Monday, July 27, 2009


1: The critic and the literary: Genette first introduces the good structuralist conception of the bricoleur as opposed to the engineer; it will turn out that a critic is a bricoleur , working with what is to hand. Genette turns the artist into the engineer, a rather literary-critical thing to do.

Genette then makes the point that as literary criticism uses language to speak of language use, it is in fact a metaliterature, a literature on a literature. Poststructuralists will challenge the distinction between the two, and Genette here refers to Barthes distinctions to suggest that some literary criticism may be literature.

He then defines literariness in a way much like a formalist would: literariness is language production in which the attention is addressed to spectacle rather than message -- something one supposes like Jakobson's poetic function, or meta-poetic; in fact to put it right into Jakobson's terms, the attention is on the poetic rather than on the referential function, on medium rather than on message. Genette will later in the essay insist that this does not degrade the meaning-function of the language.

Genette as well refers to that aspect of literature which is so close to the New Critical understanding of ambiguity, the 'halt', the attention to the constitution of meaning under a different aspect, that also characterizes the literary; so it is that there is only a literary function , no literariness in any essential or material sense. Genette's sense of the ambiguity of literature is similar to Jakobson's in "Linguistics and Poetics", in which essay he writes that "Ambiguity is an intrinsic, inalienable character of any self-focused message, briefly a corollary feature of poetry...Not only the message itself but the addresser and the addressee become ambiguous." (pp 49-50 in Lodge).

2: The role of the critic: The critic is secondary to the writer, a bricoleur to the writer's engineer, but in a position therefore to be primary in the analysis of culture. The critic treats as signs what the writer is creating as concept: the attitude, the disposition is different. The critic in reading literature as signs is reading it as a cultural production, constructed according to various preconceptions, routines, traditions and so forth of that culture. The critic does not ignore the meaning, but treats it as mediated by signs, not directly encountered. (65T) Where the post-structuralist will differ is in their denial that anything can be transparent: all concepts are themselves constructed of signs, there is no unmediated thought, all mediated thought is social thought, there is no attachment to anything beyond the sign.

3: Structuralism is more than a linguistic exercise. While structuralism historically (in Europe) is a linguistic phenomenon, and it would seem reasonable th at structuralist criticism would then be linguistic in its nature, this is too simple an assumption.

  • First of all, literary language is language used to certain ends, having a certain function and therefore featuring the qualities of linguistic production and the relationships of sounds and meaning in a particular way. The ends then are important. As he writes on page 66, structuralist method as such is constituted at the very moment when one rediscovers the message in the code, uncovered by an analysis of the immanent structures and not imposed from the outside by ideological prejudices. (Poststructuralists will deny that anything can be innocent of ideology.)
  • Second, there is a homology, a structural relationship, between the way language cuts up the world of meaning, and the way literature and literary genres do. There is an analogy between literature and linguistics not only because they are both involved in language but because both deal with:
    1. the relation between forms and meanings,
    2. the way reality is culturally defined by the segmentation and identification of experience,
    3. the cultural perception of reality, and
    4. the systemic relationships of signs which underlie those cultural perceptions.
Genette writes on p. 67 of the idea of a table of concordance, variable in its details but constant in its function: it is the function, not the detail, that concerns structuralist thought. One of the elements of literature that Genette deals with later is genre, which segments experience in certain ways, and controls the attitudes towards it. What is the place of this individual work in the systems of representation? That is a key question.

4: Structuralism is about meaning, not just about form. Genette is at pains to point out that structuralism is not just about form, but about meaning, as linguistics is about meaning. It is a study of the cultural construction or identification of meaning according to the relations of signs that constitute the meaning-spectrum of the culture. (67 ft) When Jakobson writes of the centrality of tropes to imaginative writing, he places the categories of meaning at the heart of the structural method, as tropes, including metaphor and metonymy, are the way we say something by saying something else, figures of signification. Ambiguity, which is a meaning-function, is at the heart of the poetic function, as we saw in #1 above. Finally in this section, Genette looks forward to structural analysis at the more macro level of the text, of the analysis of narratives, for instance -- "an analysis that could distinguish in them [that is, larger units], by a play of superimpositions [and hence knowledge through difference], variabvle elements and constant functions, and to rediscover in them the bi-axial system, familiar to Saussureanlinguistics, of syntagmatic relations (real connections of functions in the continuity of a text) and paradigmatic relations (virtual relations between similar or oposed functions, form one text to another, in the whole of the corpus considered)>"[68t]

5: Structuralism is a general tendency of thought (Cassirer) Structuralism is, however, not necessarily an intrinsic fact of nature but rather is a way of thinking; [68] structures are"systems of latent relations, conceived rather than perceived, which analysis constructs as it uncovers them, and which it runs the risk of inventing while believing that it is discovering them" -- that is, structures are explanations of coherence and repetition, they appear in what they seek to explain, they in a sense provide the terms and the vehicle of explanation. as we can only now through knowledge frames. Structuralism is the explanation of texts or events in their own terms (as those terms are conceived), not in relation to external causes.

When one turns to the internal dynamic of a text as an object, a field of meanings, and to the coherence of it as a text, rather than as biography or sociology, one reads structurally. Structuralist reading abandons pyschological, sociological, and such explanations. One can see New Criticism as a structural methodology, although it is not structuralism: in structural analysis of theme, for instance, theme would be seen in the context of therelations of themes, that is, of certain elements of filaments of the configuration, or network or matrix of, of social meanings, which meanings constitute culture.

6: Structuralism is however not merely intrinsic criticism, the criticism of the thing itself. Genette mentions the other form of intrinsic criticism, phenomenological criticism, in which one becomes in touch with the subjectivity of the creative voice of the work. Ricoeur refers to this, Genette writes, as the hermeneutic method: the intuitive convergence to two consciousnesses, the authors and the readers. This is a little confusing, because this is not hermeneutics properly speaking, but rather phenomenological hermeneutics. When there is hermeneutics, Genette says, when the text is available to us in that immediate a way, then structural reading fades; but whenever we have to look more objectively, when we are transversing barriers of time, say, or of culture or interest, then the structural method, the search for principles of order, coherence and meaning, becomes dominant -- literatures [71t] distant in place and time, children's literature, popular literature. Genette goes on to suggest that the difference between hermeneutic and structural reading is a matter of the critical position of the critic -- (between identity and distance, say). Structuralism is an intrinsic reading free from subjectivity, when we become the ethnomethodologists of our culture (71).

7: Structuralism ties the meaning of the work to the meanings of the culture. (72) Genette suggests that topics is an area of study that structuralism can bring us to -- the traditional subjects and forms of the culture (from the Greek topos, 'place'; I prefer to refer to culturally-constucted sites of meaning as topoi, to try to retain the full meaning of the idea). Topics, or topoi, are structural in that they underlie the way we talk and think about things in our culture. They are in a sense psychological, Genette says [72], but collectively so, not individually. Throughout, in writing of the cultural knowledge that structuralism provides, Genette has been suggesting that 'high' literature is not the only, perhaps not the primary, location for the study of cultural meanings: the serious study of popular culture has begun.

8: Structuralism opens the study of genre to new light. Different genres predispose the reader to different attitudes, different expectations [cf. the saying, attributed to Voltaire, that life is a comedy to he who thinks and a tragedy to he who feels, which saying suggests a way in which genres might look differently at experience]. Different genres lead to different expectations of types of situations and actions, and of psychological, moral, and esthetic values. Without conventional expectations we cannot have the difference, the surprise, the reversals which mark the more brilliant exercise of creativity. Hence creativity is in a sense structural, as it depends on our expectation, which it them plays upon.

9: Structuralism can be applied to the study of literature as a whole, as a meaning system. Structurally, literature is a whole; it functions as a system of meaning and reference no matter how many works there are, two or two thousand. Thus any work becomes the parole, the individual articulation, of a cultural langue, or system of signification. As literature is a system, no work of literature is an autonomous whole; similarly, literature itself is not autonomous but is part of the larger structures of signification of the culture.

10: Structuralism studies literature synchronically, but with diachronic awareness. Structuralism studies literature historically by studying it as it were in cross-section at different times, by seeing in what way literature divides up the traditional topics of the cultural imagination. Change is intrinsic to literature, as the Russian formalists thought; what the change registers is the alterations of the relations of meaning within the culture. Structuralism can then yield a fruitful approach to the history of literature, not as a series of great works, or of influences of one writer upon another, but more structurally, more systematically, as the way in which a culture's discourse with itself alters. The meaning of an individual work is ultimately and inevitably only the meaning within a larger frame of cultural meanings, and these meanings change in relation to one another across time and cultures. As well, the addition of other signifying systems, such as cinema, alter but do not disrupt the system of literature. A structural analysis of the construction of cultural meaning can thence replace the meaning of the individual instance, the particular work, while the meaning of the individual work is illumined and rendered more fully significant by being read in the context of its full systemic, cultural meaning.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The three laws of Thorndike

Thorndike's theory generally consists of three primary laws:
(1) Law of effect - responses to a situation which are followed by a rewarding state of affairs will be strengthened and become habitual responses to that situation,
(2) Law of readiness - a series of responses can be chained together to satisfy some goal which will result in annoyance if blocked, and
(3) Law of exercise - connections become strengthened with practice and weakened when practice is discontinued.

A corollary of the law of effect was that responses that reduce the likelihood of achieving a rewarding state (i.e., punishments, failures) will decrease in strength.

Freud's Psychosexual Stages of Development

Freud advanced a theory of personality development that centered on the effects of the sexual pleasure drive on the individual psyche. At particular points in the developmental process, he claimed, a single body part is particularly sensitive to sexual, erotic stimulation. These erogenous zones are the mouth, the anus, and the genital region. The child's libido centers on behavior affecting the primary erogenous zone of his age; he cannot focus on the primary erogenous zone of the next stage without resolving the developmental conflict of the immediate one.

A child at a given stage of development has certain needs and demands, such as the need of the infant to nurse. Frustration occurs when these needs are not met; Overindulgence stems from such an ample meeting of these needs that the child is reluctant to progress beyond the stage. Both frustration and overindulgence lock some amount of the child's libido permanently into the stage in which they occur; both result in a fixation. If a child progresses normally through the stages, resolving each conflict and moving on, then little libido remains invested in each stage of development. But if he fixates at a particular stage, the method of obtaining satisfaction which characterized the stage will dominate and affect his adult personality.

The Oral Stage

The oral stage begins at birth, when the oral cavity is the primary focus of libidal energy. The child, of course, preoccupies himself with nursing, with the pleasure of sucking and accepting things into the mouth. The oral character who is frustrated at this stage, whose mother refused to nurse him on demand or who truncated nursing sessions early, is characterized by pessimism, envy, suspicion and sarcasm. The overindulged oral character, whose nursing urges were always and often excessively satisfied, is optimistic, gullible, and is full of admiration for others around him. The stage culminates in the primary conflict of weaning, which both deprives the child of the sensory pleasures of nursing and of the psychological pleasure of being cared for, mothered, and held. The stage lasts approximately one and one-half years.

The Anal Stage

At one and one-half years, the child enters the anal stage. With the advent of toilet training comes the child's obsession with the erogenous zone of the anus and with the retention or expulsion of the feces. This represents a classic conflict between the id, which derives pleasure from expulsion of bodily wastes, and the ego and superego, which represent the practical and societal pressures to control the bodily functions. The child meets the conflict between the parent's demands and the child's desires and physical capabilities in one of two ways: Either he puts up a fight or he simply refuses to go. The child who wants to fight takes pleasure in excreting maliciously, perhaps just before or just after being placed on the toilet. If the parents are too lenient and the child manages to derive pleasure and success from this expulsion, it will result in the formation of an anal expulsive character. This character is generally messy, disorganized, reckless, careless, and defiant. Conversely, a child may opt to retain feces, thereby spiting his parents while enjoying the pleasurable pressure of the built-up feces on his intestine. If this tactic succeeds and the child is overindulged, he will develop into an anal retentive character. This character is neat, precise, orderly, careful, stingy, withholding, obstinate, meticulous, and passive-aggressive. The resolution of the anal stage, proper toilet training, permanently affects the individual propensities to possession and attitudes towards authority. This stage lasts from one and one-half to two years.

The Phallic Stage

The phallic stage is the setting for the greatest, most crucial sexual conflict in Freud's model of development. In this stage, the child's erogenous zone is the genital region. As the child becomes more interested in his genitals, and in the genitals of others, conflict arises. The conflict, labeled the Oedipus complex (The Electra complex in women), involves the child's unconscious desire to possess the opposite-sexed parent and to eliminate the same-sexed one.

In the young male, the Oedipus conflict stems from his natural love for his mother, a love which becomes sexual as his libidal energy transfers from the anal region to his genitals. Unfortunately for the boy, his father stands in the way of this love. The boy therefore feels aggression and envy towards this rival, his father, and also feels fear that the father will strike back at him. As the boy has noticed that women, his mother in particular, have no penises, he is struck by a great fear that his father will remove his penis, too. The anxiety is aggravated by the threats and discipline he incurs when caught masturbating by his parents. This castration anxiety outstrips his desire for his mother, so he represses the desire. Moreover, although the boy sees that though he cannot posses his mother, because his father does, he can posses her vicariously by identifying with his father and becoming as much like him as possible: this identification indoctrinates the boy into his appropriate sexual role in life. A lasting trace of the Oedipal conflict is the superego, the voice of the father within the boy. By thus resolving his incestuous conundrum, the boy passes into the latency period, a period of libidal dormancy.

On the Electra complex, Freud was more vague. The complex has its roots in the little girl's discovery that she, along with her mother and all other women, lack the penis which her father and other men posses. Her love for her father then becomes both erotic and envious, as she yearns for a penis of her own. She comes to blame her mother for her perceived castration, and is struck by penis envy, the apparent counterpart to the boy's castration anxiety. The resolution of the Electra complex is far less clear-cut than the resolution of the Oedipus complex is in males; Freud stated that the resolution comes much later and is never truly complete. Just as the boy learned his sexual role by identifying with his father, so the girl learns her role by identifying with her mother in an attempt to posses her father vicariously. At the eventual resolution of the conflict, the girl passes into the latency period, though Freud implies that she always remains slightly fixated at the phallic stage.

Fixation at the phallic stage develops a phallic character, who is reckless, resolute, self-assured, and narcissistic--excessively vain and proud. The failure to resolve the conflict can also cause a person to be afraid or incapable of close love; Freud also postulated that fixation could be a root cause of homosexuality.

Latency Period

The resolution of the phallic stage leads to the latency period, which is not a psychosexual stage of development, but a period in which the sexual drive lies dormant. Freud saw latency as a period of unparalleled repression of sexual desires and erogenous impulses. During the latency period, children pour this repressed libidal energy into asexual pursuits such as school, athletics, and same-sex friendships. But soon puberty strikes, and the genitals once again become a central focus of libidal energy.

The Genital Stage

In the genital stage, as the child's energy once again focuses on his genitals, interest turns to heterosexual relationships. The less energy the child has left invested in unresolved psychosexual developments, the greater his capacity will be to develop normal relationships with the opposite sex. If, however, he remains fixated, particularly on the phallic stage, his development will be troubled as he struggles with further repression and defenses.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Introduction to Sanskrit Drama

Sanskrit poetry can be classified into two:
1) Drishya - that which can be seen or enacted
2) Shravya - that which can be heard ('shlokas' and musical compositions)

So, all dramas fall under 'Drishya'. In Sanskrit, drama is called 'rupaka' and one-act plays are known as 'upa rupakas'.

The 3 Elements of 'Rupakas' are:
  1. 'Vastu' or the plot.
  2. 'Rasa' or the sentiment.
  3. 'Neta' or the hero.
The Plot may be divided into the principal plot ('adhikarik') and the sub-plot or the accessory plot ('prasangik').
The sub-plot or the 'prasangik' constitutes of the 'pataka' and the 'prakara'. The 'pataka' is an episode which may or may not stretch till the end of the play, but it determines the actions of the play till the end.
The principal plot has 'Bija', 'Bindu', and the 'Karya'. Literally, 'bija' means 'the seed', 'bindu' means 'the drop' and 'karya' refers to the climax or the final issue.
The 'Bija', 'Bindu', 'Karya', 'Pataka' and 'Prakara' are called the 'Arthaprakritis'.

There could be three possible sources of the story in a Sanskrit drama:
1. The source of the story could be from history or tradition.
2. The source of the story could be from fiction.
3. A third source could be a blend of fiction and tradition.

There are 5 'avasthas' or stages of development of the plot:
1. 'Aarambh' or the beginning.
2. 'Yatna' or the effort (to bring out the 'rasa').
3. 'Prapthyasha' or the aspect of success.
4. 'Niyatapti' or the removal of obstacles.
5. 'Phalagam' which refers to obtaining the desired result.
These 5 'avasthas' have to be united by 'samdhis' or junctures.
There are 5 'samdhis':
1. 'Mukh'
or the Protasis (Introduction)
2. 'Pratimukh' or the Epistasis - an effort or the 'yatna' for the progress of the play's plot.
3. 'Garba' or the Catastatis - attainment or non-attainment of the end ('Patakas' may end).
4. 'Avamarsh' or Peripeteia - it goes along with the 'niyatapti' and it is a conscious effort to postpone the end.
5. 'Nirvahan' or 'Upasanhar' - catastrophe or the final fall of events.

The Arthakritis, the 5 'avasthas' and the 5 'samdhis' make up the structure of Sanskrit play.

The 'Rasa' or the 'sentiment' is the base of all Sanskrit plays. The natural 'bhavas' are called 'satvika' and there are 8 'satvika' in all. From the 8 'bhavas', there are 8 'rasas'. The permanent sentiment that is present throughout the play is called the 'sthai bhava' . In actuality, there are 9 'rasas' or 'bhavas' but the 'shantha' 'bhava' cannot be enacted on stage.
The 8 'bhavas' are:
  1. Shringar (erotic)
  2. Hasya (humour)
  3. Karuna (pity)
  4. Veer (courage)
  5. Adhbhudh (wonder)
  6. Bhayanak (fearful)
  7. bhibatsya (disgust)
  8. Raudr (anger)
'Bhavas' are what we feel and 'anubhavas' are the feelings we show.
In 'Abhigyana Shakuntalam', 'shringar' is the 'sthai bhava'. There are 2 ways in which 'Shringar' is evoked:
1. Love in union (sambhog)
2. Love in separation (chipralamb).

There are 4 types of 'Neta' in Sanskrit drama:
  1. Dhirodaatta - the ideal 'neta' with all the 8 manly characteristics (Dushyant - in 'Abhigyana Shakuntalam').
  2. Dhirolalitha - soft-spoken and good-looking but he is not 'gambhirya'.
  3. Dhiroshantha - peace-loving.
  4. Dhirodatta - Lacks one of the 8 manly characteristics (Ravana, Karan).
The 8 characteristics are:
  • 'Shobha' or the handsome.
  • 'Vilaas' or the one broad in outlook and open in thought.
  • 'Maadhurya' or sweet in behaviour.
  • 'Gambhirya'.
  • 'Dhairya' or courageous.
  • 'Tejas' or quick-witted.
  • 'Laalitsya' or humorous,fun and good-looking.
  • 'Audharya' or magnanimous.
The 'nayika' has to exist in relation to the 'neta'. She cannot exist on her own. The 'Vidhushaka' is the court jest/clown.

Every drama opens with a prelude or a prolouge call known as ' Nandi'. It is given either by the 'Sutradhar' (the play writer) , 'Stupaka' (manager) or the one of the main characters.

Down points of a Sanskrit drama are:

1. It is very patronising and favouring males in nature.
2. The use of Sanskrit for the men of high caste and Prakrit for women and other lower caste people is very caste and gender discriminating.
3. There is no presence of violence, tragedy or comedy.
4. It is very fatalistic in nature (this is what I(Shruti) think....correct me if I'm wrong)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Rise Of English (Till Page 23)

Terry Eagleton talks of the concept of literature in eighteenth-century England. He says that in the eighteenth century, the concept of literature was not confined as it is today to just 'creative' or 'imaginative' writing. It included the whole body of valued writing in society: philosophy, history, essays, letters and poems. Literature was not limited to a text that was fictional; a text was literature if it conformed to certain standards of 'polite letters'. It was in the eighteenth century, that the form of the 'novel' was emerging and the eighteenth century was in a dilemma whether to consider this 'novel' as literature or not.
At that time, the criteria for calling a piece of work literature was completely ideological: writing which embodied the balues and 'tastes' of a particular social class qualified as literature.
Literature did not only 'embody' certain social values.
In the previous century, England had suffered from the Civil War - there was a lot of friction between the difference social classes and there was a need to restore the shaken social order and the neo-classical notions of Reason, Nature, and order. Literature gained importance as it served the function of uniting the different classes of people. It tried to incorporate the 'raw middle class' with values so that they could match up to the cultural standards of the ruling aristocracy.
In eighteenth-century England, literature was very easily available in written form. The coffee-house culture was also emerging.

Today, we choose to define literature only considering the 'Romantic Period', With the Romantic Movement, literature was shortened to include writings which were 'creative' and 'imaginative'. By nineteenth century, literature was synonymous with the 'imaginative'. Prose started appearing to be dull and it did not have any effect on the people. People got satisfaction from only the 'creative' writings.

The period we are looking at was one of revolution. Middle-class England did not believe in the utilitarian principles anymore. The French Revolution and the American Revolution was going on. In such a political scenario, the Romantics can be said to have used their 'creative imagination' to create an imaginative realm which did not just question the reason-centric world but also created an alternate escapist world of imagination. The Romantics used the poetic form to criticise all rationalist thoughts. Thus poetry had social, political and philosophical implications and literature could be viewed as a political force. Most of the Romantic poets were political activists themselves.
However, the stress was laid upon the sovereignty and autonomy of imagination. Imagination was of a 'transcendental' nature and it detached the reader and the writer from the actual scenario. Though it claimed to be'representative' of humankind and all sections of society, the Romantic artist existed only in the margins of the society.
However, the Romantic Period saw the rise of modern 'aesthetics', or the philosophy of art.
Literature was not merely seen as a medium of instruction. It also served the purpose of delight. It was in this era , from the works of Coleridge, Hegel and others that we inherit the contemporary ideas of the 'symbol' and 'aesthetic experience', and the unique nature of the artefact.
Aesthetics served the function of suppressing historical differences.
Aesthetics introduced the semi-mystical doctrine of the symbol. Objects in the society which were earlier seen as lifeless and inert now became the medium of an eternal spiritual truth, one perceived by direct intuition and not by any laborious process of critical analysis. The symbol was a unitary thing - either one saw it or one did not. It could not be torn apart to see how it worked. It represented one common idea. Throughout the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, the symbol is a literary artefact which was offered as an ideal model of human society itself.

Literature is an ideology. The failure of religion was one reason for the growth of English studies in the late nineteenth century. By the mid-Victorian period, religion no longer had a strong hold on the masses owing to the scientific discoveries that were being made and the social changes happening. This was something to worry about for the Victorian ruling class as religion was an extremely effective form of ideological control. As T.S Eliot put it, Religion was capable of operating at every social level. It provided an excellent social 'cement', encompassing pious peasants, enlightened middle-class liberal and theological intellectual in a single organization. Religious symbols are not open to rational demonstrations.
For the Victorian Ruling class, English literature was another remarkably similar discourse to Religious idelogy. Thus English literature, along with serving the functions of instructing, delighting also had a third function: that of saving the souls and healing the State (England).

Introduction: What is Literature?

Terry Eagleton begins his essay by putting forth the question: what is literature?
One definition which he suggests is "imaginative writing in the sense of fiction - writing which is not literally true". However, this definition can be rejected as seventeenth-century English Literature comprises of the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Marvell as well as the essays of Francis Bacon and the sermons of John Donne. Hobbes's "Leviathan" may also be regarded as literature. French literature contains not only Boileau's poetry but also the letters written by Madame de Sevigne for her daughter. It includes Bosseut's funeral speeches as well as hte philosophy of Pascal and Descartes.
Making distinctions between fact and fiction will not get us anywhere when it comes to defining what is literature. In the late sixteenth and early seventeeth century, the English novel contained both fictional as well as real events. The boundaries of fact and fiction are not very clearly defined. News reports cannot be considered to be completely factual. Literature can also not be simply defined as 'creative' or 'imaginative' writing as this would imply that history, philosophy and natural science are uncreative and unimaginative.

Literature may be defined in terms of its peculiar usage of language. According to Roman Jakobson, literature is a kind of writing which represents an 'ordinary violence committed on ordinary speech'.
  • Literature transforms and intensifies ordinary language.
  • It deviates systematically from everyday speech.
Terry Eagleton then talks about the Formalist stand for literature. The Formalists believed in the application of linguistics to the study of literature. They gave more importance to the language used than to what was said i.e. they gave more importance to the form than to the content. According to them, it is the form which gives content the meaning.
According to the Formalists, literature was a particular organization of language. It had its own specific laws, structures and devices which were to be studied in themselves and not reduced to something else.
For the Formalists,
  • Literary work was not a vehicle for ideas.
  • It was not a reflection of social reality.
  • It did not speak of any transcendental truth.
  • IT WAS A MATERIAL FACT MADE UP OF WORDS and not of objects or feelings.
  • It is not an expression of an author's mind.
First, the Formalists saw literary work as only an assemblage of devices. Later, they came to see these devices as inter-related elements or 'functions' within a textual system.

Devices = Sound, Imagery, Rhythm, Syntax, Metre, Narrative Techniques...It includes all forms of formal literary elements which had a 'defamiliarizing' effect.
These literary devices intensified, condensed, twisted, telescoped ordinary language. It was language 'made strange'.
Literary discourse alienates ordinary speech. Literature is a special kind of language.
Therefore, for the Formalists, literary language was a deviation from the normal. It was a kind of linguistic violence.

Terry Eagleton critiques this Formalist understanding of Literature. His arguments are:
  1. The idea of a single 'normal' language existing amongst all members of society is an illusion. (One person's norm may be someone else's deviation).
  2. The Formalists do not define 'literature'. Rather, they defined 'literariness' i.e. special uses of language which, in reality, can be found not only in 'literary' texts but also many places outside it.
  3. If a piece of language is considered 'estranging', it is so only for a certain group of people.
  4. There are 'literary' devices used even in daily discourse. However, for the Formalists, 'making strange' was the essence of the literary.
  5. Formalists leave the definition of literature up to how somebody decides to read a text, not to the nature of what is written.
    A work is considered to be 'literature' if it is accepted as 'fine writing'. However, if literature is a highly valued kind of writing, one must remember that values change with time, and across cultures.
  6. For Formalists, literature should evoke disturbances. The mtter should be condensed in a manner that it appeals to the reader...Formalists think of all literature as poetry but literature also comprises of other genres like novels, realistic or naturalistc writing.
Terry Eagleton admits that many texts taught as 'literature' in academic institutions were constructed to be read as a literary text and many were not. Many writing started off as history or philosophy and were later ranked as literature.
By and large, people term 'literature' writing as writing which is good. Literature is a highly valued kind of writing. Therefore, the categorization of a text as literature is highly subjective. Literature is defined by power-structures, and is relative to time.

We always interpret literary works to some extent in the light of our own concerns - which is one reason why certain works of literature have retained their value across the centuries.
All literary works are re-written by the societies which read them.
Even when something is stated as a fact, that statement is open to questionable judgements. Like it was earlier said, values are culture-specific; in the same way, facts are constructed by societies based on the ideologies and power structures which operate.

Terry Eagleton concludes by saying that we cannot regard literature as an 'objective' descriptive category nor can we say that literature is just what people choose to call 'literature'. Value-judgement has its roots in deeper structures of beliefs and therefore, it is not based on whims and fantasies. Value-judgements have a close relation to social ideologies - they do not refer only to private tastes but also to the assumptions by which certain social groups exercise and maintain power over others.