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February 01, 2012

When the TEXT Itself is > the Reader & the Author: Russian Formalism & New Criticism

Image Source: http://www.chronotext.org/Isaiah/img/SlidingText_FR.jpg

Habib, M.A.R. A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005. ISBN:0-631-23200-1.

Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing about Literature with Critical Theory. 5th ed. New York: Pearson, 2008. ISBN: 032144907X.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. ISBN: 1405106964.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. ISBN: 0415974100.

Fry, Paul H. Theory of Literature. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012. ISBN: 9780300180831

[These are our primary course texts on theory. The Rivkin and Ryan anthology contains your collection of primary sources about literary theory as written by the pioneers and theorists who helped develop them. Use the articles from the anthology (and any others I publish for you on our course libguides page) as your primary sources for your final mock conference papers].

Enter your work on this text as prescribed in class. For example:

Remember: I have to "approve" all comments so you won't see it immediately after posting. After hitting submit, you should see a screen that confirms this.

We are beginning to use some concepts in our discussions that you may or may not have had practice using before. I want to be sure that you have a clear understanding of the words we use in class (no more blank stares!) so be sure you are looking up words you don't feel you yet "own" (means, making it a part of your personal vocabulary) by utilizing your dictionaries to the fullest.

Dr. Hobbs


For more English-Blog entries on the topic of Critical Theory, please click HERE.

Posted by lhobbs at February 1, 2012 03:19 PM

Readers' Comments:


ENG 435 Students of 2009,

Enter your self-designed reading response questions for the theory of this module in the comment box below.

Again, in this entry, you will be entering:

[1] Your 1 x self-designed reading-response questions ( WITH short answer) based on the "overview" summaries of this theory you were assigned from various textbooks. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.

[2] AND, your 1 x self-designed discussion questions (longer answer) based on the application of specific terminology from this particular theory toward the primary works we have read for this course. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.

[3] Later, your precis of the article assigned to you from the Rivkin and Ryan anthology about this particular theory. Due in the comment box below, in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com, AND as a hardcopy in class according to the deadline listed on our itinerary (see syllabus). Be prepared to discuss your article with the rest of the class.

Good luck,

Dr. Hobbs


ADDENDUM 6 February 2009

ENG 435 Students:

This will be the only time I post something like this. I am only doing this in the event that a few of you may be confused.

As of today, your grades for Precis #1 and Application Paper #1 (see Syllabus) have been posted on turnitin.com. In general, I am pleased with your "first effort" for an assignment from the incorrigible Dr. Hobbs and it is clear that several of you did give a 100% effort and those particular scores reflects this. If, however, you are unhappy or surprised by your first score please continue reading.

All of the following issues have already been covered by me explicitly during our various meetings. I know this because some of you got “A”s on the assignments—proof that a few folks were paying attention to my gab. With that said, if any of the issues listed below were present, points were deducted from the possible 5 points for each assignment (together as a package, the maximum that can be earned is 10). I'm sure that by Precis #2 and Application Paper #, this little edict won't need to be repeated. Remember, an "A" (5 points separately or 10 points combined—depending on how you look at it) is for a near-perfect response.

In general, I was looking for a one-page-minimum work for each part of the 10-point “package” (précis / 5 points + application paper / 5 points) that was not only cogent but also actively engaged the work in a manner appropriate to a Senior at Saint Leo University. To demonstrate that I really am paying attention to your work, I penalized submissions when:

1. Assignments were incomplete by not being present on BOTH turnitin.com and the English-blog (exception was the feedback part).

2. Papers showed evidence of plagiarism, unoriginality, or other lack of scholarly engagement.

3. Papers were missing, late / submitted after the deadline.

4. Papers had issues with strict MLA formatting, i.e. not double-spaced, no 1” margins all-around, no header (last name, space, page number) on each page's upper right, student ID not MLA-standard (student name, professor name, course name, date), etc. For this, I looked at the Turnitin.com version (which you uploaded your .doc files) and not the English-blog comment since formatting is lost there. Also, be cognizant of the rules of citation—refer back to the Gibaldi’s MLA style guide if you need to (on reserve at the library).

5. Papers were not, at least, one-page in length according to the content. By the way, neither the citation nor the works cited page counts as part of the content word count / page length. Write the paper first, then add-in the citation. You can go up to two pages, but do try to keep them under two. Quality over quantity!

6. Papers did not cite nor quote from the work(s) assigned/discussed (this is the engagement with the text). This is very important and VERY specified in class. An MLA citation of the work should appear in the précis as a works cited, MLA-style, and two citations should appear in your application papers: the source of the précis and the source of your primary text, i.e. Sigmund Freud and Victor Fleming, or Carl Jung and James Joyce, etc.

7. Papers were either not titled or titled poorly, e.g. "Précis 2," or "Joyce’s Portrait," etc. What is each assignment about? Let your title reflect your thesis, even if it is merely a précis and especially when it is an application paper. I am putting up a new link (HERE too) on creating titles (something I assign to ENG 121 students) at our syllabus entry (HERE) so please review it there if this applies to you. By the way, the citation at the beginning of the paper does NOT count as the title.

8. Papers showed evidence of Mechanical / Stylistic errors not befitting a college-Senior-writer such as (but not limited to) misspelled words, grammatical errors, inappropriate / flippant / nonchalant language (non-academic voice / tone), non-underlined Book titles, gross or sweeping generalities / insensitivity / political incorrectness, or basic lack of clear focus / unity/ direction (missing thesis), etc.

9. Papers that did NOT include either ANY snippets from the text to prove your point(s), e.g. Dorothy Gale had a problem with bullies as is evidence when she scolded the Lion, "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" (Fleming) OR did not, for example in the application paper, did not SPECIFICALLY mention the concept from your assigned article and how you were applying it:, e.g. Freud’s postulate of p.p.-envy, explained as “the jealousy a female toddler may feel about her anatomy” (Freud 33), can be clearly seen in the character of Daisy in Fitzgerald’s _The Great Gatsby_ when she decides to kill the other women in the room (Fitzgerald 45). See what I mean? If you don't, please come see me in my office and I'll give you a ten-minute crash-course on writing a scholarly reading-application paper because this is very important and crucial if you want to score high on your future responses (I was actually lenient this time). In the meantime, please re-review the handouts on writing in college.

10. By the way, any direction you want to take between the concept you focus on from your précis and a passage from your primary source in the application paper is fair as long as you can back it up with specific, cited examples from BOTH texts. In the application paper, there must be two citations—your primary source of the week and the article you wrote a précis on.

As I said, these were not too bad for your first attempt with an unfamiliar professor but I expect to see improvements on these items in the next two assignments! Let's keep the academic standard for this course at a respectable high so that we can ALL benefit from it.

I am enjoying this class and the level of participation each of you are bringing to the course. I hope you are too.

See you in our next class meeting.

With kind regards,

Dr. Hobbs
Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435

Questions For Formalism/New Criticism

Q: In the Tyson text, the author explained the term intentional fallacy. What are New Critics referring to when they use this word?
A: This term refers to the misperception that the author’s objective for writing the work is the same as the text’s meaning.

Q: In New Criticism, the text is an unchanging, timeless object. Thus, what does the New Critic term heresy of paraphrase mean?
A: This term implies that if a person changes any part of the poem, for example—a line or word, then the poem will mean something different; thus, it becomes a new literary work.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at January 27, 2009 01:06 PM

Wesley Johnson
Eng 435
Jan. 27, 2009

Discussion Questions

According to Tyson, the difficulty faced by new historicists is the “impossibility of objective analysis. What is this?

The term “thick description” is important. Why is it significant and what field was it borrowed from?

Rivkin and Tyson mention the “intentional” and “affective” fallacy. What are these things and why might they matter to lit. theory?

Posted by: Wesley J. at January 27, 2009 04:35 PM

Travis Rathbone
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
January 27, 2009

Discussion Questions for January 28th

When defining Formalism, the Rivkin/Ryan text states: “In order for literature to be literature, it must constantly defamiliarize the familiar and constantly evolve.” Cite a few examples of how this statement might apply to the text by Joyce?

As far as New Criticism is concerned, what is the benefit of “throwing out” all outside influences on the work and performing close readings on the text itself?

The Tyson text places great import on the phrase “the text itself” when defining New Criticism. What does this phrase mean?

Posted by: Travis Rathbone at January 27, 2009 04:37 PM

Ava L.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
25 January 2009

Short Answer Questions for Reading Check on Formalism and New Criticism

1. Discuss the differences between intention fallacy and affective fallacy and why they are important to New Criticism.

A. Intentional fallacy, coined by New Critics, refers to the mistaken belief that the author’s intention is the same as the text’s meaning (Tyson 136). New Critics place particular emphasis on Intentional fallacy implying that the text itself is often more meaningful than the author’s intentions (Tyson 136).

B. Affective fallacy, also coined by New Critics, refers to the emotions that are produced from reading the text (Tyson 137). Affective fallacy will often allow the reader to associate with the text itself based on a past experience. Affective fallacy often leads the reader to experience an impressionistic response. An example of this type of response may be that the reader does not like a character in the text and therefore assumes that the character within the text is evil (Tyson 136).

2.Why is literary language important to New Critics and how does it affect the readers perception of the text being read?

A. Literary language is important to New Critics because, when applied correctly, it communicates tone, attitude, and feelings throughout the text. It creates an aesthetic experience. It unites the work causing all components of the text to be inseparable, which is the criterion that New Critics use to judge the quality of a literary work (Tyson 138).

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today. Rutledge: New York, 2006.

Posted by: Ava L. at January 27, 2009 07:27 PM

Liz H.

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435

January 27, 2009

Reading Check Questions

1. What is defamiliarization according to the Russian Formalists?

2. What two major components make up narrative literature for the Formalists?

Posted by: Liz H. at January 27, 2009 07:59 PM

Cecilia B.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
27th January 2009

1. In New Criticism, what do intentional fallacy and affective fallacy mean?
- Intentional fallacy (similar to the interests of new historicism) jumbles the origins of a text by focusing on its historical context and authorial biography and intention to discover the text’s meaning. On the other hand, affective fallacy (similar to the interests of reader-response) confuses the emotions and reactions it ignites from the reader. For instance, if a reader dislikes a character, he will automatically project his feelings onto that character’s meaning within the text (i.e. bad feelings=evil character) (Tyson 137).
2. For New Critics, what are the literary values embodied in a text’s organic unity?
- As written by Tyson, complexity and order are the criteria of literary values for organic unity. Complexity involves the numerous meanings in a text which are typically contradictory and stem from any of these four literary devices: paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension. However, order within the text’s organic unity must resolve the contradictions from these linguistic devices so as to ultimately lend themselves to the text’s overall meaning or theme (Tyson 138).

Posted by: Cecilia at January 27, 2009 08:22 PM

Sarah Tatko
Dr. Hobbs
28 January 2009
Formalism – Two Questions
1) According to Tyson, even though New Criticism is not focused on any more, why is it important to give appropriate attention to?
a. Answer – New Criticism provides literary study with a foundation which help supports the class room instruction of literature.
2) According to Tyson, why is New Criticism sometimes referred to as formalism?
a. Answer – New Criticism is referred to as formalism because literature is approached and understood through its form which is its devices and elements.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. New York: Garland Publishing, 1999.

Posted by: Sarah T. at January 27, 2009 09:31 PM

Kristin Brittain

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435


Q: Although new criticism is no longer used by literary theorist what components of new criticism are still utilized that laid the foundation for use in other theories today?

A: The idea of close reading, the importance of textual evidence, and the close attention paid to formal elements such as images, symbols, plot, and point of view are a few components pertinent to new criticism that are still utilized in other theories.

Q: Why didn’t new critics believe in paraphrasing a piece of literary work?

A: New critics did not believe in paraphrasing literary work because they saw the work as “the text itself,” the sole source of any kind of interpretation of the work. They believed that every word, sentence, and page was put in a specific order to create a one of a kind object and meaning. They argued if you change one word of the work it would be a different piece of literature.

Posted by: Kristin B. at January 27, 2009 09:40 PM

Wesley J.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
February 1, 2009

Précis of Formalism Article: “The Language of Paradox” by Cleanth Brooks

Cleanth Brooks’ article “The Language of Paradox” seeks to explain the nature of poetic language. Initially, he notes the difficulty inherent in discussing poetry as a linguistic paradox. Our predisposition to regarding paradox as a thing of trickery disables us from noticing initially the fit of paradox and poetry. But, Brooks’ article continues to illuminate the paradoxical nature of poetry; specifically, he focuses on the poetry of William Wordsworth and John Donne, identifying their respective use of the paradox.
Without focusing too much on the detail that Brooks uses, it should come as no surprise that Wordsworth and Donne are the focus of the article. As a Romantic, Wordsworth sought to cast the familiar in an unfamiliar light for readers. In a similarly paradoxical move, Donne’s metaphysical poetry combines the common world and uncommon worlds beyond the secular and clerical dimensions. So, as both poets combine unfamiliar territories, they employ paradox in their work. Brooks highlights these paradox’s in order to instruct the anti-scientific notion of understanding language. Science seeks truth through deconstructing paradox and creating facts. But, for Brooks, truth can only be understood through comparisons. Therefore, he focuses on analogies that create paradox within poetic language.
In “The Language of Paradox” Cleanth Brooks is intent upon explaining that for poetic language, connotation is more important than denotation. For the scientific community, the opposite is true. Ultimately, Brooks’ article ends upon the philosophical implications of paradox. Through understanding that paradox is the language of poetry, Brooks attempts to impart that the nature of imagination itself is intrinsically paradoxical. And, one cannot truly understand or examine imagination without noting the paradox inherent.

Work Cited
Brooks, Cleanth. “The Language of Paradox.” _Literary Theory: An Anthology_. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell, 2004.

Posted by: Wesley J. at February 1, 2009 09:17 PM

Travis R.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
February 1, 2009

Formalism/New Criticism Précis: “Art as Technique” by Viktor Shklovsky

Shklovsky states that through living life existence becomes habitual and automatic. Habits are unconscious endeavors, and people live their lives without knowing they are living at all. The example of dusting a divan is used: If one cannot remember dusting the divan, and no one witnessed the divan being dusted, then the dusting did not take place. If this act is so habitual that one can perform the action unconsciously, it is as if the action had not been performed at all. Concordantly, if life proceeds on an unconscious level, it is as if life is not being lived to its fullest, or at least, the practitioner does not perceive it as existing. Art, then, should reel against the ubiquity of habitual existence. The primary focus of art should be to perceive life in new ways; it should make what is familiar unfamiliar, thus ejecting the object (and the practitioner) out of the realm of automatism. One need not look further than literature for an example of this.
Shlovsky uses the works of Tolstoy to exemplify the defamiliarisation of art. In “Kholstomer,” Tolstoy employs a horse in the role of the narrator, forcing the audience to interact with the theme of private property in an unfamiliar, new way.
Poetry is another art form Shlovsky addresses, and this is a form of art where the structure and rhythm serve the purpose of removing automatism. The characteristics Poetry champions: language, archaisms, and intricacies/obscurities of style lend themselves easily to the unfamiliar. There are a few instances, however, where poetry’s language models that of prose, but in these instances the language is still considered roughened through the rhythm of the poem and this roughing of the poem keeps it from slipping into “familiar” territory.

Work Cited
Shklovsky, Viktor. “Art as Technique.” _Literary Theory: An Anthology_. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell, 2004. 15 – 21.

Posted by: Travis R. at February 2, 2009 01:11 AM

Sarah Tatko
Dr. Hobbs
2 February 2009
Précis: Formalism
“The Formal Method” Boris Eichenbaum
Boris Eichenbaum provides an overview of the Formalism theory is his article “The Formal Method”. His discussion outlines the basic principles of the theory and is based on the works of Russian Formalist critics from the 1920s such as Roman Jakobson, Lev Jakubinskij, Andrej Bleyj, Osip Brik, and Sklovskij. Eichenbaum begins by stating the mission of Formalism as according to Jakobson. He states that the theory is a focus on linguistics, poetics, and form; the combinations of these literary elements are used to investigate a specific text.
The distinction of language is examined more closely by Eichenbaum as he discusses the contributions made by Jakubinskij. There are two forms of language “practical language” and “poetic language”. Practical language is defined as language being used merely as a form of communication. Poetic language is more complex because it takes on autonomous value. The use of images is provided as an example because they are used to create a special perception rather than to enhance comprehension. The images help construct different perceptions and produce a procedure used by the literary elements. Eichenbaum looks at how different critics use literary works to apply the theory of Formalism.
Sklovskij applies Formalism to both Don Quixote and Tristram and Shandy. Through Sklovskij, Eichenbaum explains that these two texts illustrate the relationship between procedure and construction and also the distinction between plot and “story-stuff” (filler). These concepts demonstrate the aesthetic quality of literary elements within a specific work.

Works Cited
Eichenbaum, Boris. "The Formal Method." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Julie Rickin and
Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 7-14.

Posted by: Sarah T. at February 2, 2009 10:46 AM

Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435

Précis: Art as Technique

Viktor Shklovsky, a formalist critic, claims that human’s perceive the world through a series of steps, in which their perception of the world becomes both habitual and automatic. The familiarity of perception becomes a routine because it is part of one’s unconscious nature. Thus, important ideas can be lost when one over-automates an object. Shklovsky uses the term prose perception to connect this idea of habitual perception with literature.

To relate one’s perception to art, Shklovsky comments in his article, Art as Technique, that the purpose of art is to leave behind preconceived notions, instead perceiving objects through personal identification versus ordinary interpretation (16). Thus, one understands that the automatism of perception can be changed through art, where readers view the text in different ways. In practical application, Leo Tolstoy used this idea in his work through the technique of defamiliarization. Particularly, Shklovsky believes that defamiliarization is found in all literature and is an important part of parallelism—taking the usual perception and changing it into a unique, new form.

In poetry, readers find artistic differences everywhere, through the structure, distribution of words, and word characteristics. Poetry draws away from the practical, scientific use of language; instead, transforming language to fit the artistic mode of expression. Further, Shklovsky classifies poetry as formed speech, and prose as ordinary speech, also claiming that the rhythm of prose is an automatizing element whereas the rhythm of poetry is not.

Shklovsky, Viktor. "Art as Technique." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at February 2, 2009 10:55 AM

Ava L.
DR. Hobbs
ENG 435
29 January 2009
The Language of Paradox

Cleanth Brooks examines the correlation between the language of poetry and the language of paradox. He claimed that very few people were “willing to accept the two, both the language of poetry and the language of paradox were one in the same” (Brooks 28). The language of paradox is a sophisticated language that stems from an intellectual approach rather than an emotional approach. It is not meant to invoke emotion from the reader. It requires wit. Brooks claims that it is should be regarded as a language that is “clever rather than profound, and rational rather than divinely rational” (Brooks 28). The intended purpose of paradox is not to contradict what is being stated, although this is a common misperception, but to focus on revealing the dual nature of the poetry. It attempts to reveal to the reader that although the paradox contradicts what is being said, it reveals some form of truth. Brooks claimed that “it is a language that places equal importance on the connotations and denotations” (Brooks 31). The language of paradox that exists in poetry is inevitable and therefore can only be controlled or directed. The language of paradox requires contradiction to reveal the truth that the author is trying to reveal.
Work Cited:

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. “The Language of Paradox.” Cleanth Brooks. Blackwell: MA, 1998.

Posted by: Ava L. at February 2, 2009 11:03 AM

Cecilia B
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
2nd February 2009
W.K. Wimsatt Jr.’s “The Structure of the Concrete Universal” Précis
Critic Wimsatt’s article on the concrete universal introduces the concept that words are naturally concrete generalizations, but that great literature is capable of using words to present a completely unique abstract form which “shows something implicitly” (45) to the reader. This idea, though paradoxical, is well-agreed upon by both ancient and contemporary philosophers as Wimsatt quotes from Aristotle, Johnson, Coleridge, and Tate on the concept of “variety in unity” (48). In other words, denotation and connotation lie on a continuum of meaning, and good literature possesses the ability to present an idea through a specific set of words which organically will always have limitations but go beyond themselves explicitly to a unique form. To further illustrate, Wimsatt presents the idea of character as an example of the concrete universal because a character is simply a “verbal object” (45), but this composition of words holds a complexity of human values needed to exist as well as to understand it. As a result, the difference between flat and round characters can be realized through the concrete universal of the latter since it “demands a special interpretation” (46) by bearing a variety of human actions within its limiting concrete construction. Metaphor is the key to Wimsatt’s argument, and because this new form has no limitations, an assortment of interpretations or universals will emerge, he says. The job of the writer or artist, Wimsatt defends, is to structure words so that there is unity within the infinite possibilities.
Wimsatt, W.K. Jr., “The Structure of the Concrete Universe.” Literary Theory: An
Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell Pub., 1998. 41-49.

Posted by: Cecilia at February 2, 2009 11:19 AM

Kristin Brittain

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435


Précis of “The Formalist Critics”

Cleanth Brooks’ article, “The Formalist Critics” asserts the essential faiths a formalist critic holds true; literary criticism describes and evaluates the object, their principal concern is the literature’s unity, form and content are inseparable, and the form equates meaning. Brooks’ primary implication is the importance of the formalist critic’s dependence solely on the work, and the removal of the author and the reader’s responses.

In order to make the work the only concern the author’s intent and the reader’s responses must be removed from the text. Brooks’ recognizes other critic’s opposition to the removal and how it may appear ruthless and drastic. However, the formalist critic’s argument is the assumption that the author’s intentions are the ideas that were put into the text. Also, the critic must be an ideal reader. He must focus on the structure and unity of the work. Brooks’ realizes that the ideal reader is a problematic strategy, but it is the best option. Formalist critics rebuff two trendy assessments of literary value; sincerity and intensity. The author’s investment or ‘sincerity’ he placed in the work is irrelevant to the value of it, and the intensity of the reader’s reactions to the text has no critical importance.

Brooks’ believes that good criticism coincide with well developed literature. Literary work is analyzed, and boiling it down to why it was created and when—is not literary criticism, nor does it evaluate the work properly. Lionel Trilling is an opposing critic of formal criticism. In the article, “The Meaning of a Literary Idea” Trilling praises the intensity of the author and the feeling they elicit, rather then the ideals the work portrays. However, Brooks’ argues that the process is more important, and not the aesthetic effect produced by the ideals. Literature is multifaceted, but the basic understanding of it always comes from the ability to discern what it means.

Brooks, Cleanth. “The Formalist Critics.” Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1998. 22-27.

Posted by: Kristin B. at February 2, 2009 12:15 PM

Liz H

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435

February 2, 2009

Précis of W. K. Wimsatt, Jr.’s “The Structure of the Concrete Universal”

In W. K. Wimsatt, Jr.’s article “The Structure of the Concrete Universal” (1954), he argues that there is value in knowing the classic arguments of Plato and Aristotle when examining poetry today. He acknowledges that through the passage of time, authors have said many different things on the topic of literature; but the concepts of the individual and the universal remain relevant for all literature study.

W.K. Wimsatt acknowledges that literary art can be individual and universal, a fact that many may overlook because of its simplicity. For purposes of defining his argument’s basis, W.K. Wimsatt reminds his readers of the difference between connotation and denotation when examining word choice. Poetry, for Wimsatt, uses both the concept of the universal and concrete. Wimsatt cites the fact we continue to study the works of Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus as evidence of why poetry is so important. Poetry allows for the expression of something innate and deep within us.

Poetry is different from literature because it can manipulate words differently than scientific or logical discourse. Wimsatt argues that literature’s complexity is a key to its greatness. Poetry’s structure, by nature, makes it complex. There is no end to poetry criticism but it is consistent and constant because it focuses on something beautiful.

Wimsatt, W.K. "The Structure of the Concrete Universal." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 40-49.

Posted by: Liz H at February 2, 2009 12:34 PM

Q: What is sometimes helpful, but should not be essential for a reader to know when approaching a text from a New Criticism perspective?
A: biographical and historical information (Lynn 45).
Q: What other theory coincides with New Criticism in the beliefs of what the author should be evaluated on?
A: Russian Formalism coincides with New Criticism in the belief that the author should not be evaluated on his validity of theological or political message, but on his artistic performance. (Lynn 48).

Posted by: Brooke King at February 3, 2012 06:04 PM

Good Questions Brooke. This is a good format for the rest of you to model. Class, let's see some others from the Rivkin/Ryan and Tyson texts too. See you in class on Monday.

~Dr. Hobbs

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at February 5, 2012 12:50 PM

Q: Prior to the development of New Criticism, how did scholars tend to view works of literature?
A: As a study of the author's personal life, or a gateway into "the 'spirit of the age' in which it was written" (Tyson 136).
Q: What are the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic criticism?
A: "Intrinsic" criticism is derived solely from the text, and "extrinsic" criticism uses 'outside' tools to help interpret the text. (Tyson 148)

Posted by: Sarah Coffin-Karlin at February 5, 2012 09:18 PM

Very good Sarah. You wrote questions very different from Brooke's using the Tyson text. Class, let's continue this trend. See what's already been posted and go for something different that what's already been done.

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at February 5, 2012 10:26 PM

Travis Rathbone
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
6 February 2012

New Criticism Quiz Questions

Q: According to the New Critics, to what does the term intentional fallacy refer?
A: This term refers to the mistaken belief that the author’s intention is the same as the text’s meaning (Tyson 136).

Q: What is meant by the term intrinsic criticism?
A: This term denotes that New Criticism stays within the context of the text itself (Tyson 148).

Posted by: Travis Rathbone at February 6, 2012 12:19 AM

Q: According to Tyson, what is a work's "organic unity" and how does it play into the New Criticism theory?
A: Organic unity is the working together of all the parts to make an inseparable whole. This idea works into the New Criticism theory because it emphasizes the text, which is New Criticism's primary concern.

Q: According to Rivkin/Ryan, what common interest did the Russian Formalist movement and American New Criticism share?
A: Both shared an interest in what it is about literary language that makes it different from the ordinary use of language.


Note from Instructor:

Everyone, please be sure to put the page number of the text from which you are drawing your question in the answer space. That will make it faster for us to make textbook references in class. Thanks!

Posted by: Diego Pestana at February 6, 2012 02:34 AM

Emmanuel Cruz
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
February 5, 2012

Homework Assignment

Q: Although New Criticism is “no longer practiced by literary critics,” many readers still embrace the ideas that define this critical theory (135). How can New Criticism benefit a reader’s perspective and experience? Why is it important to always read a text applying this theory?
A: Literary critics and readers should always embrace this analytical theory because:
Of course, how something operates within the overall meaning of the text was always the bottom line for New Criticism, so it does not matter whether or not our analysis of the text’s private symbolism matches the author’s intentions. What matters is that our analysis of the text’s private symbolism, like our analysis of all its formal elements, support what we claim is the text’s theme. (142)

Q: Russian Formalists were interested in describing the general characteristics of literary language and in analyzing the specific devices or modes of operation of such language. Why were they so interested in these two ideas?
A: They were interested in these two ideas because “we are forced to see things that had become automatic and overly familiar in new ways” (04).

Posted by: Emmanuel at February 6, 2012 07:59 AM

Q: Following along with the elements of New Criticism that literature should give us something to spark emotions and ideas, rather than give them to us explicitly; Lynn explains that “A poem is an ____________, not a discussion of an ______________”
A: “A poem is an EXPERIENCE, not a discussion of an EXPERIENCE.”
(Lynn 44)

Q: Lynn points out the comparisons between an Intentional Fallacy and an Affective Fallacy. Match the definitions of each (as given below)
*A confusion between the poem and its origins.
A: Intentional Fallacy
*A confusion between the poem and its results.
A: Affective Fallacy (Lynn 46)

Posted by: Tiffany Carpenter at February 6, 2012 11:15 AM


Here are your questions, rephrased as they appear on the reading check. Please strive for this format for your future self-designed reading check questions.

Doug, we are missing your self-designed reading-check questions.

Dr. Hobbs


1. According to anthology editors Rivkin and Ryan, what common interest did the Russian Formalist movement and American New Criticism both share?
A: Both shared an interest in what it is about literary language that makes it different from the ordinary use of language.

2. In her explanation of New Criticism as an understanding that literature should give readers something to spark emotions and ideas, rather than provide them explicitly, Lynn claims that a “poem is an ____________, not a discussion of an ______________” (HINT: Same word for both blanks).
A: “A poem is an EXPERIENCE, not a discussion of an EXPERIENCE.”
(Lynn 44)

3. According to Tyson, what is meant by the term “intrinsic criticism”?
A: This term denotes that New Criticism theory keeps itself focused within the context of the text itself (Tyson 148).

4. According to Stephen Lynn, what information or perspectives are NOT essential for a reader to know/use when approaching a text from a New Criticism perspective? There are actually two: identify, at least, one.
A: Neither the biographical or historical information/ perspective [ethos] nor the reaction/reception of the reader [pathos] is important to Formalists/New Critics (Lynn 45). What is important to them is the logos, i.e., the message/”text itself.”

5. Lois Tyson explains the term “intentional fallacy” in her chapter on New Criticism What do New Critics mean when they use this word?
A: This term refers to the misperception that the author’s objective for writing the work is the same as the text’s meaning. Intentional fallacy (similar to the interests of new historicism) jumbles the origins of a text by focusing on its historical context and authorial biography and intention to discover the text’s meaning (Tyson 137). The intentional fallacy is confusion between the poem and its origins. The intentional fallacy is about ethos, not logos.

6. According to Lois Tyson, what is the “affective” (not the intentional) fallacy?
A: The affective fallacy (similar to the interests of reader-response) confuses the emotions and reactions it ignites from the reader. For instance, if a reader dislikes a character, he will automatically project his feelings onto that character’s meaning within the text, i.e., bad feelings=evil character (Tyson 137). The affective fallacy is a confusion between the poem and its results. The affective fallacy is about pathos, not logos.

7. According to Stephen Lynn, what other-named theory coincides with New Criticism in the beliefs of what the author should be evaluated on?
A: Russian Formalism coincides with New Criticism in the belief that the author should not be evaluated on his validity of theological or political message, but on his artistic performance. (Lynn 48). New Criticism is about logos (the word/the message/the reasoning in the message itself).

8. According to Lois Tyson, even though New Criticism is no longer the central focus of contemporary literary theorists, why is it still important to be given an appropriate amount of attention? In other words, what techniques of the New Critics are still quite useful (identify one)?
A: New Criticism provides literary study with a foundation that helps support the classroom instruction of literature. For example, the idea of close reading, the importance of textual evidence, and the close attention paid to formal elements such as images, symbols, plot, and point of view are a few components pertinent to new criticism that are still utilized in other theories.

9. According to Lois Tyson, why did the Russian Formalists, and later the New Critics, refer to their literary theory as “formalism”?
A: New Criticism is referred to as formalism because literature is approached and understood through its form, i.e., its devices and elements.

10. When defining Formalism, the Rivkin/Ryan text states: “In order for literature to be literature, it must constantly defamiliarize the familiar and constantly evolve.” According to Russian Formalists such as Victor Shklovsky, what is meant by “defamiliarization”?
A: Estrangement. The overturning of clichés. Says Shklovsky: "The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important." (Shklovsky, "Art as Technique.")

11. According to Lois Tyson’s discussion of New Criticism, complexity and order are literary values embodied in a text’s organic unity. What separate (but connected) roles do “complexity” and “order” play in the application of New Critical theoretical approaches to understanding literature?
COMPLEXITY: Complexity involves the numerous meanings in a text that are typically contradictory and stem from any of these four literary devices: paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension.
ORDER: However, order within the text’s organic unity must resolve the contradictions from these linguistic devices so as to ultimately lend itself to the text’s overall meaning or theme (Tyson 138).

12. In New Criticism, the text is an unchanging, timeless object. Thus, what does the New Critic term “heresy of paraphrase” mean (and why do they despise paraphrasing literature)?
A: This term implies that if a person changes any part of the poem, for example—a line or word, then the poem will mean something different; thus, it becomes a new literary work. New critics did not believe in paraphrasing literary work because they saw the work as “the text itself,” the sole source of any kind of interpretation of the work. They believed that every word, sentence, and page was put in a specific order to create a one of a kind object and meaning. They argued if you change one word of the work it would be a different piece of literature.

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at February 6, 2012 01:49 PM

Brooke King
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
Art as Technique
Viktor Shklovsky
The way in which people view anything in life becomes habitual, it becomes automatic. It is this automatic response to what we perceive that Shklovsky argues art tries to reconcile. He claims that this habitualization of life makes life seem as though it does not exist at all. However, Shklovsky points out that art exists in order to recover that part of life that people fail to see; the purpose being that it makes people begin to perceive things as they are and not as they are known. Shklovsky main concept is that "art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object: the object is not important..." and by removing the automatism perception, we can see the object instead of simply knowing about the object.
Shklovsky argues that art does this in several ways. He uses Leo Tolstoy to illustrate how an object can be viewed differently in order to see the objectiveness and the art itself. Tolstoy saw objects as they were, how he saw them in front of him, not altering them. An example that Shklovsky uses is Tolstoy's Shame in order to illustrate that by not naming the object, but only perceiving what is in front of him, Tolstoy was able to defamiliarize the object as if he were seeing it for the first time. Shklovsky points out that by defamiliarizing the object, Tolstoy was able to take a familiar act, make it unfamiliar through description, and change the proposed object without changing the nature in which it is used. For Shklovsky, the essence of art in literature is to take something familiar and make it unfamiliar, so that it allows the reader gains insight and a new way of looking at life. Shklovsky was focused on the technique of literature and how the author was able to achieve defamiliarization.
Shklovsky uses another example to illustrate his point of defamiliarizing by using the story "Kholstomer," which illustrates a horse as the narrator of the story. The horses expresses his concern for life and the concept of possession. The story questions the use of possessions and life. The unique technique of using a horse as a narrator, defamiliarizes the reader to the concept of human narration, all the while demonstrating that the perception of life is conceptual only to humans. To a horse it is nothing but a mere fabrication in order to give purpose and meaning to human life. However, the story concludes with the horse dying and a moral lesson on life. "... people strive not for the good in life, but for goods they can call their own." The whole story is shaped upon the use of a different narrator for a different perspective on life. Shklovsky argues that this is what art is and that the technique of defamiliarizing should result in the overall achievement of perceiving an object or life differently than the automatism term of it. Shklovsky also points out that the nature of the technique makes it so defamiliarization is found everywhere form is found. He insists that an images purpose is not to make us perceive the meaning of it, but to create a unique perception of the object, "it creates a vision of the object instead of serving as a means to know it." Shklovsky discusses that parallelisms purpose is to shift normal perceptions of an object towards a new perception and that the author's purpose is to creates something that results in the destroying of the automatism of that perception. Shklovsky discusses that poetic language is given continuity in its ability to linger, a principle called "roughening" along with the difficulty and impeded language allows literature to become a technique, changing places with ordinary language to make poetic speech formed speech. However, Shklovsky ends by stating that the use of rhyme in art is problematic because it allows for automatism of language, which with his concept of defamiliarizing seeks to avoid.

Work Cited
Shklovsky, Viktor. "Art of Technique." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. 15-20. Print.

Posted by: Brooke King at February 7, 2012 03:56 PM

Tiffany Anne Carpenter
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435- Literary Criticism
8 February 2012
Précis 1: The Intentional Fallacy by Wimsatt
In “The Intentional Fallacy,” a contribution included in The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry, Monroe Beardsley and W.K. Wimsatt discuss to what extent the author’s “intention” should be taken into account when making a critical inquiry and argument.
The intention of the poet is defined as his or her specific choices related to the style, form, and diction of the poem, allowing for those choices to have specific intentions and effects on the way the reader understands the piece. When making a critical inquiry using this idea of an intentional fallacy, Beardsley and Wimsatt point out the issue that results from the fact that the intentions of a particular author for a particular work are never really able to be understood, never able to be fully analyzed, and never able to be fully accurate. It is essential to use the text itself; making interpretations and arguments based solely off of the words provide, ensuring that the critic leaves behind assumptions that stem from analyzing the possible “intentions” of the author and the historical and biographical background in relationship to those intentions. In addition, when examining a poem from a critical theory standpoint, it is vital to keep in mind the use of “imagination”, “psychological curiosity,” and most importantly to keep the criticism objective. Beardsley and Wimsatt also explain the three types of evidence necessary when doing such a critique: internal evidence (evidence that is common knowledge and belongs to the public), external evidence (evidence that is “private or idiosyncratic”), and intermediate evidence (evidence that is “about the character of the author”). They go on to list the role that emotions play in the examination of intentions of the author in a work of poetry, as well as the potential for readers to make false judgments and misinterpretations because of the author’s use of “allusiveness” and their decision to integrate (or not integrate) notes and explanations of their work. All of these elements contribute to the issue of intentional fallacies when making a critical inquiry, and keeping in mind that the intentions of the author do not always prove to be easily found, understood, or explained and that such a critical inquiry should be kept objective in order to be accurate.

Posted by: Tiffany Carpenter at February 7, 2012 09:07 PM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
8 February 2012

Précis: “Criticism as Pure Speculation”

In the essay “Criticism as Pure Speculation,” John Crowe Ransom suggests the critic should focus on examining and defining a work in light of its structure and its texture. According to Ransom, if the structure and texture is not included in the analysis, then the critique of the poem is subpar. Before delving into his definition of the analytic process, however, Ransom first juxtaposes two differing forms of criticism: psychologistic criticism and moralistic criticism.

In short, psychologistic criticism is directed toward emotions, feelings, and motor impulses. Due to the esoteric nature of this theory, though, no interpretation can be proved or disproved. For Ransom, the subjective emotional appeal of a poem should not be the focus; instead, impartiality and the poetic object is where attention should lie.

Concordantly, the issue that arises from a moralistic analysis is that the varying moralities by which a work is evaluated are inadequate in determining the author’s intention. Practitioners of this form of analysis wish to discuss the ideology of a given poem rather than the poem itself. Contra the ideology espoused by this moralistic theory of interpretation, Ransom believes art to be post-ethical in nature; it contains meaning that is neither in agreement with nor against the ethical content of the work. Additionally, discovering passion in art via moralistic interpretation can be detrimental to its analysis. Ultimately, the challenge for the critic is to subdue the urge to rely on the moralities of a work to garner meaning and instead to focus on a more difficult and urgent form of esthetic criticism.

After discussing psychologistic and moralistic modes of interpretation, Ransom begins to define the critical theory in which he works. For Ransom, the substance of a work is that which the words signify. For example, a poem is subjected to a poetic increment, which is to say the core meaning of the work is augmented in some way under poetic treatment, or the unfolding of information. It is the practitioner’s duty to discover this incremental augmentation. In this way, the work is approached with a strict logic. A passage in a play or a line in a poem is more than its argument, for anything can be expanded upon in such a direction that it does not attend to the work’s original nature.

The ontology of a work refers to its nature or being, and the ontological goal of a work is to be a representation of the human experience; the work will ideally achieve this purpose while embracing the abstract concepts science attempts to avoid. In light of its ontological bearing, a work contains a logical structure that is coupled with a local texture. Nothing is ontologically gained by analyzing the logical core of a work; for example, examining the ethical inclinations of a work provides nothing of interest. Instead, interest is found when a work’s logical substance and its local substance is considered in relation to the other. Indeed, a work is notable because it finds itself in an ilk of abstractionist art where the structure and the texture, and the subsequent relation, is of speculative interest. Analyzing the author’s technique is crucial for an apt reading, and, additionally, metrics is also of great import to a work’s meaning. Ultimately, this criticism’s worldview—in this example one of poetics—is best considered to be Aristotelian and realistic as opposed to Platonic and idealistic.

Work Cited
Ransom, John Crowe. “Criticism as Pure Speculation.” 1941. IThe Intent of the Critic.Ed.
Donald A.Stauffer. Princeton UP, 1941. 41-62. Rpt. in Criticism: Major Statements. 4th
ed. Eds. Charles Kaplan and William Anderson. Boston: Bedford, 2000. 448–64. Print.

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at February 8, 2012 11:48 AM

Sarah Coffin-Karlin
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
February 8, 2012
Précis: Boris Eichenbaum, “The Formalist Method”
Boris Eichenbaum’s 1926 article “The Formalist Method” provides a summary of the Russian Formalists’ beliefs and theories. Using quotes from several of his contemporaries to prove his point, he presents a concrete view of what exactly the Formalists thought was wrong with the Symbolists’ theories and how those theories should be fixed.
According to Eichenbaum, the Formalists argued that the goal of literary study should be to seek out literary elements and separate them from similar elements found in other disciplines.
The guiding principle behind the Formalists’ approach to “the problem with poetics” was the difference between practical and poetic language. Practical language is strictly conversational: it is meant for communication only. With poetic language, on the other hand, words have value independent from their meaning. This challenged the poetics of the Symbolists, who believed that language involved “thinking in images” and parts of speech (onomatopoeia, alliteration, etc.) were the key elements in analysis; everything else was a matter of aesthetics.
The separation of form and content is discussed in great length. Symbolists believed that form was the vessel in which to hold content; Formalists claimed that there was no correlation between the two. Content, according to the Formalists, is not simply a group of literary elements, but is instead a demonstration of how those elements work together as a unified whole. Form can now stand on its own as an independent element, concrete and dynamic. Symbolists claimed that substantive content must have form; Formalists said that form itself must be substantive.
Eichenbaum finishes this topic to discuss the problems and conflicts with prose and poetic verse. Formalists concentrated on prose verse with ideas on separating plot (form) and “story-stuff” (content); content eventually was turned into the “construction” of a prose work—the plot based itself on the structure of the story-stuff. Poetic verse was muddled up by theorists across all fields who only focused on meter and completely ignored verse; Formalists sought to fix this problem by removing the obsession with meter and make theorists concentrate on the actual content of the poem.

Posted by: Sarah Coffin-Karlin at February 8, 2012 02:25 PM

“The Formalist Critics” Precis
Cleanth Brooks begins his article by stating two common misunderstandings that are leveled against New Criticism as objections. The first objection Brooks takes note of is the accusation that New Criticism attempts to cut a work (novel, poem, etc.) completely away from its author's life, interests, ideas, etc. The second objection that Brooks notes is that New Criticism attempts to, because of its emphasis on the work itself, also sever the reader from consideration when analyzing a work. Brooks responds to these observations by making points about New Criticism and its adherents that render the objections moot.
Brooks states, in New Criticism's defense, that formalist critics are well aware of the fact that works are written by authors, and are not just spontaneously created as the first objection would seem to characterize New Criticism as believing. Brooks acknowledges that authors have motivations when they choose to write a novel or poem. However, for Brooks, this acknowledgement should not be cause to meticulously examine the author's life and history as he believes that kind of analysis leads away from the work and more into psychology. Therefore, according to Brooks, the work is what needs to be the central focus of literary criticism.
In response to the idea that New Critics are totally uninterested in the reader in their analysis, Brooks takes note of circumstances where, although there appeared to be unison, a similar group of readers came away with different interpretations of the work. An example he cites is how different Shakespeare's works were interpreted by an eighteenth-century audience as compared to a nineteenth-century audience. Brooks then puts forth that instead of concerning its analyses with any reader, formalism attempts to analyze a work based off an idea of an “ideal reader”.
Brooks then lists two assumptions that are key for formalist critics. The first assumption is that what really matters about an author's intention is what is included in his/her work, and that there should be no consideration of what an author was trying to convey. The second assumption is that the formalist assumes an ideal reader in attempt to find a central focus of the work, as opposed to trying to decipher a multitude of meanings that any one reader could have.

Posted by: Diego Pestana at February 8, 2012 02:27 PM

Brooke King
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
13 February 2012
Defamiliarization by Shklovsky: Transforming Kundera's Bowler Hat
In Shklovsky's essay, "Art as Technique," he questions the habitualization and automatism of human life. Art, however, counters this automatic perception of life by taking familiar object and casts them in a new light, therefore defamiliarizing what is known about the object and in essence, creating a new perception for it (Rivkin and Ryan 16). Taking into the account of Shklovsky's theory, we can see through Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being that the act of taking a familiar object and rendering in a different light, changes the perception of the object.
The bowler hat, which is a recurring symbol in Sabina's life, acts as an extension of her youthful rebellious nature and her erotic euphoria. Kundera picks out the blower hat because it belonged to Sabina's grandfather, a traditional construct of gender relations within society. The meaning of the hat, however, transforms from a playful rebellion by Sabina in her youth to an erotic plaything that both Tomas and Franz encountered as an extension of Sabina's sexual femininity. However, Tomas' transformation of the hat into an erotic object also transforms Sabina's being:
When she opened the door, she stood before him on her beautiful long legs wearing nothing but panties and bra. And a black blower hat. She stood there staring, mute and motionless. Tomas did the same. Suddenly he realized how touched he was. He removed the blower hat from her head and placed it on the bedside table. Then they made love without saying a word. (Kundera 28)
However, the hat's symbolism transformed from the masculine perception of domination to Tomas and Sabina's new perception of female masculinity. Kundera uses the transformation of the bowler hat's perception to create the beautiful link of humanity that the defamiliarization of an object can bring. Shklovsky argues that it is the beauty in art that can bring together the defamiliarized object in order to create a special perception of the object. Kundera exhibits this artistry when he transfers the usual perception of a bowler hat from a masculine construct "into the sphere of new perception" (Rivkin and Ryan 19) by attributing feminine attributes onto the masculine object: "The image in the mirror was instantaneously transformed: suddenly it was a woman in her undergarments, beautiful, distant, indifferent woman with a terribly out-of-place bowler hat on her head holding the hand of a man in a gray suit and tie" (Kundera 85). For Sabina, the hat has not changed from the new perception of eroticism, but for Franz, he still viewed the hat in the usual perception and so did not understand his mistresses meaning behind the gesture of putting the hat on and standing half naked before him.
Kundera, as Shklovsky points out in his essay, does not change the nature of the bowler hat, it is still a hat. However, by making unfamiliar in description the purposed meaning of the hat, Kundera has created artistry by linking a new perception of an object with a different take on the body and soul of a human being. By presenting a new perception on human body interaction mingling with soul interaction through the use of a bowler hat, Kundera is able to demonstrate the breakdown in traditional gender relations within society.

Works Cited
Shklovsky, Viktor. "Art as Technique." 1916. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 15 - 21. Print.
Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Trans. Michael Henry Heim. New York: Harperperennial, 2009. Print.

Posted by: Brooke King at February 12, 2012 02:33 PM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
13 February 2012

Swinging for the Fences: An Interpretation of Ransom in Application to Wilson

August Wilson’s play Fences might seem tailored for the application of theories such as African American Criticism, Marxist Criticism, or Feminist Criticism, but the somewhat lyrical and, at times, poetic nature of the language present in this work also lends itself to a New Criticism interpretation of the text. In this application, John Crowe Ransom’s concept of value stemming from structure in unison to texture will be utilized to elucidate some interesting aspects of the work.

In his essay “Criticism as Pure Speculation,” John Crowe Ransom states that “The intent of the good critic becomes therefore to examine and define the poem with respect to its structure and its texture” (Ransom 458). For Ransom, if the critic solely focused on either the meaning of a work or the way in which it was written, he was missing crucial elements pertinent to an apt reading of the text. Indeed, one must utilize both the substance of the language and its arrangement in order to fully interpret the work and illuminate its truest meaning. Utilizing a house analogy to illustrate this point, Ransom states there is a “logical structure” and “local texture” to every work (Ransom 457). He continues by stating that “[t]he walls of my room are obviously structural; . . . [and] [t]he paint, the paper, the tapestry are texture” (Ransom 458). In this example, the structure of the poem, its language, is the supporting foundation upon which the texture, or narrative substance, is built. As will be apparent, taking the structure without the form (or the form without the structure) and attempting to analyze it as an autonomous entity will leave an incomplete picture in the wake.

Though for this application the narrative substance of the play Fences can be readily discernible vis-à-vis a few common literary tropes—subsistence through hardship, a search for meaning, and a strained father and son relationship that elucidates character—it is the mode by which Ransom unfolds these thematic elements on the page that cause them to be readily understood in a more natural, a more pertinent, and a more significant way. Since language is being analyzed here and there is a plethora of examples to choose from (most of the written work is dialogue or monologue), the critic is not hard pressed to find pertinent examples from the text.

One need not look further than the opening pages of Fences in order to witness the significance language plays in the work. From the first few lines, the linguistic stage is set. Two of the main characters, Troy and Bono, discuss the incompetence of their supervisors. Bono begins by stating, “I’m like you . . . I ain’t got no time for them kind of people” (Wilson 2). This style of speech—though undoubtedly accurate for the time, the place, and the context—causes the modern reader to work more arduously to establish an ease of pacing in interacting with the text. Troy continues the conversation: “Now what he look like getting mad cause he see the man from the union talking to Mr. Rand?” (Wilson 2). This style of speech is common throughout the text and illustrates the presence language plays in the story. By writing dialogue in the manner of the time and the locale, Wilson more accurately depicts the setting. For the reader, attending to the structure of the text in this way aids in the interpretation of the work. As a critic, it seems inadequate to focus exclusively on the narrative texture without discussing the linguistic structure. Without the two in unison, a critique would more than likely fall flat.

Ultimately, the texture of the text is so entwined with the structure that to divorce the two and analyze them separately would be akin to commenting on only half a picture. Wilson utilizes language in order to augment the narrative and influence the work on a whole. The structure and texture come together nicely in order to create a work of art that would be lacking otherwise. Wilson completed his task by producing the work. For Ransom, now it is up to the critic to utilize the context and the structure to arrive at the ultimate meaning to which this work aspires.

Works Cited
Ransom, John Crowe. “Criticism as Pure Speculation.” 1941. The Intent of the Critic.Ed.
Donald A.Stauffer. Princeton UP, 1941. 41-62. Rpt. in Criticism: Major Statements. 4th
ed. Eds. Charles Kaplan and William Anderson. Boston: Bedford, 2000. 448–64. Print.
Wilson, August. Fences. New York: Plume, 1986. Print.

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at February 13, 2012 11:35 AM

Tiffany Anne Carpenter
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435- Literary Criticism
13 February 2012
Application 1: The Intentional Fallacy in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
William K. Wimsatt defines the intentional fallacy of a poet as examining what the poet “intended in” according to the “design or plan in the author’s mind…[and] the author’s attitude toward his word, the way he felt, [and] what made him write.” (4). The issue with this approach, Wimsatt and Beardsley argue, is that readers can never really know the true meaning behind the author’s intentions and are often confused by their focus on his intentions, rather than using the text itself for evidence and other critical examinations. Another key element, is that Wimsatt and Beardsley focus their argument on the work of poets because of the portrayal of their use of diction, etc. It becomes challenging, then, to apply an examination of the role of intentional fallacies in a work such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby because of the obvious difference in form, with Gastby’s elaborate prose. However, some similarities and connections can indeed be drawn between the two.
For example, examining the biography of Fitzgerald can provide insight into the reader’s understanding of the work, especially when making judgments about the various characters. As readers, we can make assumptions about Fitzgerald’s choices to establish Nick Carraway as an outside narrator who is looking in on the life of Tom, Daisy, the various people in East and West Egg, and especially Jay Gatsby. Nick acts as this unreliable narrator who comments on the inner-workings of those around him, guiding the reader to have certain perspectives on the characters, namely Gatsby.
If one were to attempt to apply the various techniques of evidence that Wimsatt and Beardsley point out, it would be difficult to establish them because of the type of novel that Fitzgerald creates with The Great Gatsby. For example, examining the role of public, internal, and intermediate evidence throughout the work rely only on Nick’s commentary of what is happening in Gatsby’s life and journey to establish himself in town and win Daisy over. The reader is only given limited perspectives and most of the evidence relies solely on the text itself, causing the reader to assume that Nick’s perceptions are those intended by Fitzgerald and thus personal to his motives as an author. Using the text itself, allusions can easily be examined, however, their intentions from the author are much more difficult to assess. In this respect, although The Great Gatsby is not a work of poetry that meets all of the standards that Wimsatt and Beardsley mention, it still can have certain aspects of the rules they point out regarding the intentionally fallacy by ensuring that the reader views the work from an internal standpoint of the text, finding connection with literary elements and evidence, rather than searching for the ambiguous intentions of the author.

Works Cited
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Scribner, 1999. Print.
Wimsatt, William K. and Monroe C. Beardsley. “The Intentional Fallacy.” The Verbal Icon. 1954. Rpt. In The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. Daivd H. Richter. Boston: Bedford, 1998. 748-56. Print.

Posted by: tiffany.carpenter at April 3, 2012 12:08 AM

Christina Connor
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
26 February 2013
Questions for Readings
“Course in General Linguistics.” Saussure.
Explain the terms sign, signified, signifier.
Sign is the collective term for a collaboration of a signified and signifier. Signified refers to a concept or object, the thing which is being referenced. A signifier is the sound-image that is applied to the signified; it is the psychological imprint of what the sound is, the mental sensory perception of the signified. The phonics structures assigned to the signifier is arbitrary, and the value of signifiers is placed on their negative relations to other signifiers. Combining signified and signifiers creates signs which become positive structures in language, and value is assigned to signs when the relationship between other signs is established.
“The Theory of the ‘Formal Method’.”Echenbaum.
Eichenbaum writes: “The notion of technique…is much more significant in the long-range evolution of Formalism than is the notion of form” (874). What does this mean?
The most important contribution that Formalists gave to literature was not a series of rules by which to judge the form of literature, but rather a technique by which to think of literature. Formalists proposed a scientific approach by which to evaluate literature that incorporated a variety of structures beyond that of the Symbolists who focused purely on the imagery of poetry and, among other things, negated the importance of sound in poetry. Formalists wanted a pure, scientific understanding of literature that relied on the rules of literature as opposed to applying outside fields of study such as psychology and philosophy. As a result, new elements arose that could be used to evaluate literature such as plot construction. It was the techniques of Formalism that revolutionized literature far more than the evaluation of individual works.
“Art as Technique.” Shklovsky.
Shklovsky writes: “The range of poetic (artistic) work extends from the sensory to the cognitive” (5). How does this happen?
Poetic works extend from the sensory to the cognitive by halting habitualization, the mindless interaction to things that makes the observer blind to what is taking place. This process of defamiliarization changes one’s perception of things by presenting familiar things with new associations. This makes familiar things unfamiliar and, consequently, interesting. The observer then slows and down in his/her observation and appreciates the familiar thing as something new, prolonging the enjoyment of the “novelty.”
“Russian Formalism.” Fry.
According to Russian Formalists, what role does sound play in poetry?
Sound is a device, a one of many functions, by which to understand poetry. It is not subservient to meaning as the Symbolists claim, nor does it help with meaning in a hermeneutic sense; sound can actually hinder understanding because it is “repetitive…anti-economical…retardant” (89). It is simply one element of poetry.

Posted by: Christina at February 26, 2013 08:13 PM

“Semiotics and Structuralism.” Fry.
Explain how signs are negative.
Signs are considered negative because they classify things based on what they are not as opposed to what they are. Things or concepts are compared to the things around them and what they are is differentiated from the others. These differences are what gives an item/concept its own identity: it is different from others. Thus things are not identified through their positive attributes—what an item is—but through what the item is not in comparison to other things, a negative description.
“Linguistics and Literature.” Fry.
Fry quotes Roland Barthes: “Structural man takes the real, decomposes it, then recomposes it” (112). Explain how this sentence is used to show the difference between Structuralism and Formalism.
Formalism breaks down an individual work to examine its components to understand that specific work. Structuralism examines a set of works, breaking them down into their pieces in order to understand the underlying similarities within a specific movement as opposed to the individual work. The “recomposes it” of the sentence above refers to the act of pulling out and the recognizing the structures (“virtual objects”) hidden within the works and movements, as a whole.

Posted by: Christina at March 6, 2013 08:08 AM

Jacques Derrida. “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.”
Explain Derrida’s use of the words bricolage, play, and supplementary.
Bricolage refers to the use of “items at hand” as a signifier. Since all signifiers are essentially arbitrary, there is no definite or total (“totalization”) connection between the signified and signifier, and so bricolage is akin to the random assigning of words (or rather, using what is close because no true equal exists). Play refers to the lack of center that exists with any signifier and signified, within language itself. As there is no true center to the relationship, the structure of the sign is malleable. Because of this, supplementary meaning is assigned to fill the void around the” played” area of meaning, helping it be understood (although it’s not technically a void because language does not exist in a void).
Jacques Derrida. “Differance.”
Explain Derrida’s use of the word “differance.”
First, “difference” was used to show speech should not be prioritized over writing because speech cannot differentiate the use of the letter “a” with the letter “e” in this French word. Differance also has two primary roots in “dif-”: deferral and difference. Deferral refers to the fact that words/signs never fully convey meaning and that additional words are needed to paint the full picture of a given sign, therefore, the true meaning is deferred until the combination is presented. Difference goes back to Saussure’s idea that words/signs are defined in negative terms, that they only have meaning based on their differences from other signs. This, according to Derrida, is the root of binaries and hierarchies.
Paul Fry. “Deconstruction I: Jacques Derrida.”
How does the Structualists’ view of the relationship between speech and writing differ from that of Derrida’s Deconstruction?
Structualists prioritize speech over writing because speech is an immediate presentation of language, whereas writing is delayed and dependent on contemplation. Derrida argues against this binary saying that there is very little different between the two and contemplates (but does not insist on) prioritizing writing over speech because writing allows for more differentiation. The example he provides is the word “differance,” a word whose misspelling is evident only in writing. Derrida believes it is the supplementary addition of other words (traces) that helps to clarify these differences, best put forward in writing.
Paul de Man. “Semiology and Rhetoric.”
According to de Man, how is “every reading misreading?”
Language is an not a perfectly correspondent transmission of ideas so what an author writes versus what the reader interprets are likely to be two separate things, that is to say there is a difference of intention. The text of the literature can be presented as either a function of grammar or rhetoric, and the meaning of the passage is dependent on which the author and the reader choose to observe. Therefore, every time a reader reads, he/she is reading one version of a message, making the reading simultaneously a reading and a misreading.
Paul Fry. “Deconstruction II: Paul de Man.”
Explain rhetoric versus grammar in Deconstruction.
Rhetoric and grammar represent two ways in which to approach the text of a literary work. Rhetoric searches for meaning in the text, symbolic meanings, often relying on metaphor. Grammar examines the logistics of sentence construction independently of implied meaning. It’s more of a “face-value” understanding of the language. An example used in de Man’s article is the question, “What’s the difference?” Grammitically, this question is asking a question that has a simple answer pointing out the difference between two things. Rhetorically, the question implies that there is no difference. Readers must examine the supplementary material to understand the context of the question.

Posted by: Christina at March 17, 2013 04:17 PM

1. In Boris Eichenbaum’s article The Theory of the Formal Method, what is the definition of Russian Formulism? And how does it relate to the structuralism?
2. “Without imagery there is not art.” What does this sentence mean in Victor Shklovsky article Art as Technique?
3. In the article Course in General Linguistics, what does it mean for a word to have a negative value? Is it possible to have a positive value in literature?
4. What is the thesis of the article Irony a Principle of Structure by Cleanth Brooks?
5. What does the word “literariness” have to do with Russian Formalism? How does Dr. Fry relate to the deconstruction movement?
6. According to Fry’s lecture in Chapter 8, semiotics is precursor for what literary movement? Even though there is a practice of “semiotics” why is it considered literary? How is it important in discussing literary matters?

Posted by: Joseph at April 25, 2013 10:17 AM

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