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Formalism is a school of literary criticism and literary theory having mainly to do with structural purposes of a particular text. It is the study of a text without taking into account any outside influence. Formalism rejects or sometimes simply "brackets" (i.e., ignores for the purpose of analysis) notions of culture or societal influence, authorship, and content, and instead focuses on modes, genres, discourse, and forms.
In literary theory
In literary theory, formalism refers to critical approaches that analyze, interpret, or evaluate the inherent features of a text. These features include not only grammar and syntax but also literary devices such as meter and tropes. The formalistic approach reduces the importance of a text's historical, biographical, and cultural context.
Formalism rose to prominence in the early twentieth century as a reaction against
Beginning in the late 1970s, formalism was substantially displaced by various approaches (often with political aims or assumptions) that were suspicious of the idea that a literary work could be separated from its origins or uses. The term has often had a pejorative cast and has been used by opponents to indicate either aridity or ideological deviance. Some recent trends in academic literary criticism suggest that formalism may be making a comeback.
William H Thelin criticizes Maxine Hairston's approach to teaching composition from a current-traditional standpoint, which she then mixes with the political. He claims that “No matter how sound the politics … the student would have no choice but to regurgitate that dogma in the clearest terms possible and to shift concentration onto matters of structure and correctness”.
Mary Ann Cain writes that “formalism asserts that the text stands on its own as a complete entity, apart from the writer who produced it”. Moreover, Cain says that “one can regard textual products as teachable and still maintain that being a writer is a "natural" act, one not subject to instruction. Composition, like creative writing, has flourished under the assumption that students are already writers, or have the capacity to learn-and that everyone should be writers. Yet the questions composition tends to pose within this assumption are not so much about which aspects of writing can or cannot be taught, but how writing can be taught and under what conditions. In regards to formalist composition, one must ask, “to what extent is this ‘need’ for ‘academic discourse’ real – any more than the need for more ‘imaginative writing’ is real-except to perform some function, to get something done?”.
Formalism research involves studying the ways in which students present their writing. Some ways formalism research is conducted involves allowing the text to speak to the readers versus cutting out unintended meaning in a written piece. Respectively, these two methods deal with language as the “master” writer versus a teacher as the “master” writer.
Russian Formalism refers to the work of the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOYAZ) founded in 1916 in St. Petersburg (then Petrograd) by
- The aim is to produce "a science of literature that would be both independent and factual," which is sometimes designated by the term poetics.
- Since literature is made of language, linguistics will be a foundational element of the science of literature.
- Literature is autonomous from external conditions in the sense that literary language is distinct from ordinary uses of language, not least because it is not (entirely) communicative.
- Literature has its own history, a history of innovation in formal structures, and is not determined (as some crude versions of Marxism have it) by external, material history.
- What a work of literature says cannot be separated from how the literary work says it, and therefore the form and of a work, far from being merely the decorative wrapping of an isolable content, is in fact part of the content of the work.
According to Eichenbaum, Shklovsky was the lead critic of the group, and Shklovsky contributed two of their most well-known concepts: defamiliarization (ostraneniye, more literally, 'estrangement') and the plot/story distinction (
This emphasis on form, seemingly at the expense of thematic content, was not well-received after the
The Prague Circle and structuralism
The Moscow Linguistic Circle founded by Jakobson was more directly concerned with recent developments in linguistics than Eichenbaum's group. Jakobson left Moscow for Prague in 1920 and in 1926 co-founded the Prague Linguistic Circle, which embodied similar interests, especially in the work of Ferdinand de Saussure.
- I. A. Richards
- New Criticism
- Stylistics (linguistics)
- New Formalism/Neoformalism
- ^ “Formalism and its Malcontents: Benjamin and de Man on the Function of Allegory”, Jim Hansen, New Literary History, 2004, Vol. 35, No. 4, 663.
- ^ Thelin, William H. "Advocating Language: An Ethical Approach to Politics in the Classroom". The Ethics of Writing Instruction. Michael Pemberton, ed. Stamford: Ablex Publishing, 2000.
- ^ a b c d e Cain, Mary Ann. "Problematizing Formalism: A Double-Cross of Genre Boundaries." College Composition and Communication. 51:1 Sept 1999. 89-95.
- Lemon, Lee T., and Marion J. Reis. Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1965.
- Shklovsky, Viktor. Theory of Prose. Trans. Benjamin Sher. Elmwood Park: Dalkey Archive, 1990.
- Trotsky, Leon. Literature and Revolution. New York: Russell and Russell, 1957.
- Wellek, René, and Austin Warren. Theory of Literature. 3rd. rev. ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977.
- Erlich, Victor. Russian Formalism: History—Doctrine. 3rd ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981.
- Dowling,William C. Ricoeur on Time and Narrative. Notre Dame UP, 2011.