Something a Little More Concrete

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"Indeed, as long as the poem is supposed to exist in isolation from other contexts, it is difficult to see how the formal critic can find a basis for any value scheme at all. But in practice most formalists do not really isolate the poem so completely" (Keesey 80).

As Angela kind of commented on in her blog, for some reason I felt so much better after reading this chapter. I feel like I finally had something explained to me, that I wasn't just reaching in the dark and hoping I would find something useful.

There was a lot I felt that I could blog about in this chapter. I feel like Keesey really disected formalism to the point to where I might have a chance at actually trying it on a poem and recognizing that that was the crititcism I was using.

When we first talked about formalism, I thought it was very strange that formalists supposedly looked only at the form and parts of the poem while ignoring everything else. I thought that to understand or derive some meaning from a poem using that method would be impossible. I also believed that if meaning/interpretations could be created through this method, that they would be so far from the "truth" or "original intention" that they would be useless. The quote I chose above helped me to understand that formalism often time isn't taken on its own. I think thats how most criticism is: you can say you are using only a certain method, but really you are using a slight combination of other methods as well. Also, there can't really be a truth or determination of original intention, but I did understand from the text how formalism can sometimes help to determine the value of the poem.

After reading this chapter, I realized how important each form of criticism is the other, and how each has its own holes that leads to a slight incompleteness that denies any of them the right to be declared the best method of criticism. I think for me I just need to keep learning what the missing parts are so I know how to best defend the claim I make for my paper.


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I really liked your word choice (Gosh...I'm now an official English geek. I need a ribbon or something. Dr. Jerz, how do I turn it off!?) when you said, "Keesey really disected formalism to the point to where I might have a chance at actually trying it on a poem and recognizing that that was the crititcism I was using." If you think about it, Keesey actually disects formalism like formalism disects a text. He gets down there into the nitty-gritty and really makes his point clear. I think I may be a tad biased about this, however, because I understand formalism. It is very similar to close reading.

As for your entry, Katie, I think that this one is superb. (And trust me, I don't use this word lightly.) I really think that you wrote an entry that both shows that you are learning and points out to others what they should have gotten out of the text had they missed it. I truly commend you for this. Bravo!

Greta Carroll said:

You make a really good point, Katie. Almost no types of criticism can truly be used for themselves, and if they can they are usually not very effective. Formalism in particular, as Keesey pointed out, is hard to use by itself.

When I was trying to think of some thesis last class that was purely formalist, I honestly couldn’t think of any. Most of the ones I could think of were along the lines of, “Shakespeare created ambiguity through repetition, word choice, etc. in The Tempest in order to do__________,” whether it’s to make the reader feel a certain way or something else it almost always involves some other school of criticism. This kind of confused me at first too, since it’s pretty much impossible to write a completely formalist paper, but I’m glad you’re starting to understand things better, Katie. I personally think that Keesey explains things in a pretty understandable, succinct manner (and certainly in a more understandable way than Eagleton).

To Angela, I really like your point about Keesey really analyzing formalism itself, as Eagleton stressed towards the end of Chapter 3; I think that’s part of what Literary Criticism is—analyzing the methods of studying literature themselves.

Angela, if you're having trouble turning it off, then you'll do fine in this class!

Greta, great point about how formalism is often in the service of something else. I tried to go through the MacDonald article in a strictly formal manner, but my goal was to get you to model it, so I suppose my method has a mimetic angle. Also, since I'm using the authority that comes from my position as a teacher, to hold MacDonald up as a model, so a Marxist might have a lot to say about the power structure in the classroom.

Yet I'm also putting power into your hands by encouraging this online discussion, and that's a de-centralization of authority. (See how both Angela and Greta have recognized and praised Katie's work?)

Keep up the good work, everyone.

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