Literary Theory: Formalism and New Criticism
Most of this lecture has been recorded using the discussion of Formalism and New Criticism from the New World Encyclopedia.
In literary criticism, Formalism refers to a style of inquiry that focuses, almost exclusively, on features of the literary text itself, to the exclusion of biographical, historical, or intellectual contexts. The name “Formalism” derives from one of the central tenets of Formalist thought: That the form of a work of literature is inherently a part of its content, and that the attempt to separate the two is fallacious. By focusing on literary form and excluding superfluous contexts, Formalists believed that it would be possible to trace the evolution and development of literary forms, and thus, literature itself. In simple terms, Formalists believed that the focus of literary studies should be the text itself, and not the author’s life or social class. Art is produced according to certain sets of rules and with its own internal logic. New forms of art represent a break with past forms and an introduction of new rules and logic. The goal of the critic is to examine this feature of art. In the case of literature, the object of reflection is the text’s “literariness,” that which makes it a work of art and not a piece of journalism. This attention to the details of the literary text was an attempt on the part of literature to turn its discipline into a science.