2. The Hegemony of New Critical Modernism

Peter Brooks: Reading for the Plot

Observing the legacy of this struggle, Peter Brooks has summed up the fate of narrative under the hegemony of New Critical modernism in Reading for the Plot:

"Reading for the plot," we learned somewhere in the course of our schooling, is a low form of activity. Modern criticism, especially in its Anglo-American branches, has tended to take its valuations from study of the lyric, and when it has discussed narrative has emphasized questions of "point of view," "tone," "symbol," "spatial form," or "psychology." The texture of narrative has been considered most interesting insofar as it approached the density of poetry. Plot has been disdained as the element of narrative that least sets off and defines high art--indeed, plot is that which especially characterizes popular mass-consumption literature: plot is why we read Jaws, but not Henry James.[55]

Conceiving modernism as a turn from the chronological plotting of realism and naturalism, canonical modernist criticism has understood the fragmentation of narrative as the necessary prelude to symbolic structuration. Residual narrative elements are handled under the aegis of "point of view" and "mythic method". As we shall see, both discipline narrative by converting it into a "symbolic act".[56] This discipline inaugurates an analytical regression. Where synthetic symbolism cannot be discovered in the heterogeneity of the page, it is attributed, at one remove, to the mind of the author, the reader, or a character-narrator. As I.A. Richards writes,

The wholeness of the mind in the creative moment is the essential consideration, the free participation in the evocation of the experience of all the impulses, conscious or unconscious, relevant to it, without suppressions or restrictions.[57]

Although I.A. Richards elaborated his "psychology" to explain "poetic response," his general influence upon canonical criticism may be attributed to this psychology's ability to rescue narrative for symbolic analysis, thus shoring up the hegemony of New Critical modernism at its most vulnerable point.[58] In the space that is the mind, narrative's lamentably aporic symbolism may be rewritten, "without repressions or restrictions," as a text filled out by "relevant" "impulses" of which narrative is "unconscious."

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