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Play the Game

According to Donald Keesey, formalists "claim no special expertise beyond well-developed powers of observation and a sharpened sense of what to look for. And we can all play the game" (79).

This is an encouraging thought: everyone is invited to play in the field of formal criticism; no one is left behind feeling like the little kid on the playground who is never picked to play kickball. In fact, according to Keesey, "we must all play the game, for the analysis never substitutes for the poem." As a future teacher, I like this concept of equal participation in criticism of a text. Indeed, Keesey explains that formal criticism "democratizes" literary study and is a popular tool within the English classroom. While my students may not be qualified to supply a valid historical criticism on a text, they are completely qualified to write a formal critique of a work of literature; all they have to do is use their eyes to observe the text and their pen to translate their observations into written words--outside of looking up a definition here or there, no additional research is necessary. In this sense, formal criticism welcomes amateur critics. As opposed to the somewhat daunting task of adopting the research-laden job set out for the historical critic, my students can try on the shoes of a formalist with relative ease. Instead of burdening them with research, asking my students to react to a text as a formalist will allow them to rely on their imaginations and, hopefully, provide them with a sense of pride when they come up with an interpretation that is well thought out, original, etc. In this sense, instead of stressing the importance of the words of "great critics" who may intimidate, confuse, and belittle students, a formalist study of the text places value on the student's interpretation and thus encourages the student by stressing the fact that his/her own thoughts are important.

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Comments (1)

Derek Tickle:

I really enjoyed how you connected formalism to an English classroom. I think that allowing the students to use their experience and imaganation when reading a text will promote different views and endings for the text. A lesson could include having the students re-write the conclusion of a story or by simply focusing on the words of the page in order to define their meaning. It seems that many teachers have focused heavily on research and have forgot that our imagination can be, sometimes, more stimulating than research. It is a person's past experiences and education that form an opinion, in their mind, based on the words in the text. Great comparison and application to an everyday setting.


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