2. The Hegemony of New Critical Modernism
Modernist Symbolism: Ulysses and Moby-Dick
The mode of organization New Criticism detects and the mode in which its canonical writers encode their texts posits a metaphysical hierarchy, at the apex of which stands, ambiguously, the self-sufficient text or the consciousness of the reading writer. This conjunction is evident in Feidelson's definition of the structural effects of symbolism. One may interpolate "mind" or "text" where Feidelson writes "symbol":
Thus the symbol [mind/text] stands as a kind of synecdoche for the metaphors into which it has entered. Synecdoche is not the logical substitution of a part for its whole: the part is not extracted, as if it were a building brick, and used as a sign. Instead, the part retains its organic character as part of a whole. This figure, as Cassirer has pointed out in the case of "mythic" synecdoche, implies "the leveling and extinction of specific (i.e., logical) differences":Every part of a whole is the whole itself; every specimen is equivalent to the entire species. The part does not merely represent the whole, or the specimen its class; they are identical with the totality to which they belong; not merely as mediating aids to reflective thought, but as genuine presences which actually contain the power, significance, and efficacy of the whole.The language of literature [mind/text] is a body of terms whose significance has been built up by metaphor and whose power is the power of synecdoche.
It is crucial here that we do not make the mistake of equating New Criticism's treatment of the mind and of the text. New Criticism does not equate them. Rather, the mediating analytics and practice of symbolism allows mind and text to stand in elided metaphoric relation. The result is a powerfully generative dialectic that maps the intelligible space into which New Critical debate subsumes the texts, and the aspects of texts, it values. Novelistic practices falling within this space are illuminated by critical discourse and judged illuminating in turn. What falls without lies in darkness. And, preeminently, that which falls without this illuminated sphere, where New Critical minds contemplate their image in New Critical texts, is narrative. In Cassirer's philosophy, "'mythic' synecdoche implies 'the leveling and extinction of specific (i.e., logical) differences.'" But, translated to the realm of twentieth-century literature, logic is not the antithesis of symbolism: narrative is.
In his opening discussion of the proximity of critical ideas and literary practice during the twentieth century, Charles Feidelson specifically called attention to the "close kinship" of Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity and Joyce's Finnegans Wake. In this "close kinship," Empson's general analysis of linguistic phenomena universalizes a specific literary practice, thus implicitly legitimating a claim explicit in Joyce's novels beginning with Stephen Dedalus' declaration, "I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." Through Stephen, Joyce claims for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and for his subsequent (non)novels what has been claimed for every ambitious novel, that it is the culmination of the novel's long genealogy.
It would seem foolish to deny the extent to which, in this case, this ambition was substantiated by Joyce's achievement in Ulysses, if not already in A Portrait. It would seem equally foolish to deny Herman Melville's achievement in Moby-Dick, but Melville's contemporaries found little difficulty in doing so. Not coincidentally, Melville's place in American letters was tenuously held by Typee, Omoo, Redburn, and White-Jacket until the 1920s, when writers and critics, most notably Hart Crane and D. H. Lawrence, discovered something disturbingly "modern" about Moby-Dick's eclectic form and symbolism. In 1953, Feidelson pressed the point further by refining and qualifying the modes of analysis familiarly applied to Ulysses so that they might reveal a new Herman Melville, whose Moby-Dick formed the center-piece and Great American Novel of Feidelson's Symbolism and American Literature. The current status, but differential history, of Ulysses and Moby-Dick cannot be explained by "neglect." Moby-Dick was simply a "bad" mid-nineteenth century novel, as Ulysses would have been. They both have become--the one slowly, the other quickly--paradigmatic New Critical novels. The explanation for this differential history lies in the "close kinship" between Ulysses and a simultaneously emerging New Criticism.