Friday, January 27, 2006

Seven Types of Ambiguity

It's a lovely book with a lovely cover--a giant number 7 in the edition I have from the library.

When I was an undergraduate I never heard about the New Critics, mainly because nearly every professor (like my high school teachers before them) practiced New Criticism. Like some forms of Protestantism or Midwesternness, it was not even seen as a practice, certainly not one among many. It was just what you did. Then when I got to grad school "New Critic" was a term of derision, meaning bourgeois liberal, meaning Republican, meaning fascist. (I would currently agree with the equation of numbers two and three in that series, but let's leave the bourgeois liberals out of it, please.) It was only very recently that I decided to figure out just who these New Critics were, and of course they were a pretty diverse lot (methodologically) spanning a good chunk of the twentieth century.

I'm just dipping into Empson so far, but here's a line I love from the last chapter, which I'm reading first. Speaking of the experience of apprehending a poem, Empson says "one cannot give or state the feeling directly any more than the feeling of being able to ride a bicycle; it is the result of a capacity..." Empson was a poet himself so his critical method was poetic. Imagine that.

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