Chicago school (literary criticism)

Chicago school (literary criticism)

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Chicago school (literary criticism)'
Start a new discussion about 'Chicago school (literary criticism)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
The Chicago School of literary criticism
Literary criticism
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals...

 was a form of criticism of English literature begun at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 in the 1930s, which lasted until the 1950s. It was also called Neo-Aristotelianism
Neo-Aristotelianism
Neo-Aristotelianism is a view of literature and criticism propagated by the Chicago School — Ronald S. Crane, Elder Olson, Richard McKeon, Wayne Booth, and others — which means:...

, due to its strong emphasis on Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

’s concepts of plot, character and genre. It was partly a reaction to New Criticism
New Criticism
New Criticism was a movement in literary theory that dominated American literary criticism in the middle decades of the 20th century. It emphasized close reading, particularly of poetry, to discover how a work of literature functioned as a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic...

, a then highly popular form of literary criticism, which the Chicago critics accused of being too subjective and placing too much importance on irony and figurative language. They aimed instead for total objectivity, and a strong classical basis of evidence for criticism. The New Critics regarded the language and poetic diction as most important, but the Chicago School considered such things merely the building material of poetry. Like Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, they valued the structure or form of a literary work as a whole, rather than the complexities of the language. Despite this, the Chicago school is considered by some to be a part of the New Criticism movement.

Ronald Salmon Crane (1886-1967) is considered the founder of the Chicago Aristotelians. He began teaching at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 in 1924, was made a professor in 1925, and chaired the English department there from 1935-1947. In 1935, he wrote “History versus Criticism in the Study of Literature” (published in English Journal 24 [1935]:645-67), in which he defined literary criticism as “simply the disciplined consideration, at once analytical and evaluative, of literary works as works of art.” Crane was greatly influenced by Richard McKeon
Richard McKeon
Richard McKeon was an American philosopher.-Life, times, and influences:McKeon obtained his undergraduate degree from Columbia University in 1920, graduating at the early age of 20 despite serving briefly in the U.S. Navy during the First World War...

, a professor of philosophy at the University, who stressed Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

’s idea of ‘pluralism,’ which says that many systems of criticism are necessary to completely understand literature, specifically poetry, or in the case of philosophy, the world. Crane said that “the only rational ground for adhering to one [form of criticism] rather than to any of the others is its superior capacity to give us the special kind of understanding and evaluation of literature we want to get, at least for the time being.”

The question for the Chicago School (as it was for Aristotle) was always what the purpose of the theory of criticism was, what hypotheses were brought to bear by the theory about the nature of literature (for instance, whether it consisted of the words alone, or whether it was to be thought of as part of a larger context such as an era or an artist's life), and the definitions of words (such as the definition of tragedy or comedy).

The Chicago School claimed not to preclude other theories of criticism, but did criticize some of those theories because those using those theories were not clear or consistent about the initial hypotheses and definitions behind their theories. It thus appeared to many of the proponents of those theories that the Chicago School was claiming that theirs was the only good and effective approach to literature. For this reason, they were considered by some to be hypocritical, although they would vehemently deny this.

Many of the ideas of the Chicago School are thought to have come out of the reorganization of undergraduate education at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 by Robert Maynard Hutchins, then President there. He placed great importance on primary sources and interdisciplinary studies for all students. Crane and his colleagues were forced to defend English as a valid topic of study, and the Chicago School might have developed partly from this pressure to put the study of English on a sound classical basis.

Other key figures in the Chicago School were W.R. Keast, Norman Maclean
Norman Maclean
Norman Fitzroy Maclean was an American author and scholar noted for his books A River Runs Through It and Other Stories and Young Men and Fire .-Biography:...

, Elder Olson
Elder Olson
Elder James Olson was an American poet, teacher and literary critic.He was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Carl Schurz High School. As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, he published a volume of poetry...

, and Bernard Weinberg. After this first generation, the most important critics to carry on the theory were Wayne C. Booth
Wayne C. Booth
Wayne Clayson Booth was an American literary critic. He was the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language & Literature and the College at the University of Chicago...

 (who taught at the University of Chicago from 1947-1950 and again from 1962 until his death in 2005), and his contemporaries, Richard L. Levin, Sheldon Sacks, Robert Marsh, Arthur Heiserman, and Ralph W. Rader. Booth loosened the rigid categories of genre originally set forth by the Chicago School, and moved the concentration away from poetry towards rhetoric. The Chicago School has demonstrated continuing importance, and continuing flexibility, in the work of the third-generation Chicago critics, including Michael Boardman, Barbara Foley, Dorothy Hale, Elizabeth Langland, James Phelan
James Phelan
James Phelan may refer to:*James Phelan , American college football coach*James Phelan , American literary critic*James Phelan, Sr. , Confederate States of America politician...

, Peter J. Rabinowitz, David H. Richter, and Harry Shaw, among others.

Great works in the Chicago School include Critics and Criticism (Crane, ed. Chicago, 1952), The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry (Crane, Toronto, 1953), and The Rhetoric of Fiction (Booth. Chicago, 1983).