Impractical criticism
Close reading and the contingencies of history
in Texts and readers in the Age of Marvell
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William Empson's work had a profound impact on the critical movement known as 'New Criticism', whose major exponents viewed poems as elaborate structures of complex meanings to which the critic would devote rigorous attention. New Criticism thrived in the twentieth century, because it mapped well into the classroom of a growing academic discipline, whereby a teacher could convey to spellbound students the mysteries revealed by the craft of close reading. Practical Criticism exhibits all the virtues and liabilities that imbued this critical practice. Stephen Greenblatt emphasised that New Historicism should exhibit a greater methodological self-awareness than either the older historicism or New Criticism. Drawing largely from anthropologists such as Clifford Geertz, Greenblatt urged interpretations that were fully conscious of their own cultural contingencies. Theory and feminist criticism certainly helped shake up the boundaries between literature and culture.


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