Joost Burgers | Tropes in Distention: Cleanth Brooks and the Rise of “Paradox” in Postwar America


In this article Burgers addresses the rather curious institutionalization of the American literary critical movement the New Criticism. The curiosity being that the New Critics developed the meat and bones of their critical doctrine before the Second World War, but only received wide-spread attention after the war. Of course, taking into account other factors, what he argues here is that the New Criticism gained such currency because its context of reception changed. The key terms of their critical doctrine, paradox, irony, etc., seemed too narrow and exclusive terms for poetry before the war, but were seen as a general description of life after the war. Thus it is because the New Criticisms critical language shared what Burgers calls a tropological propinquity (really just a fancy way of saying a family resemblance between different key terms or phrases) with the larger discursive patterns in the US after the war that it gained such currency.

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