Critical Examination of Brooks' The Formalist Critics

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Brooks starts his essay by listing “articles of faith I could subscribe to” (Brooks 19) and pointing out statements about literary criticism that might go with a formalist criticism. Yet, he questions that list its end, and seems to complain that his that his writings have been largely misunderstood. What his statements have to do with faith in connection with literature is up to the reader, since in one of his articles he specifically mentions, “literature is not a surrogate for religion” (Brooks 19). He seems to contradict himself on purpose and keep his central thesis hard to reach. In evaluating some of his “faith articles”, the reader can have a critical examination of his critique of his formalist criticism. His first statement is that “Literary criticism is a description and evaluation of its object” (Brooks 19). The literary critic reports on the work that he is criticizing and picks out the meaning that he deems important, which might be different from what the next critic would pick out. Describing the work it is then already a subjective exercise, such as in Doctor Faustus, in the A-version of the text, some people might think Faustus being led away by devils means that they lead him into eternal hell, whereas others might think that he could go into purgatory and eventually repent. The author often wants an ambiguous reading of his texts, and those are often the most challenging and enjoyable works. When Brooks writes that the next step is “evaluation of its object”, the subjective nature of literary criticism becomes apparent. Who criticizes seems to be the first step in a long subjective path, and therefore one evaluation might differ from another evaluation completely. Experience in literary works seems to make thos... ... middle of paper ... artist is better off for being in touch with a vigorous criticism” (Brooks 22). While obviously, the critic would encounter some problems having a healthy, critical relationship with Shakespeare, for example, this might be beneficial for a currently still living artist, but would mean that the critic would have to review the work during its creation and have an direct impact on the work. Cleanth Brooks writes in his essay “The Formalist Critics” from 1951 continuously about “intensely at work upon the recalcitrant stuff of life” (Brooks, 23). Cleanth Brooks argues that we lose the intrinsically obvious points of works of literature if we view the work through the different lenses of literary theory, however we are always viewing the literary work through a subjective lens, since the author and the critic cannot subjectively separate themselves from themselves.

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