Radical Empiricists: Five Modernist Close Readers

Hardcover | September 13, 2015

byHelen Thaventhiran

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Radical Empiricists presents a new history of criticism in the first half of the twentieth-century, against the backdrop of the modernist crisis of meaning. Our received idea of modernist criticism is that its novelty lay in being very empirical: critics believed in looking closely at words onthe page. Such close reading has since been easy to ridicule but my book seeks to consider whether this is fair: have we, in the rush either to dismiss, or even to defend, the idea of close reading, often failed to look closely at what it involves in practice? Against this oversight, RadicalEmpiricists turns close reading back on itself, proposing some innovative readings of the prose of five major modernist poet-critics: I.A. Richards, T.S. Eliot, William Empson, R.P. Blackmur, and Marianne Moore.The book is divided into two parts, preceded by an introduction that explores what these five writers share: a radical self-consciousness about the key critical concept, "meaning". Part I, "How to read", considers the prose techniques of Eliot, Richards and Empson as they push at the boundaries ofverbal analysis in other disciplines: experimental psychology and anthropology, classical commentary and textual criticism. Part II introduces Blackmur and Moore, alongside Empson, and takes a more polemical look at how their critical styles defy various modernist orthodoxies about "how not to read"(for example, that paraphrase always destroys poetic meaning). Many of these orthodoxies remain current: re-visiting their history, and attending to the rich detail of critical prose styles, can allow us to lift some old, unreflective constraints on our ways of knowing about poems.

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Radical Empiricists presents a new history of criticism in the first half of the twentieth-century, against the backdrop of the modernist crisis of meaning. Our received idea of modernist criticism is that its novelty lay in being very empirical: critics believed in looking closely at words onthe page. Such close reading has since been...

Helen Thaventhiran studied for her BA and PhD in Cambridge (at Trinity Hall and King's respectively), and for an MSt. in twentieth-century literature at New College, Oxford. From 2009-2013, she held a Junior Research Fellowship at Christ's College, Cambridge. She is currently a fellow of Robinson College, where she is Director of Studi...
Format:HardcoverDimensions:288 pages, 8.5 × 5.43 × 0.93 inPublished:September 13, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0198713428

ISBN - 13:9780198713425

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Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION: modernist criticism and the meaning of meaningPART I: How to Read1. Annotation: T.S. Eliot and marginal commentary2. Experiment: I.A. Richards and critical bathos3. Emendation: William Empson and the textual cruxPART II: How Not to Read4. Paraphrase: William Empson's cheerful heresies5. Circumlocution: R.P. Blackmur's failures of style6. Parataxis: Marianne Moore's reticent sentencesCONCLUSION: feedback-feedforward