Extending Beyond Normal Realms: The Definition of a Word to a Formalist

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From Keesey’s Introduction to Chapter 2:

“Such is the power of context to create connotations, overtones, implications, in brief, ‘meanings,’ beyond those cited in even the largest dictionaries.  And the principle applies to all elements in the poem” (77).

I really like this point that Keesey makes.  Words are not confined to meaning what the dictionary says they can mean.  And by focusing only on the words on the page and what it means in and to the work as a whole makes it is easier to determine what it does mean in this particular text.  In this way, formalism encompasses and compensates for author intention.  It encompasses it because the author may have intended the word to mean something else than the denotation, by analyzing what the word means in this text as a whole formalism takes this into account.  At the same time, the author may have had no idea what they intended when they used a word.  By carefully considering what each individual word means according to the whole then, whether the author used the word they meant to or not is irrelevant, since viewing the word in light of the whole will still reveal the words connotation in relation to the whole.  That’s part of why I like formalism, it allows words to work in not just the realms of their definitions, but in any way as long as they make sense according to the rest of the text.  I think this makes a word so much more versatile and powerful, since it can extend beyond what we even expect it to mean. 

Read my classmates’ thoughts.

2 Comments

Erica Gearhart said:

I really like Formalism too, Greta, but I never really considered the idea that you have brought up here. It does give the author great power when he or she has such versatility in word usage within his or her text. In fact, it is very interesting to think of exactly how much power an author does have. I remember that in one of your other blogs you talked about how literature was used to manipulate the masses when the printing press was first created and literature was being circulated among the working and middle classes. I also think of the novel Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, where Peter and Violet, though young children, are able to provide political commentary and suggestions that much of the country grows to support. Also, books are probably banned more often than many other forms of entertainment. Writing truly is a powerful tool when one really thinks about it.

james lohr said:

I think the key point, is what the word means to the work. Each time a word is used, depending on the context, the meaning can be very different.

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