Formalism and Structuralism

Why do you think a formalist approach to literature has remained so popular?

Many have argued that all Western thought is divided into the Subjective and Objective, Classical and Romantic, and Art versus Science. Both concepts, whilst existing separately, are dependent on the other for meaning (form – meaning). Romantic modes of literary criticism are noted to change and adapt within their cultural frameworks (postmodernism, gender studies), whereas Classical studies, focusing on the underlying form of content, often follow a fixed methodology. Formalism, a classical mode of literary criticism and continuation of aspects of classic rhetoric, remains a highly influential and pervading approach in the reading of texts because the ideologies are unchanging and objective across time and place. Formalism rejects external influences of social and historical contexts, emphasising form over content or meaning in art, literature and philosophy. Formalism is the basis of literary studies, finding what words means in their full denotative and connotative value.

Thus Formalism remains to be a frequently employed form of criticism as it follows a close detailed analysis of texts in terms of grammar, syntax, and literary devices such as meter, trope, imagery, tone, and rhyme.  Formalism does not focus on who/ what/ when/ where/ why but how the meaning is conveyed. While critics argue that all literature is a product of its society, Formalism states that the language devices are what produce impressions: devices make literature literary. The words and relationships between symbol and the object, experience, or emotion being signified are used to arrive at meaning. Today, Formalism is commonly employed in poetry and short fiction, “devices through which the total structure of given works of literature might be said to defamiliarize, make strange or challenge certain dominant conceptions [and] ideologies…” (Victor Shklovsky, Art as Technique, 17).

(Literary Studies 2011)

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