The age we are dealing with has also been referred to several times as “the age of criticism”. And certainly, as mentioned above, the cultural and intellectual moods already prepared by the years between the 1920s and 1940s are conveyed in these years into real critical schools. It has been noted, and it is always interesting to underline, how all or almost all the most notable and productive writers of these years have also carried out the work of militant criticism, as many of them have taught in universities and specialized schools, such as literary magazines., once mainly reserved for creative literature, have dedicated a place to criticism that is now becoming too intrusive.
The best known of the American critical schools, also because it has had the widest diffusion in universities and through literary magazines, is the so-called “New Criticism” which in recent years has had its maximum flowering and which only in recent times has feeling that he has perhaps exhausted the best of his cultural and historical task. ‘ The New Criticism, which some have approached well to the Italian hermetic criticism (although not sharing all the positions of this), starts from that movement of aesthetic criticism or “pure criticism” started by E. Pound and filtered in the following decades through the extraordinary mediation of the writings of TS Eliot. An influence, that of Eliot, which can only be compared, even if limited to the field of literature,
The New Criticism was born, as a denomination, from the title of a book by John Crowe Ransom (v.) Of 1941, which however under this label did not want to indicate a school with precise limits but included, for example, in the collection, a critic such as IA Richards, who departs somewhat from the criticism rigorously based on the page and the written word, from which the greatest possible number of considerations not intrinsic to the form of the work of art are absolutely excluded. The main theorists of the current were, in addition to Ransom who directed the ranks from the pages of two literary magazines, The fugitive from 1922 to 1925, and Kenyon Review from 1939 to the present, Allen Tate (v.) and Cleanth Brooks (although the latter in an introduction to an anthology of American criticism of 1949 (see bibl.) attempted to broaden the concept and definition of New Criticism, embracing in a new and even more vague term of “Modern Critics” other different and heterogeneous positions. Other important exponents of the school were Y. Winters, A. Warren, RP Blackmur; and still, more recently, RP Warren and R. Lowell.
The group of the Chicago school opposes New Criticism and its literary dictatorship in a programmatic and unified manner which, referring to Aristotle and St. Thomas, has attempted a philosophical and philosophical-moral arrangement of the work and critical activity (Richard McKeon, The philosophic bases of art and criticism, in Modern Philology, November 1943 and February 1944). The group’s official stance towards the New Critics dates back to 1948 (NF McLean. Cleanth Brooks: critical monism, in Modern Philology, May 1948).
Again to Aristotle, but on a more nomenclative than philosophical level, there is a singular critic, Kenneth Burke, whose asystematic eclecticism is also redeemed by a very subtle sensitivity and vivacity of critical reading. Burke’s work has recently been enriched with two volumes (A grammar of motives, 1945; A rhetoric of motives, 1950) which continued and completed the exposition of his aesthetic theories which began with Counter – statement (1931) and Tbe philosophy of literary form(1941). Despite the grandeur of this quadrilogy, the critical Burke nevertheless remains remarkable for the acuteness of some analyzes of individual works, especially of Joyce’s fiction and some Shakespearean plays, than for the rigor of the system. Although by his self-taught statement that he does not relate to any specific school and does not form any that can be called such, Burke has in a younger critic, Edgar S. Hyman, an admirer and continuator on the road to a very sensitive criticism of semantic values but also directly influenced by the Marxist and Freudian critique of the years between 1930 and 1940. His The armed vision: a study in the methods of modern literary criticism, of 1948, is now in its tenth edition.
But in the current panorama of American criticism, two figures unquestionably stand outside but also above schools and groups: FO Matthiessen and Edmund Wilson. The first (1902-1950) had as a teacher (professed at Harvard from 1942) strong educational effectiveness. To his older works (Sarah Orne Jewett, 1929. The achievement of T. S. Eliot, 1935, ed. Revised 1947 American Renaissance: Art and depression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman, 1941; Henry James: the majors phase, 1944; The James family, 1947; The notebooks of Henry James, 1947, published in collaboration with. with K. Murdock; From the heart of Europe, 1948) three volumes were added: The Oxford book of American verse (1950), Theodore Dreiser(completed and published posthumously, 1951), The responsibilities of the critic (1952, posthumous collection of critical essays, edited by J. Rackliffe) which, although more modest in setting and intent, confirm the critical synthesis made by Matthiessen, in which historical and psychological and above all social biographical criticism is aligned with a formal and also purely aesthetic criticism. As for the second, which has been one of the most lively and authoritative voices in literary America for at least twenty years, his latest publications are Classics and commercials: a literary chronicle of the Forties, from 1950, and The shores of light: a literary chronicle of the 20s and 30s, from 1952. operates, despite the heterogeneity of themes, interests, cultural sources, manages, through over thirty years, to keep intact its high level, and its own intimate unity and coherence.
To the kind of criticism personified by Wilson and Matthiessen, a criticism that we could define as liberal in the broadest and most comprehensive sense of the term and to which some echoes of Crocianism arrived in America in 1910 through the mediation of Spingarn are not foreign. other critics of the “middle generation” are linked, among them: Renee Wellek, Alfred Kazin, Lionel Trilling, Harry Levin and Morton D. Zabel.