Introduction to Formalism

Formalism is a branch of literary theory and criticism which deals with the structures of text. It means that external agents outside of the text are not taken into consideration. All the things about culture, politics, and the author’s intent or societal influences are excluded from formalism.

The focus in formalism is only on the text and the contents within the text such as grammar, syntax, signs, literary tropes, etc. Formalism also brings attention to structural tendencies within a text or across texts such as genre and categories. Formalism is based on an analysis of a text rather than a discussion on issues more distant to the text.

So Formalism is based on the technical purity of a text. Formalism is divided into two branches Russian Formalism and New Criticism. Formalism also argued that a text is an autonomous entity liberated from the intention of the author.

A text according to Formalism is a thing on its own without the need of external agents. As the name suggests, Formalism is a scientific, technical mode of understanding texts which expects a greater degree of mental intelligence instead of emotional intelligence from the readers.  

Russian Formalism was a school of literary criticism in Russia from 1910 to 1930. Some prominent scholars of Russian Formalism were Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, Vladimir Propp, Boris Eichenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Boris Tomashevsky and Grigory Gukovsky. Russian Formalism brought the idea of scientific analysis of poetry. Russian Formalism alludes to the work of the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOYAZ), 1916 in St. Petersburg by Boris Eichenbaum, Viktor Shklovsky and Yury Tynyanov.

It also refers to the Moscow Linguistic Circle founded in 1914 by Roman Jakobson. Principles of Russian Formalism are as follows – Analysis of literature should be factual. Linguistics will also be an aspect of Russian Formalism. Literature is independent of external sources surrounding the texts. 

New Criticism – New Criticism is an American Literary theory in the 20th century. Its philosophy was taken from John Crowe Ransom’s The New Criticism, 1941. New Criticism talked about the closed-reading approach.

The closed-reading approach was a method developed by I.A. Richards in which only words on-page were analyzed very closely in a text. It argued that a text should be very closely read and analyzed without referring to external materials and issues such as cultural, political, and economic and others. New Criticism did not deal with cultural, political or social issues around a text. It dealt only with the textual world.