Notes on the Formalist Approach

Topics: Meaning of life, Linguistics, Formalism Pages: 3 (1129 words) Published: April 28, 2015
Notes on the Formalist (New Criticism) Literary Lens
Claire, Jill. “Formalist Theory Applied to ​
The Poisonwood Bible.”​
Teaching Barbara

Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible,” from Multiple Critical Perspectives. ​ Clayton, De.:
Prestwick House, Inc. 2011.​

THE FORMALIST APPROACH TO LITERATURE was developed at the beginning of the 20th century and remained popular until the 1970s, when other literary theories began to gain popularity. Today, formalism is generally regarded as a rigid and inaccessible means of reading literature, used in Ivy League classrooms and as the subject of scorn in rebellious coming-of-age films. It is an approach that is concerned primarily with form, as its name suggests, and thus places the greatest emphasis on how something is said, rather than what is said. Formalists believe that a work is a separate entity—not at all dependent upon the author’s life or the culture in which the work is created. No paraphrase is used in a formalist examination, and no reader reaction is discussed.

Originally, formalism was a new and unique idea. The formalists were called “New Critics,” and their approach to literature became the standard academic approach. Like classical artists such as da Vinci and Michaelangelo, the formalists concentrated more on the form of the art rather than the content. They studied the recurrences, the repetitions, the relationships, and the motifs in a work in order to understand what the work was about. The formalists viewed the tiny details of a work as nothing more than parts of the whole. In the formalist approach, even a lack of form indicates something. Absurdity is in itself a form—one used to convey a specific meaning (even if the meaning is a lack of meaning). The formalists also looked at smaller parts of a work to understand the meaning. Details like diction, punctuation, and syntax all give clues.

Three main areas of study:
● Form
● Diction
● Unity
1. Form
● Cadence---how the words...
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