John Crowe Ransom (1888-1974) was an influential American literary critic and the founder of New Criticism, a formalist movement that emphasized "closed reading" of the text. In New Criticism, the focus shifted from socio-cultural aspects around a text to the internal elements within the text itself, making a text's internal world the primary site of analysis.
Origins and Principles of New Criticism
John Crowe Ransom was associated with the Fugitives, a group that valued the preservation of classical and traditional values and styles. In his seminal work, The New Criticism (1941), Ransom proposed the following ideas:
- The text becomes the focal point of "closed-reading," wherein the analysis is scientific and precise.
- Personal, historical, moral, and biographical details surrounding the text are rejected in New Criticism.
- The focus is on elements within the text, distancing the reader from external factors.
Closed Reading and the Purity of Text
Similar to I.A. Richards' "closed-reading" approach, New Criticism advocates for the sanctity of reading the written words on the page. It allows for the analysis of a particular extract in isolation, without considering the larger context of the book or the author.
New Criticism prioritizes the purity of the text and the act of reading, dismissing historical or political perspectives surrounding the text. It serves an aesthetic purpose, considering a text significant for its own sake, detached from politics, morality, and history.
John Crowe Ransom's notable works include:
- The World’s Body (1938)
- The New Criticism (1941)
- Poems About God (1919)
- Chills and Fever (1924)
- Grace After Meat (1924)
- Two Gentlemen in Bonds (1926)
- Selected Poems (1945)
- Poems and Essays (1955)
- God Without Thunder (1931)
- A College Primer of Writing (1943)
- The Kenyon Critics: Studies in Modern Literature (1951)
- Poetic Sense: A Study of Problems in Defining Poetry by Content (1971)
- Beating the Bushes: Selected Essays