Chicago School (Neo-Aristotelians)

The Chicago School of critics or the Neo-Aristotelians included professors of the departments of Humanities, University of Chicago, who were engaged in bringing about a radical transformation in an attempt to revive Humanities and make them institutionally more competitive with the sciences. These critics, including RS Crane, Elder Olson, Richard McKeon, Norman Maclean and Bernard Weinberg, produced the central manifesto of the Chicago School, Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern (1952), which both attacked some of the important tenets of New Criticism, and elaborated an alternative formalistic method of criticism partly derived from Aristotle’s Poetics.

In an early essay in 1934, Crane had anticipated (and influenced) Ransom’s call for professional criticism to move away from a primarily historical towards an aesthetic focus. However, Crane and the Chicago School diverged from New Criticism in their insistence that literary study should integrate a systematic theory of literature (being informed by the history of literary theory) along with close reading and explication of literary texts. The Chicago School drew from Aristotle’s Poetics a number of characteristic critical concerns such as “artistic wholes’, the analytical importance of locating individual texts within given genres, and the need to identify textual and generic (as opposed to authorial) intention. While the New Critics focussed on specifically poetic uses of language such as irony, metaphor, tension and balance, the Chicago School followed Aristotle in emphasising plot, character and thought. In general, the Neo-Aristotelians offered an alternative formalist poetics which acknowledged the mimetic, didactic and affective functions of literature. However, the influence of this school was overshadowed by the widespread adoption of New Critical dispositions throughout the American educational system.

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