Study Guide

Wimsatt and Beardsley - The Anti-Intentionalists

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The Anti-Intentionalists

The author may not have been declared dead—yet—but that didn't mean that anyone in this group was going to give up the idea that an author's aims in creating a work of art mattered not one single iota.

This group could get pretty rabid, often engaging to guerilla tactics to get the point across the only thing about a text that mattered was the text itself. The group liked to laugh about how some readers and critics acted as if they could unlock the mysteries of the poem by figuring out the author's blood type or cholesterol level, or something like that.

T.S. Eliot

Why was this guy president? Well, he wrote the group's manifesto, that's why. "Tradition and the Individual Talent" wasn't a straight-up piece of anti-intentionalism, but it argued that art should be judged in comparison to art of the past and should be held to the same standards to which art has always been held. Not much wiggle room there.

Eliot fell under the New Critical umbrella because he didn't believe that the author mattered, and because he believed that all work should be considered against the background of artistic tradition.

Raymond Williams
Resident Marxist

Just by virtue of being a Marxist, William was already in enemy territory. "How can you ever study a work of art outside the context of its means of production?" he could often ask while pounding his fist on the nearest hard surface. "Down with aesthetics" and "Ideology reigns supreme" were also common remarks of his. As a Marxist, he simply didn't buy the New Critical idea that work could exist outside of the political and economic circumstances of its making. Who cares about the author?

John Crowe Ransom
Cruise Director

J.C., as his friends knew him, coined the term New Criticism, so he got to determine a lot of the activities that the group took part in. He could always calm dissent and keep the group focused by conducting an impromptu and riveting close reading.

He sometimes veered into some "eccentric" theories about the science of literary criticism, but for the most part, he kept the group's eyes steadily averted from concerns about authorial intent, and he wasn't averse to slapping members upside the head if they as much as muttered the word "biography."

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