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Russian Formalism and New Criticism as Literary Theory

Updated on July 9, 2012
These guys have to be the most amusing and brutally honest of critics.
These guys have to be the most amusing and brutally honest of critics.

In Literary Criticism, Charles Bressler explains how the Russian Formalists developed a scientific model based on devices for analyzing literature as an entity separate from religious or political notions. The Formalists were more concerned with the structure of a text than the text’s subject matter. They also seemed to consider literary language as different from and better than vernacular language. I agree with the Formalists that literature should be studied as its own field. However, I do not agree that a text’s content should be deemed less important than a text’s form. I think that structure and content work together to unify a work of writing.

I appreciate the way that New Critics concentrate on the close reading of a poem. I agree with Bressler that this approach is very useful for all types of readers. I also agree with the New Critics that literature should be treated as an art and not be bound by scientific analysis. Also, I think the New Critics are wise about the intentional fallacy in regards to the poet. However, I do not think that historical or biographical information should be completely ignored. I would argue that after a close reading of the text where the reader discerns the meaning of the poems denotations and connotations, then the reader may turn to historical or biographical information since this information may be able to shed even more light on the importance of the poem’s content and provide it even more contextual perspectives.


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