The Formalist Critics, by Cleanth Brooks

Powerful Essays
Cleanth Brooks writes in his essay “The Formalist Critics” from 1951 about criticism that formalist critics encounter and tries to show these arguments from his point of view and even indicates common ground with other literary critics. 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 and in making these points he contradicts himself.
Cleanth 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 in its end, and seems to slate 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 to 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. To describe the work it is therefore already a subjective exercise, such as in Doctor Faustus, in the A-version of the text, some people ...

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...ot say that the knowledge of the meaning is basic, nor conclude that people that come to other conclusions than he did “misread” the text, which seems a rather harsh criticism of his fellow critics.
Brooks attempts to disprove the formalist critics and makes good points among the way in anticipating and devaluing their criticisms. Yet, he fails to prove that formalist criticism should be the only way in approaching literature, especially when contradicting himself.

Works Cited

Brooks, Cleanth “The Formalist Critics.” Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies. Parker, Robert Dale. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012 .19-24. Print.
Kenny, Anthony. Aristotle Poetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.
Parker, Robert Dale. Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012 . Print.
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