Not 100% Formalism...Is it?

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"(The Petrarchan lover, for example, as Shakespeare well knew, frequently found a beautiful and cruel mistress)" (Brookes 87).

Brooks was explaining some formalist theories and/or approaches in his essay, but this sentence stood out for me. Doesn't this sentence belong to historical criticism, not formal criticism because it is referring to what Shakespeare knew at the time he was writing. When I read the information around it, I wasn't really sure if this sentence was going against what Shakespeare had written or if it was being used to prove it, but either way it was being used in an essay that was focusing on formal criticism. Is this where the statement that there are few pure formalists comes to light?

I think it was also interesting that Brooks claimed "the poems never contain abstract statements" (86). I guess this would be true when using formalism because each sentence and each word would have its own purpose in the text. However, I still find it hard to believe that there aren't any abstract statements in poetry. Wasn't it Kent or Keesey that said the last line in Keats's Ode on A Grecian Urn was abstract? Maybe I am mistaken, but I believe one of them did. Although Brooks may believe there aren't any abstract statements in poetry, I would have to disagree. I'm don't know exactly why, but I just can't completely accept that statement.

I thought Brooks discussion of irony was different too. "Irony, then, in this further sense, is not only an acknowledgment of the pressures of a context. Invulnerability to irony is the stability of a context in which the internal pressures balance and mutually support each other" (Brooks 87). So is Brooks saying that if a work containes irony, it is not stable? 

:) 

 

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4 Comments

Derek Tickle said:

I am thinking along the same line as you. I see historical and formalist criticism in this quote. I think that a poem can offer the reader an abstract view of something or just an abstract image overall. I believe that formalism has some historical criticism in it because if your a human and trying to read a text through a formalist lense, then they will have a history background. I believe it is the personal experience and development that leads someone to become a formalist or formalist reader. Interesting topic!

I agree with you Katie. Never, I'm guessing, would be one of those words we would want to stay away from when writing an essay because one example could prove it wrong. Dr. Jerz would probably agree with the fact that this statement is a little too closed. If it said that "poems usually do not obtain abstract statements" it would change it completely.

I, too, see historical background in that quote. It kind of goes with your other blog that they all build on one another. One is never used on its own completely. Or let me say that it would be difficult to do instead of never.

Wow, this is a great thread. Katie, I would interpret Brooks as suggesting that it's not a poem if it's abstract, or rather, that the kind of writing that we value as good literature is good because it is specific, not abstract.

I have an emotion when I'm around you
The emotion always makes me feel a certain way
Your feelings have an emotional affect on me, too.
Come on over tonight and let's compare emotions.


Ugh... well, that's supposed to be awful, because it doesn't specify any emotion, it's all abstract, yet it has a specific context -- I created it as an example of a bland composition that barely counts as literature, other than I've presented it as an example of a bad poem. But Brooks would say that even such a bland poem makes a specific statement, because of its specific context.

I agree Katie. This was one of the sections of Brooks' essay that I went back and read over a few times. I think you hit the mark exactly when you said that this is one of those examples of a formalist who is not a pure formalist. I think it would be difficult to be a pure formalist, they all seem to use criticisms that they say they don't use. And this is a prime example. Great entry.

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