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Let's Play a Game

"They (the formal critics) seem to claim no specail expertise beyond well-developed powers of observation and a sharpened sense of what to look for. And we can all play the game. We test their reading against the poem and accept, reject, or modify that reading as our own understanding of the text demands. Indeed, we must all play the game, for the analysis never substitutes for the poem." (Keesey 78-79)

So, unlike the historical critic, as it says in our text just before these lines I've quoted, the formalists don't boast an expertise just well-developed powers of observation. Doesn't this type of criticism still demand some type of expertise? A formalist critic still has to understand the mechanics of a poem to study structure and poetic terms. Later in this section of the text Keesey says that if what the formalists believe about analyizing poetry is true then anyone, even those who do not understand structure and poetic terminology should be able to explicate a poem. But, since this is rarely the case I feel it proves that there has to be some specialization other than well-developed powers of observation.

I agree with Keesey that we can all play this game. The sentence I left out of my quote was, "the critics can tell us where to look and what to look for; we have to see for ourselves" (Keesey 79). What it all comes down to is that as long as we play the game we are able to come to our own conclusions. The formalist critics chant structure, structure, structure, but they have to know what it is they are looking at first.


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Comments (2)

Bethany Merryman:

I see what you are saying. How can you write a truly formalist criticism without understanding the specialization of their school? It seems that you would have to have further knowledge than the ability to look at literature.

james lohr:

Why do we have to understand the poetic structure of the work in order to understand it? True without this knowledge you may not see past the surface structure fo the work, but you are still able to understand whether or not the work is "good" in your own terms. I know as a child when i first began reading, i could tell whether or not i liked a poem or story, even without the knowledge of the structures it contained.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 16, 2009 10:07 PM.

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