“Exciting freshness that seems to hover on the verge of revelation” –New Critics Brooks & Warren on “The Red Wheel Barrow”

One of our readers, William Kammann wrote:

Leroy Searle, in an essay on NEW CRITICISM writes:

“Accordingly, the meaning of the poem is not conveyed by any prose paraphrase and is valued as the source of an experience (for the reader) available in no other way. For this among other reasons, opponents of the New Critics have frequently charged that they ignore history, ideology, politics, philosophy, or other factors that shape literary experience. While such charges are not entirely fair, they arise because New Criticism in practice came to focus almost exclusively on problems of interpreting individual texts.”

And yes, those text could be poetry or prose, but they do not equate the two except as an object of analysis. It’s the method of “close reading” that is common.

The real distinction for them is between literary/poetic language and scientific language and this is the very thing that has since broken down. Is literary language a fine brandy and scientific (or religious) language something else?

Is there a difference in the end between the internal experience and the great wide world??

No, poetry is not brandy. 

And yes, it is brandy. 

Any song or poem can be usefully paraphrased. 

The New Critics are correct as far as that truism goes: screaming Beatle fans would be disappointed if a professor came on stage and began to intone summaries of the Beatles songs. 

So, sure, songs (and poems) are experiences. 

But that doesn’t mean that ideal and practical summaries do not exist, or cannot exist, or should not exist, for all kinds of reasons. 

Think of the poem as a room.

Rooms have integrity as rooms, but the New Critics wanted to take the door away. 

The New Critics essentially warned, “If you use the door, you violate the ‘experience’ of the room qua room.” 

Thus no one could look in the room (poem) and say that the room (poem) sucks, for this would ‘violate’ the experience of the room (poem), and so: the sucky rooms (poems) of the friends of the New Critics were safe inside the ‘locked room of experience.’ 

Inside the locked room of “The Red Wheel Barrow” reside the mad, who have been brainwashed by Modernism and the New Criticism.

Christopher Woodman’s been in that room since 1968!

We’ve all heard the “The Red Wheel Barrow” paraphrased and analyzed favorably; “Did you know the poem is actually two lines of iambic pentameter?  It’s a fresh view of the world!  It’s a microcosm inside a macrocosm inside a microcosm!” 

 “The Red Wheel Barrow” triumphs, because it is too minor to be anything but an experience.  It is too small a room to have a door—so it fits the New Critical ideal of ‘no paraphrase allowed.’ 

 Thus the New Critical commentators have nothing but good things to say about “The Red Wheel Barrow.”

Even though “paraphrase,” either good (it’s always good) or bad, is impossible.

“The Red Wheel Barrow” is the experience that can’t be paraphrased, earning plaudits as an experience— because by definition of the New Critics’ logic, experience can’t be paraphrased. 

Are you getting it yet?

Or should we ask:

Are you experienced? 

Have you ever been experienced?

The magical Red Wheel Barrow is rolling your way…

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