M. H. Abrams: Wikis

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Meyer (Mike) Howard Abrams (born July 23, 1912) is an American literary critic, known for works on Romanticism, in particular his book The Mirror and the Lamp. Under Abrams' editorship, the Norton Anthology of English Literature became the standard text for undergraduate survey courses across the U.S. and a major trendsetter in literary canon formation.

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Life

Abrams was born in a Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. The son of a house painter and the first in his family to go to college, he entered Harvard University as an undergraduate in 1930. He went into English because, he says, "there weren't jobs in any other profession, so I thought I might as well enjoy starving, instead of starving while doing something I didn't enjoy." After earning his baccalaureate in 1934, Abrams won a Henry fellowship to the University of Cambridge, where his tutor was I.A. Richards. He returned to Harvard for graduate school in 1935 and received his Masters' degree in 1937 and his PhD in 1940. During World War II, he served at the Psycho-Acoustics Laboratory at Harvard. He describes his work as solving the problem of voice communications in a noisy military environment by establishing military codes that are highly audible and inventing selection tests for personnel who had a superior ability to recognize sound in a noisy background. In 1945 Abrams became a professor at Cornell University. As of March 4th, 2008, he was Class of 1916 Professor of English Emeritus there.[1]

Thesis of the "Mirror and the Lamp"

In a powerful contrast, Abrams shows that until the Romantics, literature was usually understood as a mirror, reflecting the real world, in some kind of mimesis; but for the Romantics, writing was more like a lamp: the light of the writer's inner soul spilled out to illuminate the world.

Classification of Literary Theories in "The Mirror and the Lamp"

The classification used by Abrams

Literary theories, Abrams argues, can be divided into four main groups:

  • Mimetic Theories (interested in the relationship between the Work and the Universe)
  • Pragmatic Theories (interested in the relationship between the Work and the Audience)
  • Expressive Theories (interested in the relationship between the Work and the Artist)
  • Objective Theories (interested in close reading of the Work)

Works

  • The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953) ISBN 978-0-19-501471-6
  • The Poetry of Pope: A Selection (1954) ISBN 978-0-88295-067-9
  • Literature and Belief: English Institute Essays, 1957. (1957) editor ISBN 978-0-231-02278-1
  • A Glossary of Literary Terms (1958; 7th ed. 1999) ISBN 978-0-15-505452-3
  • English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays In Criticism (1960) ISBN 978-0-19-501946-9
  • Norton Anthology of English Literature (1962) founding editor, many later editions
  • The Milk of Paradise: The Effect of Opium Visions on the Works of DeQuincey, Crabbe, Francis Thompson, and Coleridge (1970) ISBN 978-0-374-90028-1
  • Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (1971) ISBN 978-0-393-04305-1
  • The Correspondent Breeze: Essays on English Romanticism (1984) ISBN 978-0-393-30340-7
  • Doing Things with Texts: Essays in Criticism and Critical Theory (1989) ISBN 978-0-393-02713-6

References

  1. ^ See article in the Cornell Chronicle.
  • Lawrence Lipking, editor (1981) High Romantic Argument: Essays For M.H. Abrams ISBN 978-0-8014-1307-0

External links

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

We are human, and nothing is more interesting to us than humanity.

Meyer (Mike) Howard Abrams (born 23 July 1912) is an American literary critic, known for works on Romanticism, in particular his book The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1971).

Contents

Sourced

If you learn one thing from having lived through decades of changing views, it is that all predictions are necessarily false.

Cornell Chronicle interview (1999)

"Honored literary scholar M. H. Abrams continues his labors (of love)" in The Cornell Chronicle (10 June 1999)
  • The theories of the major philosophers of the 18th century secular enlightenment were biblical and theological in spite of themselves.
  • Hard work makes easy reading or, at least, easier reading.
  • I've always been surprised at the degree of success of The Mirror and the Lamp and the range and duration of esteem for it. ... I had no reason to expect in 1953 that it would appeal to more than a specialized group interested in literary criticism. I think one of the reasons why it's been of interest to a broad spectrum of readers is because one of its emphases was on the role of metaphors in steering human thinking. It was a very early book to insist on the role of metaphors in cognition, as well as in imaginative literature — to claim that key metaphors help determine what and how we perceive and how we think about our perceptions. ... Natural Supernaturalism is quite well known and even used as a textbook, but it never seems to have attracted the acclaim of its predecessor.
  • If you read quickly to get through a poem to what it means, you have missed the body of the poem.
  • When something startlingly new comes up, young people, especially, seize it. You can't complain about that.
  • If you learn one thing from having lived through decades of changing views, it is that all predictions are necessarily false.
  • We are human, and nothing is more interesting to us than humanity. The appeal of literature is that it is so thoroughly a human thing — by, for and about human beings. If you lose that focus, you obviate the source of the power and permanence of literature.
  • It's amazing how, age after age, in country after country, and in all languages, Shakespeare emerges as incomparable.
  • He always violated your expectations. ... He was a character.
  • The survival of artistic modes in which we recognize ourselves, identify ourselves and place ourselves will survive as long as humanity survives.
    • On the "death of literature"

People's Education interview (2007)

"An Interview with M. H. Abrams" by Sharon Hamilton (10 March 2007)
  • I think the hardest thing to teach a student is that what he or she puts down on paper is changeable. It’s not the final thing, it’s the first thing, which may just be the suggestive, vague identification of something that you have to come back to and rewrite. At first, students tend to freeze at the first effort. The breakthrough comes when they realize that they can make it better — can identify what their purposes were and realize better ways to achieve those purposes. That is the important thing in teaching students to write: not to be frozen in their first effort.
  • I think most of the things I published have been published out of desperation, not because they were perfected.
  • Pay attention to your students. Hear what they say, try to find out what their capacities are, what make sense to them. Adapt what you are doing and saying to those capacities, but make your students stretch upward. I think the trick is to adapt to the level of a student, but never rest on that level — always make them reach out. ... If a student does not quite get it the first time, he or she will come back and get it later. If you don’t set your writing — and teaching — at a level that makes them stretch, they are never going to develop their intellectual muscle.
  • All students are capable of growth. Some of them seem to be very slow to begin with and it’s probably not their fault, nor do I think it’s a matter of genetics. It’s a matter of what has happened in their lives before. They are all capable of growing, but they will not grow unless you interest them, captivate them in some way, and then make them reach out. Then they will finally enjoy reaching out.

External links

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