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What is the difference between the Formalist and Deconstructionist schools of literary criticism?

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Robert C. Evans eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One way to look at formalist criticism is to see it as a modern version of the kind of rhetorical criticism that has a long and valuable tradition in the history of western literature. Rhetorical criticism was very prominent, for instance, during the age of William Shakespeare. Goerge Puttenham'sThe Arte of English Poesie, for instance, is just one of many such treatises written during the so-called English Renaissance. Puttenham and other writers like him are interested in the nitty-gritty details of poetic phrasing to a degree that is still astonishing. Thus, one standard charge against formalism -- that it is ahistorical and anachronistic, an invention of the twentieth century that has been imposed on literature of the past -- is difficult to accept.

It is true that formalism was revived and more thoroughly articulated in the 1920s and 30s by the so-called "New Critics," who merely argued that literature should be read as literature-- that is, as writing that calls attention to...

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