; its richness and ability to convey both rational and intuitive meanings simultaneously stem from the tension between the discursive and presentational modes.
See Marilyn Singer's compilation of poets' and writers' discussion of What Makes a Good Poem.
II. New Criticism: A formalist critical approach that dominated literary studies from the 1940s to the early 1960s. Although no longer current as a theory of criticism, New Criticisms influence can still be felt in the methodology of close reading and in the emphasis on supplying concrete, specific examples from the text to support critical interpretations.
Some key assumptions of New Criticism: