Literature Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

In terms of literature, what is the Formalist theory?

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write11,281 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Formalism, with is often associated with Russian literary theory of the 1920s, but also with the New Criticism being developed in Cambridge in the same period, focuses on the text (the words themselves) of a work of literature. It does not look at the biography of the author, the history of the times in which the text was composed, or at the sources which influenced a text. These types of literary criticism, known respectively as biographical criticism, historical criticism, and source study, were believed to interfere with an encounter with the text as text.

Formalism focuses on what elements make a work literary, and what differentiates—what is added—that makes a literary text different, say, from a scientific paper. Formalists focus on language—metaphor, symbol, and so on—and such elements as ambiguity, irony, paradox, and unity within a text.

The formalist method of focusing on the text itself solved problems such as a tendency to read a work of literature too much through the...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 694 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

bookM.A. from The University of Alabama


calendarEducator since 2006

write16,150 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial