2. The Hegemony of New Critical Modernism

M. M. Bakhtin, Discourse in the Novel

In 1934, M. M. Bakhtin, whose criticism of Russian formalism embraced the related constellation of European critical movements upon which British-American New Criticism also drew--French symbolism, German formalism, and the Geneva School--described the ways in which this integration was initially sought and some of its consequences:

There is a highly characteristic and widespread point of view that sees novelistic discourse as an extra-artistic medium, a discourse that is not worked into any special or unique style.
It was, however, precisely in the 1920s that this situation changed: the novelistic prose word began to win a place for itself in stylistics.
All attempts at concrete stylistic analysis of novelistic prose either strayed into linguistic descriptions of the language of a given novelist or else limited themselves to those separate, isolated stylistic elements of the novel that were includable (or gave the appearance of being includable) in the traditional categories of stylistics.
"Poetic language," "individuality of language," "image," "symbol," "epic style" and other general categories worked out and applied by stylistics, as well as the entire set of concrete stylistic devices subsumed by these categories (no matter how differently understood by individual critics), are all equally oriented toward the single-language and single-styled genres, toward the poetic genres in the narrow sense of the word. [....] All these categories, and the very philosophical conception of poetic discourse in which they are grounded, are too narrow and cramped, and cannot accommodate the artistic prose of novelistic discourse.[17]

As a critic of formalist poetics, Bakhtin quite correctly asserts that the "general categories worked out and applied by stylistics" could not accommodate all that has passed as novelistic discourse.[18] But as a literary historian, Bakhtin underestimates the power of formalism and, by extension, New Criticism as critical discourses which value as well as interpret works of art.[19] These parallel modern critical discourses did not confront their philosophical limits as an instance of their inadequacy but as the fulfillment of their aesthetic task to differentiate between good literature and bad. By devaluing all novelistic discourse that did not accommodate the philosophical conception of poetic discourse in which their concepts were grounded, formalism and New Criticism were left with a vast expanse of novel prose and novel forms that did.

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