RARA-AVIS: Re: literature a moral harm

From: Michael Sharp ( msharp@binghamton.edu)
Date: 27 Aug 2006

 From MH Abrams, _A Glossary of Literary Terms_, 8th ed., on the New Critics: "In analyzing and evaluating a particular work, they eschew reference to the biography and temperament and personal experiences of the author, to the social conditions at the time of its production, or to its psychological and moral effects on the reader" (p. 189)

Now, this was hardly total orthodoxy, and there were modifications / variations (Leavis couldn't / wouldn't give up on values, for instance). And in fact the very rejection of the question of moral effect may itself have had a moral valence ... New Critics could be quite evangelical. It's important also to remember that New Criticism came of age after WWII, and there was a quest for a kind of purity to literary studies -- and so these critics essentially posited that the literary work could be kind of ethereal and rise above the petty, changing, historical concerns of the "culture" of humankind (whose members were clearly capable of the worst kinds of atrocities). New Critics in some ways saw themselves as rescuing art from (Fallen, seriously Fallen) man.

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