Death of the Critic

New Criticism

Written by: Tom Blaich

As this site moves forward and we begin to introduce more complex topics it will become useful for us to give a primer in some of the themes and ideas that we are talking about. We've done a little bit of this already, but we will be digging in a little deeper into the topics in question. Death of the Critic is, at its heart, a critical website where we try to take a deeper look at different aspects of media. From movies to games to music and more, we aim to enhance the discussion around media in order to deepen our knowledge and understanding.

Let’s talk about
schools of theory. When we critique, frequently we do so through a specific lens. Works can have a lot of meaning hidden deep within them, and if we aimed to fully analyze a book, movie, or game, we could easily fill an entire book. So we use these schools of theory as a way to focus in on one particular area of a work. This helps us hone in on a specific idea and expand upon it more fully than if we had tried to do a very broad reading. By centering on one aspect, the analysis becomes more clear and focused.

In the foundation of 20th century criticism, New Criticism is paramount. An offspring of Formalist Theory, which had sought to look at the forms that a work took and examine their effects on a work. New Criticism took this practice a step further, trying to make the structure of a work, especially poetry, into the focus of the criticism. To New Critics, structure and meaning were inexorably linked together and by understanding the form that a work took, they could better understand what it was saying.

This was a pushback against the more morally focused criticism of early study. Instead of slavishly sticking to authorial intent, they divorced the works from outside contexts outright and sought to analyze the pieces by themselves without any of the information that surrounded them. This lead to a focus on close reading or “explication”, which fundamentally changed the way critics read texts.

By focusing in on the text, many theorists were attempting to elevate literary criticism to the level of the sciences, objective study and discussion of a text based off of how it is formed. They focused on the words themselves and ignored everything else like history, author, or even how the audience interpreted the work (Reader-Response Criticism). Text was king, and nothing else mattered.

This idea stuck around for a long time, until the mid-20th century. And while much of this school of thought was cast away in favor of more philosophical oriented criticism, the core idea was carried on. Now their is a much greater focus on the different elements that surround a work, and the idea of an objective reading is one that is frequently scoffed at. But the idea that authorial intent does not matter is a powerful one, even in modern criticism, and the increased focus on close-reading of texts changed the way we study literature and forms the foundation of modern criticism.

Many of our articles center around explications of a text. Like our Anatomy of a Film series, in which we closely examine characters, scenes, or ideas behind films. Or our critical essays on different games and albums. This is the most common form of criticism that we publish here, and as we look at more schools of theory, you can see the way in which we carry the lessons of New Criticism forward.

Suggested Readings:

Practical Criticism - I.A. Richards
Tradition and the Individual Talent - T.S. Elliot
The New Criticism - John Crowe Ransom


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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