once more of its subject, which is literature,rnthe heart and soul of any legitimaterneducational s’stcm dedicated to the freernexchange of ideas and the furthering ofrnsound knowledge? We cannot go backrnto the former New Criticism, but we canrntr’ to extract from it the principles whichrnenabled it to ser’e the old values well,rnand so reestablish literature—greatrnliterature, that is, the classics, not minorrnpieces of writing b’ negligible writers—rnas central to the whole academic enterprisernand a guide to human culture ofrnan meaningful sort.rnThe er’ first principle was the beliefrnthat there is a supernatural order of reality,rnthat God is not dead, and that therncreation of works of art or literature is realKrnwhat Simone Weil called “decreation,”rnderi’ed from the original creati’ernact of God, not self-generated bv a humanrnagenew Language is the mediumrnof literature, and words are at best thernWord of God, the incarnation of spirit inrnflesh, whatever ma be the profane usesrnof language, and thus works of literature,rnwhich are made of language, regeneraternthe spirit in man; thcv are, as RobertrnPenn Warren put it in Democracy andrnPoetrv, “a nourishment of the soul.”rnIt is a scandal todav for anyone to talkrnof soul, but Aristotle did not refrain fromrntalking about it; why should human beingsrntodav, still deriving our hterarvrnknowledge and vocabulary from thernGreek classics, be embarrassed to speakrnabout souls and bodies, spirit and flesh?rnThe ‘erv idea of “metaphysical” i)oetr’rnwhich Eliot and other modern poets likern”^icats and Pound wrote, and which Eliotrncelebrated in his criticism of the poetryrnof Donne and Marell, depends on “thernmetaphysical theor’ of the substantialrnunit’ of the soul,” as he put it, quotingrnAristotle, in one of the most influentialrnessays of the 20th century, “Traditionrnand the hidividual Talent.” So the firstrnprinciple of the old New Critics was religiousrnfaith, belief in the sovereignty ofrnGod and the immortality of the soul. yllrnthe other principles derive from this fundamentalrnconviction—anathema to LiteraryrnTheorists—that God exists and inspiresrnreal works of art.rnThe second principle of the old NewrnCritics, as Allen Tate put it in anotherrnseminal essav, was that of “Literature asrnKnowledge,” that literature is worthrnstudying in its own right as art, not as arnstepchild of politics. Again, LiteraryrnTheorists insist that all human knowledgernis political in origin, meaning that itrnis not an end in itself but that it alwaysrnserves the selfish human end of powerrnover others. If ou believe as thev do thatrnGod is dead, then of course vou will bernglad to reduce all human actiit to thernpolitical realm, and will refuse to acknowledgernthat human beings may pursuernunselfish ends, one of which is therncreation of works of art. A work of art isrnadmired for its beauty, not for its utility,rnand for its truthfulness, not for its hungerrnfor power: to maintain that e er work ofrnart, literar or otherwise, has a politicalrnmotive, is to give it a purely human,rntherefore pliysical, source and to denyrnthat the impersonal ideals of beauty orrntruth have amthing to do with it. It wasrnquite otherwise with the old New Critics,rnfor whom the first principle of religiousrnfaith begot the second principlernof literary knowledge.rnThere is a third principle derivingrnfrom the first two, and it is that newrnworks of art can be created in any age,rneven in our own degenerate times, butrnthat we onl’ recognize such genuine newrnmasterpieces by comparison with olderrnmasterpieces, the classics, and so wernneed standards of aesthetic judgmentrnwhich come from studying the great literaturernof the past. Ransom said of hisrnfellow Eugitixe poets, who created classicsrnof their own earlier in the century,rnthat thev knew the classics, and so couldrncompare their work with the ver’ best.rnThe whole basis of the liberal arts, of therneducation of free citizens, which descendsrnto us from the Greeks and was renewedrnin the Renaissance, is the study ofrnliterary masterpieces. But this study isrnnot limited to a fixed canon of works, becausernit changes over time, because wernmust “Make it New” as Pound insisted,rnbecause the order of classics is altered bvrn”the introduction of the new (the reallyrnnew) work of art” as Eliot maintained inrn”Tradition and the Individual Talent.”rnTo renew the principles of New Criticism,rnthen, we would have to restore atrnleast three of the old alues of the pastrnthat arc scoffed at bv literar theorists ofrnthe present: I) belief in God and the immortalityrnof the soul; 2) belief in art andrnliterature as forms of knowledge that arernintrinsically alid; and 3) belief in a historicalrntradition of masterpieces to bernstudied for their own value as works ofrnart, as well as for developing the aestheticrnjudgment necessary to recognize andrnincorporate new masterpieces in the livingrntradition.rnI could stop there, but I must add onernmore principle which I think dericsrnfrom the basic three that governed thernNew Critics at their best: they not onlyrnrecognized new masterpieces but gavernthose works the critical examination the’rndesercd, enabling other readers to understandrnand take pleasure in the best literature,rnwhether it was old or new. Therninterpretation of new works follows thernrecognition that they are worthy of interpretation,rnand so the study of literaturernhas to include the formation of taste,rnwhich is indispensable to any civilizationrnworth of the name. All literary studyrnbeing comparative—the term “comparativernliterature” is a tautology—elucidationrnis as essential as evaluation in thernprocess of understanding literary classics.rnInsofar as the New Criticism came tornmean “close reading” of literary works—rndetailed exegesis of a particular poem,rnstorv, or play, the sort of careful interpretationrnwhich the French have long calledrnexposition du texte, or what in theologicalrnlanguage goes bv the name of hermencutiesrn—it is a discipline of the mindrnin tfie translation of language into meaning.rnAs Allen Tate put it, “All reading isrntranslation, even in the mother tongue,”rnand there is no such thing as a purely literalrninterpretation of an- piece of writing,rnincluding the Bible.rnTo restore the alues of the old New-rnCritics, then, we would have to be willingrnto submit our judgment to the test ofrnpast classics and potentially new classics,rnnever resting satisfied with any existingrncanon but constantly reexamining thernmasterpieces we have inherited for theirrnhumane content, their wisdom, theirrnartistry, and keeping our minds open tornthe possibility that even now, today andrntomorrow as well as vestcrdav, a newrnwork might come our va which wouldrnhae as much artistic merit as the greatrnworks we ha’e come to know and revere.rnAs Ezra Pound once put it, in his typicallyrnirascible way: “Damn your taste! Onhrnlet me sharpen your perceptions forrna while and your taste will take care ofrnitself.”rnThe sort of new critic I am positing,rnwho might replace the now regnant LiteraryrnTheorist, will not betray any ofrnthese four principles deried from thernold New Critics, but will reevaluate thernmasterpieces of the past and recognizernand interpret the masterpieces of thernpresent and future, both for self-illuminationrnand for the benefit of other readers.rnHe (or she, if she is not a feminist)rnwill approach literature as our commonrnSEPTEMBER 1996/45rnrnrn