Write a detailed note on Formalism highlighting its major features. 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the critical contentions of the Romantic thinkers was the ability to focus on the subjective in textual creation.  The Romantics were driven by understanding all of the forces that play a role in the development of the text. The subjective and the influences on the subjective in the construction of textual products were of vital concern to Romanticism. For example, Wordsworth has no problem talking about the influence of the natural or even the political world in the construction of his text.  In his writing, these influences and the role of his own subjective are almost as, if not more important, than the text itself.

Formalism seeks to separate literature from such an idea.  The Formalist thinker believes that textual creation must stand on its own.  Formalism "...defined and addressed the specifically literary qualities in the text."  The text stands alone and analysis should be focused on the text itself as opposed to the social, political, and psychological conditions that influence it.  Formalism rejects  "...forms of 'extrinsic' criticism that viewed the text as either the product of social and historical forces or a document making an ethical statement."  In Formalism's of the need to embrace the text apart from all other considerations, greater freedom of thought regarding the text emerges.  Formalism believes that teaching students to embrace the "extrinsic" elements of the text would result in inevitable bias and dogmatic recitation that supplants a pure analysis of the text:  “No matter how sound the politics … the student would have no choice but to regurgitate that dogma in the clearest terms possible and to shift concentration onto matters of structure and correctness."  Such a belief animates the Formalist point of view.  Formalism strives to speak to the "organic unity" of a text as opposed to the considerations that other schools of thought see as essential in understanding the predispositions and understanding of a text.

Formalism's major feature involves placing primacy on the text "standing alone."  Formalism believes that involving other forces in textual analysis detracts from the purpose of literature composition.  Seeking to bring other influences into the analysis of text moves the student away from pure appreciation of literature construction.  Hartman argues that Formalism is "a method ... of revealing the human content of art by a study of its formal properties."  It is this condition of "formal properties" that becomes one of the movement's major features.