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JOHN CROWE RANSOM QUESTIONS

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Assigned: John Crowe Ransom. "Criticism, Inc." (Sections 1, 4 and 5 only: 1108-09, 1115-18 Leitch).

"Criticism, Inc."

1. In Section 1 (1108-09) of "Criticism, Inc.," how does Ransom, writing in 1938, describe the basic task of his own profession of literary criticism? What question is he trying to answer, and from whom, in his view, might we suppose such an answer ought to come? When he says that "Criticism must become more scientific" and that "what we need is Criticism, Inc., or Criticism, Ltd.," how do you understand the connotations and implications of such terms: that is, what effect does the adjective "scientific" seem designed to provoke in readers, and what implications might arise from yoking the word "criticism" to the common corporate terms, "Incorporated" and "Limited"?

2. In Section 2 (1109-13) of "Criticism, Inc.," Ransom evaluates predecessors and contemporaries who have diverged significantly from the longstanding dominance of the historical approach to studying literature – i.e. an approach that treats literary works not as complex pieces of language deserving detailed attention but rather as occasions for recovering a stronger sense of the past? What similar weakness does he find in both the New Humanists and the Marxists who tried to displace historical scholarship in English academic circles?

3. In Section 2 (1109-13) of "Criticism, Inc.," after evaluating those who have preceded him in opposing purely historical criticism, how does Ransom assess the current (circa 1938) position and self-understanding of even the most impressive English departments at major universities? What sort of scholars generally control such departments, and how do they conceive of their mission and value? How do they respond to those who don't easily accept their key assumptions about how to study literature?

4. In Section 3 (1113-15) of "Criticism, Inc.," what nuances does Ransom add to what he has already said about historical criticism and its value to scholars and students? What strengths does he accord to historical scholarship about literary works, and what further remarks does he offer about its limitations?

5. In Section 4 (1115-16) of "Criticism, Inc.," what does Ransom identify as practices not properly the work of criticism? What reasons does he give for excluding each? Do you find his statements in this regard persuasive or adequate? Why or why not?

6. In Section 5 (1116-18) of "Criticism, Inc.," Ransom says that "technical studies of poetry" (1117) are perhaps the best example in his own day of a criticism that understands what its aims and objects are. What does such a practice, when carried out by "the superior critic," consist in, and towards what fundamental question and insight about poetry does it drive such a critic? In the course of addressing these issues, how does Ransom define poetic style?

7. In Section 5 (1116-18) of "Criticism, Inc.," Ransom not only lays out some of his best thoughts about poetry but also deals with the work or process of criticism. How does Ransom characterize this activity, in particular its supposed effect upon the integrity of a given poem? Does this kind of characterization somewhat differentiate Ransom's notions from those of Cleanth Brooks in "The Heresy of Paraphrase" from The Well Wrought Urn (Leitch 1353-65). If so, how?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-393-97429-4.


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