Brett Weidman’s Literary Manifesto: A Reflection on Criticism

During my time in English 220 I was stunned by the sheer number of possible ways of analyzing any given text. Though they are all extremely valid ways of examining what a text actually means and can all be used effectively there are some critical techniques that really resonated with me, most notably New Criticism and New Historicism. I find it ironic that these are the two techniques that I found myself gravitating to the most because they are functionally and ideologically opposite of one another.

What struck me as so useful about New Criticism is the lack of required “materials” to analyze a given text, all you need is the text itself, everything else is useless and it would be irresponsible to use them in an analysis. It’s refreshing to view the text as the paramount self-contained authority on itself rather than looking at some complex web of interwoven influence. New Criticism cuts away a lot of “fluff” and I feel that it really gets down to what a text really means. You don’t have to worry about the effects of other works or the authors intention has on the text, you only have to worry about the meaning you find within the words themselves. It is a straightforward, yet deeply analytical, method that I believe is one of the best ways to critique and examine a literary work.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I think that New Historicism is also extremely useful as a method of looking at a text. Greenblatt made a great point when he questioned whether we could truly draw the line between “literature” and “non-literature” because nothing is ever written in a vacuum, there are always outside factors that contribute to the way a work is written, or add new depths of meaning to a work. I believe that New Historical criticism adds both depth and breadth of meaning to a text by making it truly the part of a larger system rather than an entity floating in literary “space”.

I guess that the true point of learning and analyzing all of these different methods is using them to examine texts, and I definitely plan on doing that not only in an academic setting but when reading for enjoyment. Since beginning this course my reading skill have technically improved a great deal and I think it’s an important thing when reading any work to look for a deeper meaning rather than just what is blatantly in the text. One of my dream jobs is to also be a book reviewer, if not professionally, then at least on a blog or on another media, and this class has really enabled me to do a comprehensive and professional review of a work of either prose or poetry which is a skill that I now value greatly.

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