Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Southern Critics: An Anthology

My favorite publisher is ISI Books. ISI itself (the "Intercollegiate Studies Institute") has manned the barricades in the defense of Western civilization with more enthusiasm than just about any other single entity, and ISI Books, their publishing arm, is probably the single most solid and stalwart publisher in what sometimes seems a losing fight. Their journals too are one of the things that makes my daily trip to the mailbox exciting. Modern Age, and the Intercollegiate Review are among the five or six journals I get that I depend upon for intellectual satisfaction.

I have several reviews in various stages of completion I need to post of their books, but rather than wait till I read them, I am going to start posting the publishers blurbs to these books as they are published until I finish the full reviews of some of them.

The thing that has provoked me to this is their latest release: The Southern Critics: An Anthology. Since reading At War with the Word, by R. V. Young (now editor of modern age), I have had an insatiable interest in the role of Southern writers in the history of literary criticism. One of the implicit themes in Young's book was the significant involvement of southern writers in the New Criticism of the early and mid-20th century.

The New Criticism refocused criticism on literary works themselves, away from what one new critic, W. K. Wimsatt, called the affective fallacy--that a literary work should be judged according to its subjective effect on the reader--and the intentional fallacy--that a works should be judged according the intention of the author. A work, they said, should be judged on its own merits, apart from these other considerations. A few of the New Critics took these ideas too far, but the movement as a whole resided squarely within the tradition of Western literature and still serves as a bane the postmodernist critics in our universities who, disdainful of Western culture in general, still can't totally stamp it out.

Robert Penn Warren, Donald Davidson, John Crowe Ransome, Allen Tate, and Cleanth Brooks, southerners all, were at the center of the New Criticism--in fact, were a necessary part of it.

Just go back and look at the influence just two of these had on English teaching: Brooks & Warren. The wrote what seem like countless textbooks on how to teach literature. Indeed, one wonders what other way there is to effectively teach literature than the way they did it. It certainly beats the current way of teaching literature, which consists primarily of doing something else.

Here is the publisher's blurb on this book:

In the early 1920s a collection of young Southerners at Vanderbilt University formed the literary group known as the Fugitives. Over the next few decades they and their followers would exert an enormous influence on the study of literature. Indeed, the "Southern Critics" included some of the most important American writers and critics of the twentieth century: Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O’Connor, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Cleanth Brooks, to name just a few.

In The Southern Critics: An Anthology, editor Glenn C. Arbery gathers the most penetrating essays by these and other writers, bringing their significant contribution back into focus. Arbery’s enlightening commentary allows us to understand how the Southern Critics' concern for the history and culture of the South informed all their work—not just the landmark Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand (1930) but even their writings on literature and poetry, including their revolutionary "New Criticism."

Remarkably, the essays collected here speak to our time as much as to the Southern Critics' own. In the twenty-first century we recognize the prescience of their warnings about what would happen to art, leisure, and time itself when everything fell under the sway of the industrial model.

Do yourself a favor and visit ISI's books page.

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