The second and third decade of the 20th Century saw the emergence of the New Criticism and I. A. Richards, T. S. Eliot, F. R. Levis and J. C. Ransom as its pioneers and fore-runners. I. A. Richards’s ‘Practical Criticism’ (1924) was one of the pillars on which The School of New Criticism built. For Richards Language, Meaning, Science and Poetry all are the main concerns and he looked at them from the language point of view. Language can be used in both ways ‘immotive’ and ‘scientific’ ways. The common factor is it relies on the reference for which it is used. In his book ‘Practical Criticism’ he analysis language through ‘Four kinds of meanings’:
1. Sense: which is a state of affair
2. Feelings: A whole range of emotional attitudes
3. Tone: The attitude of speaker to audience
4. Intention: Conscious and unconscious intention of the speaker.
To prove his point Richards carried out an experiment in Cambridge by providing 13 poems without titles of any kind from the audience. The responses he got to his poems Richards converted this experience by writing the book ‘Practical Criticism’, later on ‘Practical Criticism’ became a literary practice itself.
Richards wanted to prove through the experiment of ‘Practical Criticism’:
1. Documenting the contemporary state of cultural
2. Providing new techniques for responding to poetry
3. Reforming a teaching of literature.
Richards found many mistakes of interpretations and evaluation in the responses of the Cambridge students. He is trying to get at the root of the low level of critical competence, he felt among the educated Cambridge students. Richards notes many obstacles in the responses some of them they are:
a) The difficulty of making out the plain sense of poetry
b) The difficulties of sensuous apprehension of the text
c) The poor imagining capacity
d) Mnemonic irrelevances
e) Stock responses to poetry
f) Sentimentality and emotional approach.
Richards believed that the readers of the poetry should be trained to have the proper responses, for this he recommended the historical and contextual reading of the text. He considered the text as an ‘autonomous entity’ which was the basic principle of the new critics. He believed that the quality of communication between the persons and the level of discussion among them can be improved “by conscious and deliberate effort to master language”, language and its syntax became the focal points for interpretations, and correct understanding of the text was goal.
‘Practical Criticism’ got prominence as a literary theory among the Anglo-American critical traditions, it calls for a careful attention to every detail of a text, it concentrates on the principle that “A literary text is like a living organism functions through the interaction of all its constituent parts”. In ‘Practical Criticism’ Richards carefully distinguishes between ‘Sense’, ‘Feeling’, ‘Tone’, and ‘Intention’ of a text. Richards analysis of a specific text in the ‘Practical Criticism’ was his original idea because it rejected all the other aspects of aesthetics and concentrated on the text as it exist on its own.
To conclude, ‘Practical Criticism’ have opened up the new ways of theory and practice for the future critics and criticism.