authorized professionals and intellectuals. … Ifnthe reader’s expression of his freedom through thentext is tolerated among intellectuals (Clercs) (onlynsomeone like Barthes can take this liberty), it is onnthe other hand denied students (who are scornfullyndrien or cle^erlv “coaxed” back to the meaningn”accepted” by their teachers) or the public (who arencarefully told “what is to be thought”).nIn this respect, deconstructionists are a great deal likenthose Marxist reolutionaries who monopolize all power innthe name of the people. To this extent they are simplynbehaing like other critics. But on the other hand, for allntheir foolishness and the subliterate slang they prefer tonEnglish and French, the}’ hae a point: the main function ofncriticism in the 20th century has been to establish a clericalnelite authorized to tell us what literature really means.nWhateer their political iews, most critics have functionednas cultural conseraties.nThis comes out clearly in the case of F. R. Leavis, whon-iewed himself as part of that tiny minority on u hom “thendiscerning appreciation of art and literature depends.” Innseeral respects, Leavis was a reactionary: he hated machines,nmass culture, and the pretensions of Americannupstarts like Max Eastman. But he was not alone in iewingncritics as a literar}’ aristocrac}’ charged with preserving thenbest of the past and browbeating the mob into submission.nMany of the American New Critics—John Crowe Ransom,nCleanth Brooks, and Allen Tate—held similar viewsnabout 20th-century civilization.nBut faith in tradition cannot be translated directi’ intonsocial influence. T. S. Eliot was, after all, the most influentialnpoet and critic of the years before the Second Worldn\’ar, but Eliot tended to influence individuals, not groups.nHe went so far as to express aversion to the idea that hisnworks should be required reading in schools. For all hisnponderings of literary questions, Eliot never worked out ansystem—a flaw which w^as detected and held against him bynthe New Critics who came to prominence in the 30’s. Innfact, there is a great difference between the kind of criticalnwriting practiced by Eliot and the sort that has beennespoused by full-time critics (Eliot was kept busy as poet,ndramatist, and businessman). While most modern criticsnhave attempted to elevate their art up to (and sometimesnbeyond) the level of poetry and fiction, the author of ThenWaste Land was more concerned to defend the honor of hisncraft.nEliot at first maintained a very restricted view of criticismnas mere comment and exposition, but in later years he camento appreciate and practice the larger and more liberalnspeculation of Arnold. What he did not give up was thenconviction that unlike poetry, criticism was not an “autotelicnactivity,” i.e., an end in itself. For a time he was temptednto believe that only poets had any business setting up forncritics and never gave up the idea that “the criticismnemployed by a trained and skilled writer on his own work isnthe most vital, the highest criticism.” As for interpretingntexts—the main business of most contemporary criticsn—he considered it legitimate only “when it is not interpretationnat all, but merely putting the reader in possession ofnfacts which he would otherwise have missed.” But facts donnot ordinarily come within the provenance of criticismn— much less New Criticism, which relegates most facts tonone or another of its favorite “fallacies.” It is scholarshipnwhich Eliot praises, good old-fashioned philological pedantry.nHe exclaims with some asperity that “any book, anynessay, any note in Notes and Queries which produces a factnof even the lowest order about a work of art is a better piecenof work than nine-tenths of the most pretentious criticalnjournalism, in journals or in books.”nWhen Eliot made these observations in “The Function ofnCriticism” (1923), the literary world was on the brink of anrevolution in critical methods inaugurated largely by I. A.nRichards. What Richards and the other New Criticsnbrought was not so much new ideas about the nature ofnliterature or even of the function of criticism (although theynwere infused with an unholy zeal for their discipline). Whatnmade them revolutionaries was the very practice whichnEliot had denigrated: interpretation. Richards called itn”practical criticism,” and he introduced his method ofnstudying te.xts—stripped of all context including authorshipn— into the instruction and examinations at Cambridge,nwhence it has made its way to nearly every Englishndepartment in the world. In his book Practical Criticismn(1929)-, Richards announced the birth of a “new techniquenfor those who wish to discover for themselves what theynthink and feel about poetry . . . and why they should likenor dislike it.”nProperly read, Richards’ announcement can be viewed asnthe program for much of the criticism produced in thenfollowing 50 years. It is important to notice both thensubjective, emotional element (“what they think and feel”)nand the authoritarian (“why they should like it”), because itnis this special combination of unverifiable intuition andnacademic orthodoxy which gives literary interpretation itsnspecial character.nFor Richards, the interpretive key was psychology, and heninsisted that the critics’ first job was to arrive at “the mentalncondition relevant to the poem.” In practical terms, it hasnproved impossible to determine exactiy what that conditionnwas. Is it the poet’s mental condition? Hardly, for thatnwould involve what the New Critics learned to call thenintentional fallacy. If critics disagreed over an interpretation,nthe question would have to be settied (presumably) bynthe one more adept at entering the appropriate literaryntrance. Most critics would respond to the dilemma withnsomething like this: the validity of interpretations dependsnon the degree to which they are confirmed by the text. (But,nas the deconstructionists are apt to point out, what exactiyndo you mean by text?) Many articles seem to be writtennfrom indexes and concordances and attempt to shownsignificant patterns of image, symbol, or theme. Can wenjudge such performances by the number of words and linesnthey are able to explicate? The very fact that there is such anwild variety of interpretations of significant works must callninto question the idea that literary analysis has an objectivenbasis.nThis does not mean, it goes without saying, that interpretationnis an open process—far from it, since it is up to’thenduly licensed critics to decide which sorts of feelings andnmental states are actually relevant. Now, if a blockhead inn(continued on p. 28)nnnFEBRUARY 1986 / 9n