Formalism

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  • “I’m full of troubles, there’s room for no more.”
    Re-arranging makes apparent that composition (form), not sense, is the arbiter of greatness in that form carries the sense; they are indivisible
  • -the attribution of poetic merit based upon origins: intentional fallacy
    the attribution of poetic merit based upon response: affective fallacy
  • To employ an analogy, look at the parent/child relationship. In consulting the parent for information about what they intended for the child to do or be, or in inquiring about the circumstances surrounding its conception and development, the critic/reader is no longer attempting to “know” the child, but is attempting to know “about” the child. The critic is engaging in a psychological deconstruction of the parent’s background, in order to “explain” the child, when the child, fully grown, if properly empowered and informed can speak quite adequately for itself.
    The unavailability lies in the inability of the critic to make any reasoned assertions about the relative internal elements and integral “success” of the poem based on such knowledge.
  • The undesirability of intentionalism is its vague and unstable nature-W and B consider the possibility of a combination, but mainly in the use of biographical information to provide lexical understandings the author assumed, and the “dramatic character of his utterance.” (1381) However, they give strenuous objection to biography the extends beyond the “linguistic fact” of the poem.
    For the greatest part of literature, the author is truly not alive and able to illuminate meaning, however, even if the author were available, such insight would not be a stable standard upon which to base literary criticism. In addition, the critic so employed ceases talking about the poem, and begins talking about the author, making him/her the focus rather than the text. This is fine, but it is NOT literary criticism and shouldn’t be confused with such.
    Wimsatt and Beardsley use the example of TS Eliot. The “uncertainty of exegesis” which arises by attempting to have the author speak to his “intention.” Only, in looking back on the work, he is already far distanced from the original creative expression. The work has taken on a life of its own-the author can’t help but look back on it through somewhat different eyes-critically or affectionately, rather than creatively.
  • It means to attempt to erect a standard for literary analysis and criticism based upon the emotive response of the reader.
    It is a fallacy for two reasons:
    It is wholly subjective and untranslatable, and therefore unreliable, leading one to rely on the “sincerity of the critic” rather than the integrity of the poetic structure.
    It, like the paraphrastic heresy is self-negating. (we’ll come back to that idea in a moment)
  • When the affective critic is hardest pressed to account for the causes of heightened emotional response to poetry, he will necessarily re-engage the text. This is what I mean by self-negating—the more specific the critic is in accounting for the emotive response, the closer the critic comes to rational explication of form, content and meaning.
  • Formalism

    1. 1. Formalist Approaches
    2. 2. Formalist Approaches Broadly: concerned exclusively with the text in isolation from the world, author, or reader Specifically: Russian Formalism focused on literariness of texts, defamiliarization, material & device, story & plot, narrative voice New Criticism focused on the text as an object that can be analyzed independent of author, world, or reader
    3. 3. New Criticism: The Quest for “Text-centricity” • formalist school from 1920 – 1960 • methodology applied to yield single, correct “hidden meaning” of literary texts • “close readings” focused on literary devices • looked at language-denotation, connotation, form, figures, import, structure. • valued complexity, oppositions, irony, paradox • emphasized objectivity in literary criticism • looks to language denotation, connotation, form, figures, structure • asks for educated audience/“willing students”
    4. 4. Precursors • Aristotle focused on elements w/ which a work is composed. • Romantics stressed organic unity from imagination’s “esemplastic” power. • Poe extolled the “singleness of effect” in poetry & fiction. • James made the same case for fiction as “organic form.”
    5. 5. Other Names • • • • • • Aesthetic criticism Textual criticism Ontological criticism Modernism Formalism Practical criticism
    6. 6. Practitioners of New Criticism British: I. A. Richards,William Empson, F.R. Leavis American: W.K. Wimsatt, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Blackmur, Cleanth Brooks, John Crowe Ransom
    7. 7. Origins in early 1900s “honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry” (Eliot, Selected Essays 17). Strove for scientific objectivity but of a special nature because words enable multiple perspectives.
    8. 8. Major Texts of New Criticism I.A. Richards The Principles of Literary Criticism, Practical Criticism (1920s) The Fugitives & Southern Agrarians formed John Crowe Ransom’s The New Criticism (1941): poems as a concrete entity like any other art object Cleanth Brooks’ The Well Wrought Urn (1947):
    9. 9. Central Argument The poem is the raison d’etre. • to place poet or culture above the literary expression is to move away from essential unity of poem. • employing biography, history or affect is an inherently vague and unreliable basis for analysis. • objective analysis is far more inclusive and forgiving methodology.
    10. 10. “The Heresy of Paraphrase” Cleanth Brooks, 1947 • from The Well Wrought Urn--treatment of ten poems spanning historical /canonical record from Shakespeare to Yeats. • employs “close-reading” techniques to see “what the masterpieces had in common” (1354) • Poems chosen for Brooks • added metaphysical (Donne) and modern (Yeats)
    11. 11. William K. Wimsatt, Jr. (1907-75) • • • • Born-Washington, D.C. Georgetown, Ph.D. Yale Taught @ Yale-1939 Known for works on Samuel Johnson • Literary Criticism: • The Verbal Icon • w/Cleanth Brooks • • The Intentional Fallacy The Affective Fallacy Monroe C. Beardsley (1915-85) • • • • • • Born-Connecticut Ph.D. Yale, briefly in Philosophy dept. Mt. Holyoke, 1944 Taught literary criticism Swarthmore and Temple Aesthetics and Philosophy Joint w/ Wimsatt • • The Intentional Fallacy The Affective Fallacy
    12. 12. What is “Paraphrase”? The attempt to evaluate a poem by presenting a proposition about the poem’s meaning apart from its form; i.e. giving a “prose-sense” to the poem.
    13. 13. Central Argument • Structure : whole is greater than sum of parts • Rational meaning and Emotive meaning • Import • Suggestion • Reduction of “meaning” • lowest common denominator
    14. 14. Problems inherent… • “all such formulations lead away from the center of the poem—not toward it…” • Paraphrase strips poem of poetic power • “form and content, or content and medium, are inseparable.”(1357) • Longinus—remark on Euripides (154) *
    15. 15. Two other theoretical errors… • “Intentionalism”• “Affectionionalism”*
    16. 16. The Intentional Fallacy • Published 1946 • Objective literary criticism defended • Criticism hampered by use of biography or “genealogy” to evaluate the effectiveness of poetry • Intentionalists tend to move away from the poem
    17. 17. What is the Intentional Fallacy? • A confusion between the poem and its origins (genealogy-Genetic Fallacy) • Starts with the “causes” and ends in “biography and relativism” (1388) • Intention: “design or plan in author's mind” (1375) • “Intention” not stable standard of literary criticism: • unavailable • undesirable
    18. 18. Unavailable Intention • Work is “detached from the author at birth” (1376) • Echoes Jean-Paul Sartre • Unduly extends the author’s creative freedom. • Completed work belongs to the public and to their interpretations and evaluations • Child/Parent Analogy *
    19. 19. Undesirable Intention • Work measured against something “outside of the author” (1381) • “author psychology” (1381). • Attractive from an historical or biographical perspective • W & B warn against confusing “personal and poetic studies” • “Critical inquiries are not settled by consulting the oracle”(1387) • Settling a bet: Eliot • Criticism must depend on recognition of difference • Internal vs. external sources of evidence of meaning
    20. 20. Internal vs. External Evidence • Internal evidence of meaning discovered through “the semantics and syntax of a poem, through grammars, dictionaries, and all the literature which is the source of dictionaries, [and] in general through all that makes a language and culture” (1381) • External evidence of meaning consists of “revelations about how or why the poet wrote the poem” (1381) • One moves toward poem, one moves away
    21. 21. Essence of Objective Critical Literary Analysis Successful works contain all necessary and relevant information to find meaning • Example: Derek Walcott's “Ruins of a Great House”
    22. 22. “The Affective Fallacy” • Published in 1949 • Companion article to “The Intentional Fallacy” • Recount history and results of psychological, emotiondriven conception of literary analysis • Focus on role and function of critic • Critic is teacher or explicator of meaning • Arnoldian “personal fallacy”
    23. 23. What is the Affective Fallacy? Confusing the POEM with its RESULTS i.e. what a poem is with what a poem does But what does that mean? How does that represent a fallacy? *
    24. 24. Affective Critics: Shifting the Focus • Critics engaged in Affective Theory will • use emotional response as evaluative standard • subjugate poem to subjective emotional response, • Critic/reader the actual object of cognitive focus. • differentiate cognitive effects and emotive affects • In accounting for affect, reader must reengage text • E.g. Donne’s “The Canonization”
    25. 25. Summary The poem is the raison d’etre. • To place poet or culture above literary expression is to move away from essential unity of poem. • Employing biography, history or affect is an inherently vague and unreliable basis for analysis. • Objective analysis is far more inclusive and forgiving methodology.

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