Formalism, Correspondence, Coherence, or a Little Bit of Everything?

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“In an attempt to set up a more reliable standard of interpretation, one based on the actual linguistic situation of shared meanings, Hirsch proposes the standard of ‘coherence’—the relationship of meaning to the author’s psychological and philosophical stance, to what the author is likely to mean under a particular set of circumstances.  Hirsch’s second criterion is ‘correspondence’—and accounting for all the parts of the work and their relationship to the whole.” 


--From Allen C. Austin’s “Toward Resolving Keats’s Grecian Urn Ode” page 48 in  

   Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism


            I found these two definitions and approaches very helpful in interpreting the rest of Austin’s evaluation of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” but I also felt that they are somewhat confining.  Aside from these methods, there are many other ways to interpret literature that exclude the two, yet still reach a very possible critical evaluation of the text.

  This fact aside, I found it very interesting that Austin quoted Hirsch here as using the “correspondence” of the work.  In my opinion, Hirsch’s definition of correspondence seems very similar to the method that is employed by the Formalist critics that Terry Eagleton discusses in his introduction to Literary Theory: An Introduction.  Eagleton writes that the Formalists focused on the “…particular organization of language…,” on the “…structures of language…,” and on the “…assemblage of ‘devices’…” (2-3).  Because Austin included Hirsch’s method of literary criticism, I can now see how more than one style of criticism can be used at the same time.  I know that some are in favor of the Formalists or of Hirsch’s correspondence method alone; however I think that I learn best by looking at a literary work from many different angles.  After all, no matter how hard we as readers and critics try, we cannot accurately recreate every single occurrence, thought, or motivation that was present when a literary work was first created.  


See what others had to say about Austin's essay.    


Katie Vann said:

Erica, I thought you made a great point in the beginning of your blog. I felt the same at first about the definitions of correspondence and coherence in that they would help to guide some of my reading. However, I wish I would have read your blog before I turned in my paper because I argued for a one sided approach to Keats's poem. Although I didn't really agree with everything I said in the paper, I would have picked a different topic had I read your blog because I was definately in favorite of one form more than the other. But, you made the point that you need both and several other methods in order to analyze what is being read.

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