Formalism/New Criticism


Historical & biographical criticism dominated literary scholarship up to the beginning of the 20th century:

    Impressionist criticism focuses on how art makes us feel

    New Humanists focus on the moral qualities of art

    Romantic or expressive critics focused on art portraying the artist's own experiences


Early 20th century: T. S. Eliot: Poem is an impersonal formulation of common feelings, not manifestation of poet's personal feeling. Poet uses language to present feelings common to all mankind. Eliot introduces 'objective correlative: set of objects or situations that awaken in the reader the emotions the poet wishes to evoke

1920s Fugitives: Ransom, Tate, Davidson at Vanderbilt University: conservative discussion group

1930s Southern Agrarians: Brooks and Warren at Louisiana University: contrast conservative harmonious South with modern one, humanizing literary language with dehumanizing scientific one

1938 Brooks & Warren's Understanding Poetry advices students to pay attention to the language of literature

1941 Ransom's The New Criticism calls for ontological criticism (seeing the poem as a concrete entity in and of its own)

1942 Wellek & Warren’s Theory of Literature contrasts extrinsic with intrinsic criticism, distinguishes literature by its use of complex and rich language as opposed to scientific or everyday language, rejects justifying poetry through sociological or political aims

Formalism focuses on intrinsic, rather than extrinsic criticism.


Russian Formalism: Attention to literary language versus ordinary language - started in Moscow in 1915 - eliminated by Stalin in 1930 for political reasons as it divorces literature from sociology at a time when the revolution expected everyone to work towards the goals of this revolution

Defamiliarization: presenting reality in a new and unfamiliar way, seeing texts’ representations of reality as technique for defamiliarizing the social ideas of a dominant culture

Shklovsky: function of art isn’t leading us to knowledge above but to restore our capacity to see world that we failed to see because of habit



      Relate title to meaning of text

      Analyzes words and patterns seen among these words

      Analyzes connotations, allusions, symbols, figures of speech, tensions, ambiguities, and how all these elements support the main paradox within the text