The formal, structural, exponential, linguistic and ‘close reading’ approaches. What are the similarities and differences?

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neneta | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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  1. In Literary studies you can consider three approaches, intrinsically concerned with the text: the Russian formalism, the New Criticism and Structuralism.  
    The Russian Formalists were a group of scholars active in Russia before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and during the 1920s. Some key figures are Roman Jakobson and Victor Shklovsky. As their name suggests, the Russian Formalists were solely concerned with the form of a literary text, thus they studied the basic elements of a text such as style, structure and imagery. According to them, the literary work distinguishes from ordinary language because it contains elaborated and connotative language. Hence, we have the term “defamiliarization” to designate the  effect of "strangeness" a literary work causes. Other relevant ideas are the distinction between fabula/story and sjuzet/plot, the former being the raw material  of what is told to the reader and the events in the order they happen and the latter being the final and constructed representation of those events.
    New Criticism is a school of literature originated in North of America and thereafter expanded to England from the late 1930s and into the 1950s. Important scholars are T.S.Elliot, F.R. Leavis and I. A. Richards. Like the Formalists, the New Critics assumed that literary language is basically connotative and thus creates multiple meanings. The way to decipher literary language is then to undertake a close reading of the text.
    Structuralism is a school of criticism based on the studies of the Swiss linguistic Ferdinand de Saussure. Structuralism is a board term that extends to a number of fields of knowledge- history, anthropology and philosophy are some of them. The Structuralists are concerned solely with the way language is organized independently of the meaning it creates. Important key ideas are the notion of sign, which is a combination of a sound or graphic image, the signifier, and the concept it refers to, the signified.  
    Those three approaches are similar because they reject external references to the text, such as historical, biographic or social mentions, thus they incite the reader to a careful close reading of a text. However, we may say that Formalists separate form and content, since form is what matters. In this way, content is only ideas or feelings made as an excuse to organize language in a special way. The new critics don’t separate form and content. Instead they see literary works unified by their devices, motifs, themes and patterns. In addition we have to consider that the the three schools were active in different places and times. Furthermore, Structuralism has been developed in the science of Semiotics to other fields.
neneta's profile pic

neneta | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

  1. In Literary studies you can consider three approaches, intrinsically concerned with the text: the Russian formalism, the New Criticism and Structuralism.  
    The Russian Formalists were a group of scholars active in Russia before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and during the 1920s. Some key figures are Roman Jakobson and Victor Shklovsky. As their name suggests, the Russian Formalists were solely concerned with the form of a literary text, thus they studied the basic elements of a text such as style, structure and imagery. According to them, the literary work distinguishes from ordinary language because it contains elaborated and connotative language. Hence, we have the term “defamiliarization” to designate the “strangeness” effect a literary work causes. Other relevant ideas are the distinction between fabula/story and sjuzet/plot, the former being the raw material  of what is told to the reader and the events in the order they happen and the latter being the final and constructed representation of those events.
    New Criticism is a school of literature originated in North of America and thereafter expanded to England from the late 1930s and into the 1950s. Important scholars are T.S.Elliot, F.R. Leavis and I. A. Richards. Like the Formalists, the New Critics assumed that literary language is basically connotative and thus creates multiple meanings. The way to decipher literary language is then to undertake a close reading of the text.
    Structuralism is a school of criticism based on the studies of the Swiss linguistic Ferdinand de Saussure. Structuralism is a board term that extends to a number of fields of knowledge- history, anthropology and philosophy are some of them. The Structuralists are concerned solely with the way language is organized independently of the meaning it creates. Important key ideas are the notion of sign, which is a combination of a sound or graphic image, the signifier, and the concept it refers to, the signified.  
    Those three approaches are similar because they reject external references to the text, such as historical, biographic or social mentions, thus they incite the reader to a careful close reading of a text. However, we may say that Formalists separate form and content, since form is what matters. In this way, content is only ideas or feelings made as an excuse to organize language in a special way. The new critics don’t separate form and content. Instead they see literary works unified by their devices, motifs, themes and patterns. In addition we have to consider that the the three schools were active in different places and times. Furthermore, Structuralism has been developed in the science of Semiotics to other fields.

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