OPINIONSrnWe Are Going, Gentlemenrnby R.S. Gwynnrn”Poetry is the language of the state of crisis.”rn—Stephane MallarmernK A-iPv;5 TTv-rnCommunity, Religion & Literaturernby Cleanth BrooksrnColumbia: University of Missouri Press;rn334 pp., $34.95rnThe Fable of the Southern Writerrnby Lewis P. SimpsonrnBaton Rouge: Louisiana State UniversityrnPress; 249 pp., $24.95rnWhen Cleanth Brooks died at 87 inrn1994, a great era of American literaryrncriticism ended. Brooks had beenrnone of John Crowe Ransom’s prize studentsrnat Vanderbilt, and when Ransomrnissued the call for a method of criticismrnof poetry that would not fall prey to thernerrors of earlier generations, Brooks andrnRobert Penn Warren, another of Ransom’srnproteges, responded with UnderstandingrnPoetry, perhaps the most influentialrnliterary textbook ever written.rnRansom, Brooks, and Warren thus becamernforever associated with the NewrnCriticism, a movement which took, notrnvery accurately, its name from Ransom’srn1941 collection of essays evaluating im-rnR.S. Gwynn is the editor of The Advocatesrnof Poetry: American Poet-Criticsrnof the Modern Era, forthcoming fromrnthe University of Arkansas Press.rnportant recent critics (neither Brooks norrnWarren was among them).rnIn a note to the instructor in the firstrnedition of Understanding Poetry, Brooksrnsought to avoid some of the commonrn”temptations” that resulted in study ofrnsubstitutes for a poem instead of the poemrnitself. These included “paraphrase ofrnlogical and narrative content,” “study ofrnbiographical and historical materials,”rnand “inspirational and didactic interpretation.”rnInstead, Brooks and Warrenrnproposed “close reading” of the poem,rnfocusing on it as a consciously craftedrnaesthetic object that was more or lessrncomplete in itself. Brooks greatly admiredrnJohn Donne’s “The Canonization,”rnand its comparison of a successfulrnpoem to a “well wrought urn” leant himrnthe title of his best-known book. Whateverrna poem was, it was certainly not tornbe read as a mere adjunct to personalrncrises in the poet’s life or as a footnote tornhistorical events.rnBut over the years, as the methods ofrnBrooks and Warren became standardizedrnwithin English departments, thernNew Criticism established a hegemonyrnand hardened into an orthodoxy with arndogma as rigid as that of any earlierrnschool. One learned, from the zealousrnfollowers of Brooks and Warren, that allrnbiographical and historical informationrnwas to be excluded from interpretation.rnas well as any statements made by thernpoet about what he or she was trying torndo (the “intentional fallacy”) or anyrnmention of how the poem succeeded inrnstimulating the reader’s emotional andrnintellectual responses (the “affective fallacy”).rnIn its most extreme form, whichrncame to dominate American English departmentsrnin the late 1950’s, academicrnNew Criticism suffered from culturalrnand historical myopia, concentrating onrnthe ambiguities of poetic minutiae to thernexclusion of the larger contexts of life andrntimes in which poetry is created. Whenrnthe reaction against the New Criticismrnsurfaced in the mid-1960’s, it was swiftrnand merciless, replacing close readingrnwith a bewildering array of critical theoriesrnwhich seemed to focus on almostrnanything but the text. To his considerablernbemusement, the gentle ProfessorrnBrooks found himself and his followersrndemonized as a band of elitist snobs interestedrnonly in maintaining the statusrnquo of an exclusive canon largely comprisingrnwhite male authors.rnIt is sad that a critic as fundamentallyrndecent as Brooks would have to end hisrncareer defending himself against suchrncharges, but several of the essays in Community,rnReligion & Literature do justrnthat. Brooks patiently explains, for whatrnmust have been the umpteenth time,rnthat omitting biographical notes fromrnAUGUST 1996/27rnrnrn