Doctrines of Imperfection: The Anglo-American New Criticism

Jack Ingram

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis identifies common critical strategies among six Anglo-American New Critics and shows how each demonstrates what I term a doctrine of imperfection: a strategy designed to undermine what is perceived as utopian or scientific thinking in modernity through the advocacy of a cultivated classicist position that prioritises incompleteness or uncertainty and is reflected in the value ascribed to specific literature. My original contribution is to demonstrate this consistency of method among the distinct thinkers of the New Criticism and across the course of each of their careers, something which has been generally overlooked as a possible unifying definition for the thinkers indentified as “New Critics”. I also contend that this definition connects T.E. Hulme to the New Criticism through a common style of critical practice.
The first chapter serves three purposes: firstly, it foregrounds the specific shape the strategies tend to take across all the work of all the critics examined in this thesis and works towards a common definition of an “imperfecting impulse” that serves as a motivating factor. Secondly, this introduction describes the cultural and creative conditions of modernism and the extent to which it was conducive for the imperfecting purposes of the New Criticism that grew out of it. Thirdly, it examines the existing critical consensus and points towards how it is inadequate and why my interpretation of the New Criticism could be of value.
The six chapters that follow are focused on examining the particular implementation of these strategies in the individual works of T.E. Hulme, I.A. Richards, F.R. Leavis, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate and R.P. Blackmur. These chapters demonstrate how each thinker’s work corresponds to the strategies of imperfection described in the first chapter and the specific, idiosyncratic form that they take in the hands of each New Critic.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Armstrong, Tim, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2018
Publication statusSubmitted - 24 May 2018

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