Despite the increasing hegemony of new, often politically conscious forms of literary critique, the contemporary theoretical project clearly holds a revered place for formalist criticism and reader-response theory. Until recently, formalist and New Critical ideologies were dismissed almost universally in a derisory fashion as decidedly ‘old school’ ways of reading and thinking about literature. During the 1990s, though, formalist criticism began to enjoy a renaissance of sorts, particularly as a number of theorists sought to historicize the New Criticism’s place within critical theory’s relatively brief heritage. Steven Knapp, for example, has questioned the validity and value of contemporary literary theory’s denigration of formalism as a primitive interpretive methodology. As the title of his thoughtful volume suggests, in Literary Interest: The Limits of Anti-Formalism (1993) Knapp demonstrates the inherent limits of our collective rage against our theoretical precursors. As Knapp and others have revealed in their scholarship, the fundamental attributes of close reading continue to resound within the interpretive methodologies of the present.1 Aligned as they are with an overarching identity politics, our contemporary schools of criticism differentiate themselves almost exclusively in terms of their particular political imperatives. Yet the scholarly fruits of their inquiries inevitably find their origins in some form of close, formalistic readings of the texts that they choose to further their ideological aims.
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- Conclusion: Beyond Formalist Criticism and Reader-Response Theory
Todd F. Davis
- Macmillan Education UK
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