What does I. A. Richards talk about in Practical Criticism.

What does I. A. Richards talk about in Practical Criticism.

Practical criticism is, like the formal study of English literature itself, a relatively young discipline. It began in the 1920s with a series of experiments by the Cambridge critic I.A. Richards. He gave poems to students without any information about who wrote them or when they were written. In Practical Criticism of 1929 he reported on and analysed the results of his experiments. The objective of his work was to encourage students to concentrate on ‘the words on the page’, rather than relying on preconceived or received beliefs about a text. For Richards this form of close analysis of anonymous poems was ultimately intended to have psychological benefits for the students: by responding to all the currents of emotion and meaning in the poems and passages of prose which they read the students were to achieve what Richards called an ‘organised response’. This meant that they would clarify the various currents of thought in the poem and achieve a corresponding clarification of their own emotions. I. A. Richards talk about in Practical Criticism.

In the work of Richards’ most influential student, William Empson, practical criticism provided the basis for an entire critical method. In Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930) Empson developed his undergraduate essays for Richards into a study of the complex and multiple meanings of poems. His work had a profound impact on a critical movement known as the ‘New Criticism’, the exponents of which tended to see poems as elaborate structures of complex meanings. New Critics would usually pay relatively little attention to the historical setting of the works which they analysed, treating literature as a sphere of activity of its own. In the work of F.R. Leavis the close analysis of texts became a moral activity, in which a critic would bring the whole of his sensibility to bear on a literary text and test its sincerity and moral seriousness. I. A. Richards talk about in Practical Criticism.

Practical criticism today is more usually treated as an ancillary skill rather than the foundation of a critical method. It is a part of many examinations in literature at almost all levels, and is used to test students’ responsiveness to what they read, as well as their knowledge of verse forms and of the technical language for describing the way poems create their effects. I. A. Richards talk about in Practical Criticism.

Practical criticism in this form has no necessary connection with any particular theoretical approach, and has shed the psychological theories which originally underpinned it. The discipline does, however, have some ground rules which affect how people who are trained in it will respond to literature. It might be seen as encouraging readings which concentrate on the form and meaning of particular works, rather than on larger theoretical questions. The process of reading a poem in clinical isolation from historical processes also can mean that literature is treated as a sphere of activity which is separate from economic or social conditions, or from the life of its author. I. A. Richards talk about in Practical Criticism.

Practical Criticism

Richard’s influence rests primarily on his Practical Criticism (1929) which is based on his experiments conducted in Cambridge in which he distributed poems, stripped of all evidence of authorship and period, to his pupils and asked them to comment on them. He analyses factors responsible for misreading of poems. Even a “reputable scholar” is vulnerable to these problems.

1) First is the difficulty of making out the plain sense of poetry. A large proportion of average-to-good readers of poetry simply fail to understand it.  They fail to make out its prose sense, its plain, overt meaning. They misapprehend its feeling, its tone, and its intention.

2) Parallel to the difficulties of interpreting the meaning are the difficulties of sensuous apprehension. Words have a movement and may have a rhythm even when read silently. Many a reader of poetry cannot naturally perceive this.

3) There are difficulties presented by imagery, principally visual imagery, in poetic reading. Images aroused in one mind may not be similar to the ones stirred by the same line of poetry in another, and both may have nothing to do with the images that existed in the poet’s mind.

4) Then comes the persuasive influence of mnemonic irrelevancies ie, the intrusion of private and personal associations.

5) Another is the critical trap called stock responses, based on privately established judgments. These happen when a poem seems to involve views and emotions already fully prepared in the reader’s mind.

6) Sentimentality, ie, excessive emotions

7) inhibition , ie, hardness of heart are also perils to understanding poetry.

8) Doctrinal adhesions present another troublesome problem. The views and beliefs about the world contained in poetry could become a fertile source of confusion and erratic judgment.

9) Technical presuppositions too can pose a difficulty. When something has once been done in a certain fashion we tend to expect similar things to be done in the future in the same fashion, and are disappointed or do not recognise them if they are done differently. This is to judge poetry from outside by technical details. We put means before ends.

10 )  Finally, general critical preconceptions resulting from theories about its nature and value come between the reader and the poem. I. A. Richards talk about in Practical Criticism.

Poetry and Synaesthesia. 

In The Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), Richards establishes the nature and value of poetry. According to him, the science that unearths the secrets of literature is psychology. He first examines the working of the human mind itself to find out a psychological theory of value. He describes the human mind as a system of ‘impulses’, which may be defined as ‘attitudes’ or reactions motivated in us by ‘stimuli’, that culminate in an act. I. A. Richards talk about in Practical Criticism.

These impulses are conflicting instincts and desires and wants—or ‘appetencies’ as Richards calls them, as opposed to ‘aversions’ — in the human mind. They pull in different directions and cause uneasiness to the human mind which looks to achieve order or poise through the satisfaction of appetencies. The mind experiences a state of poise only when these emotions organize to follow a common course. But with each new experience, the whole system is disturbed and the human mind has to readjust the impulses in a new way to achieve the desired system or poise. To achieve this poise, some impulses are satisfied and some give way to others and are frustrated. The ideal state will be when all the impulses are fully satisfied, but since this is rarely possible, the next best state is when the maximum number of impulses are satisfied and the minimum are frustrated.

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