Review Team for New Criticism and Deconstruction
Binaries in Beloved
by Pat Steadman
Repetition and Revision—Storytelling
and Jazz Techniques as Narrative in Toni Morrison’s Beloved" by
Who is Beloved?
by Joel Booster
New Critical & Deconstructist Approaches
Anyone who practices New Criticism primarily focuses on the text in order to point out its meaning and how it conveys this meaning. Attention is kept on this focus, and the author and/or the author’s intentions are disregarded, since the words themselves are what the author has put forth. The author may be mentioned in brief moments, but the text is the primary focus of the critic.
New Critics do this primarily by finding the complexities within the work (i.e. irony, paradox, tension, ambiguities, opposition). Once these are found, the New Critic finds the way these complexities seem to unify the work and tie everything together. Essentially, the New Critic takes a puzzle that was given to them to put together, and they make the pictures with all the little pieces.
New Critics unify the work by finding images and details that support this resolution. Often the paradoxes and the tensions of the work seem to clash, but New Critics work for a greater whole that is the theme of the work. Once these unifying images and details are found within the work, the New Critic is able to spin a web of understanding that allows the reader to fully understand the meaning of the text.
New Criticism was a movement that lasted for a little over twenty years: from the late 1930s until 1960. During this period, it was the critical method that was the primary method taught within colleges. Thus, many teachers still apply this method without even knowing that they are doing so. After the 1960s and the advent of postmodernism, the appeal of New Criticism wore off. Thus it is hardly the main way people look at literature nowadays, but it does tie into most other critical methods and so it is still very important for the literary critic to know.
As the process of New Criticism involves the locating of oppositions within a text to find unity, Deconstruction locates oppositions in order to show how the text is not unified, thus the methods behind Deconstructive criticism are very similar to that of a New Critic. A deconstructionist looks for oppositions and binaries within a text: happy/sad, black/white, et cetera. In these oppositions, one is always favored over the other. However, a playful reader can imaginatively reverse this favoring, taking what appears to be marginal and showing how it is central to the text. These reversals undermine the text’s clarity, opening it up for new ideas and interpretations.
Trying to accurately describe deconstruction is by its very definition, impossible. Because words can have any number of meanings in any number of contexts (when the word “bad” is used in clang, it asserts a positive connotation), all language is unstable. That is the main difference between a New Critic and a Deconstructionist: where a New Critic uses oppositions within a text to show how they unify the work and stabilizing it, a Deconstructionist takes these contradictions and uses them to deconstruct the meaning of the piece, showing that the text undermines itself (Lynn 20)
To deconstruct a text, a reader should first try to figure out what is most obviously trying to be said. Then, the reader can play around with ways that the opposite of the obvious meaning can be supported with evidence from the text. Take what is marginal and show how it can be brought to the center of attention. According to Jonathan Culler, “To deconstruct a discourse is to show how it undermines the philosophy it asserts, or the hierarchical oppositions on which it relies” (86). Deconstruction is not meant to obliterate the meaning of a piece of literature. However, it opens it up to other interpretations, creating an infinite number of imaginative reading possibilities.