Critical Inquiry 5 (3):576-579 (1979)

Graff's second point about formalism does not refute my argument that the New Critics upheld the coherence or organicity of a work of art and yet did not ignore its relation to reality. I argued this to be a defensible view also from a parallel with painting. The individual New Critics emphasized one or the other side, in different contexts, and I am not prepared to defend the clarity and consistency of every one of their pronouncements. But even the loosely phrased quotation from Allen Tate's essay "Narcissus as Narcissus" can be defended. In saying that "it [Tate is discussing his own "Ode to the Confederate Dead"] is not knowledge 'about' something else," he means that the poem does not make statements about the solipsism and narcissism that he discusses later. "The poem is rather the fullness of that knowledge"; that is, it is a creation, a new thing which has its meaning as a totality, and that meaning surely refers to the outside world: the cemetery, the dead, the Civil War, and so on. . . . To judge from Graff's book, Poetic Statement and Critical Dogma, we are not so far apart in our estimate of the New Criticism. I also have my troubles , mainly with their psychologism and the dichotomy between emotional and propositional language, but on the points that I discussed in the article—the supposed lack of historical outlook, aestheticism, formalism, and scientism—the New Criticism, has often been misunderstood and misrepresented. It needs and deserves the rehabilitation I have attempted. Rene Wellek, Sterling Professor Emeritus of comparative literature at Yale University, is the author of Theory of Literature and of A History of Modern Criticism, 1750-1950. He has contributed "Notes and Exchanges Between Rene Wellek and Wayne C. Booth" and "The New Criticism: Pro and Contra" to Critical Inquiry
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