Tuesday, 29 July 2008

New Model Criticism

Critical approaches that treat literature as documents (of a historical context or ideological interest) are insufficient. I liked Colin Burrow’s critique of recent historicist studies of, accompanying new canon of, 17th century literature. He calls this approach New Model Criticism, after the New Model Army, and claims that the new canon eexcludes anything, like Paradise Lost or Marvell's ‘The Garden’, that doesn't reward analysis as 'acts or events, or testaments to political self-positioning' and that 'treats context as a matter of the events of a particular month or week' -- thus excluding poems that 'might be about emotions, retreats, imaginings, ethics, domesticity or what it is to be a poem', while including 'newsbooks, speeches, Instruments of Government'.

The New Model Criticism, while claiming to be an all-embracing, dehierarchised method that opens up whole new worlds of discourse to critical attention… in fact radically closes down the possible range of works that could encourage critical attention. With works like Paradise Lost, which adopt as part of their rhetoric a gaze extending beyond the present moment, and imagine their readers abroad, in the future, in lands or times unknown, this kind of criticism can break down, or be reduced to seeking sedimentary layers of topicality in their composition, each of which must address and can only address its own time – which again should ideally mean a week or a month.'

Burrow, C. (2008). New Model Criticism. London Review of Books, 30(12), 24-25.

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