Cleanth Brooks’ Concept of Language of Paradox

Cleanth Brooks, an eminent New Critic, advocates the centrality of paradox as a way of understanding and interpreting poetry, in his best-known works, The Language of Paradox, The Well Wrought Urn (1947) and “Mo36-lg-cleanth-brooks2-1295.jpgdern Poetry and the Tradition” (1939). Brooks helped to formulate formalist criticism by emphasizing “the interior life of a poem” and codifying the principles of close reading. In The Language of Paradox, Brooks establishes the crucial role of paradox-by demonstrating that paradox is “the language appropriate and inevitable to poetry!’ This is because referential language is incapable of representing the specific message of a poet and the poet must “make up his language as he goes,” since words are mutable and, meaning shifts when words are placed in relation to one another.

Brooks illustrates the working of paradox by analysing ‘s Composed upon Westminster Bridge, in which the speaker is able to appreciate the beauty of industrialised London just as he would appreciate any natural phenomena, as he views London as a part of nature, having been built by man, who himself is a part of nature, and who attributes his spark of life to the city. Brooks ends his essay with a reading of John Donne’s poem The Canonization, which uses paradox as its underlying metaphor. in describing the speaker’s physical love as saintly, and the two lovers as appropriate candidates for canonization, Donne seems toparody both love and religion, but in fact it combines in a complex conceit. Brooks also points to secondary paradoxes in the poem: the simultaneous duality and singleness of love, and the double and contradictory •meanings of “die” in Metaphysical poetry (both sexual union and literal death). He contends that these several meanings are impossible to convey at the right depth and emotion in any Language but that of paradox.

In The Well Wrought Urn, Brooks shows that paradox is so essential to poet, meaning that it is almost identical to poetry. According to literary theorist Leroy Searle, Brooks’ use of paradox emphasized the indetermin: lines between form and content. While irony functions within the poem e paradox often refers to the meaning and structure of  the poem and is thus inclusive of irony. , in his essay The Critical Monism of Cleanth Brooks; argues strongly against Brooks’ centrality of paradox. For one, Brooks believes that the very structure of poetry is paradox, and ignores the other subtleties of imagination and power that poets bring to their poenris. Brooks, in leaning on the_crutch of paradox, only discusses the truth which poetry can re-veal, and speaks nothing about the pleasure it can give. Also, by defining poetry as uniquely having a structure of paradox, Brooks ignores the power of paradox in everyday conversation and discourse, including scientific discourse, which Brooks claimed was opposed to poetry. Crane claims that, using Brooks’ definition of poetry,- the most powerful paradoxical poem in modern history is Einstein’s formula E=mc2 which is a profound paradox in that matter and energy are the same thing. The argument for the centrality of paradox (and irony) is therefore ineffective for literary analysis.



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