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The Teaching ArchiveA New History for Literary Study$
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Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780226735948

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226736273.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 24 September 2021

Cleanth Brooks, Modern Poetry (1963), and Edmund Wilson, Literature of the Civil War (1959)

Cleanth Brooks, Modern Poetry (1963), and Edmund Wilson, Literature of the Civil War (1959)

(p.133) Chapter 5 Cleanth Brooks, Modern Poetry (1963), and Edmund Wilson, Literature of the Civil War (1959)
The Teaching Archive

Rachel Sagner Buurma

Laura Heffernan

University of Chicago Press

Disciplinary historians imagine the classrooms around mid-century as filled with rows of GI Bill students holding mimeographed poems and listening intently while a New Critic charismatically dispenses with turgid scholarship in order to lead the class through a masterful close reading that awakens students’ appreciation of the poem on the page. Yet, turning to Cleanth Brooks’s teaching materials from Contemporary Poetic Theory and Practice at Yale University in 1963, we find a more uncertain and varied teaching method: discussions of historical references, off-the-cuff paraphrasing, and the sketching of author biography as often as the masterful formalist reading familiar to us from books like The Well Wrought Urn. In the second half of this chapter, Edmund Wilson’s teaching materials further challenge our received sense that a literature free from politics and history dominated mid-century classrooms. In Wilson’s courses on James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Civil War literature, and The Use of Language in Literature, we see how historical inquiry creates its own aesthetic and mode of value—one that links texts to life experience rather than sanctifying them within a timeless canon, one that sees literary value accrue to texts as they are read and reinterpreted over time by varying readerships.

Keywords:   Cleanth Brooks, Edmund Wilson, New Criticism, formalism, historicism, literary value, close reading, modern poetry, referentiality, politics of literature

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