Tag Archives: Brooks

Brooks and Formalism

“If we heard that Mr. Guest testified that he put his heart and soul into his poems, we would not be very much impressed, though I should see no reason to doubt such a statement from Mr. Guest. It would simply be critically irrelevant…[T]he reduction of a work of literature to its causes does not constitute literary criticism; nor does an estimate of its effects,” (Brooks).

This passage from Cleanth Brooks’ My Credo indicates that Brooks has a very specific definition of what form is and what formalist criticism should (or, rather, shouldn’t) entail. While he previously mentioned his belief that form and content must be inseparable when we critique literature, he is sure to note that the writer’s intentions and motivations are not included in either of the aforementioned pair of elements. Likewise, Brooks maintains that the meanings we interpret from a work and the influence or force we perceive it to have are not welcome in a true formal criticism. To ascribe to Brooks’ definition of formalism, one must analyze the work itself as a standalone piece and ignore the external forces that critics are so tempted to draw on in their criticisms. Brooks explains that so often in these criticisms we confuse the psychology and biography of a piece of literature with its form and thus distract ourselves from gaining a true understanding of the work itself. While he concedes that these explorations are compelling, ultimately his belief is that good formalist critique means that critics must analyze a piece of literature with their blinders on.

Brooks, Cleanth. “My Credo.” Kenyon Review 13, no. 1 (Winter 1951): 72–81. <http://www.jstor.org.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/stable/4333214>.

Adorno & Brooks

Adorno discusses the individualism of poetry, especially lyric poetry and how its effect is changed with its context to the reader. He says, “The lyric work hopes to attain universality through unrestrained individuation” (38). Adorno’s stance on the individual reading a poem is what makes it universal. This relates perfectly back to Brooks who discusses the truth of a work not by the reader’s response, but by its intent. (I can’t find the quote, I wanted)  He says that there is an ideal reader whose reading matters to a poem, but the individuals’ experiences or emotional responses to work aren’t what effects it. Adorno although agrees that the universal element of a poem is necessary to its importance, he makes the point to say that the universality of a poem is  altered by a social aspect. Adorno says that the way society conceives a work can manifest its meaning and transcend it.

Cleanth Brooks

“Perhaps he can do little more than indicate whether in his opinion the work has succeeded or failed. Healthy criticism and healthy creation do tend to go hand in hand. Everything thing else being equal, the creative artist is better off for being in touch with a vigorous criticism” (Brooks).

Brooks, Cleanth. “My Credo.” Kenyon Review 13, no. 1 (Winter 1951): 72–81. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/stable/4333214.

This is an interesting move from what he said earlier about how, “the formalist critic is concerned primarily with the work itself” (Brooks). He stressed the importance of “the critic” examining the work itself without imposing “his” emotional response onto it. Yet, how can the critic determine if the work has “succeeded or failed” without doing so? It seems Brooks is concerned with doing the work of getting to the heart of a work in order to  apply criticism or give a formal analysis. This relies on the assumption the final work or poem in this case expresses the intention of the author. The way that he describes the formalist critic puts weight on what can be observed working throughout the poem and proven with evidence rather than opinion or “gossip.” From the passage I posted above, I gather the writer will know from this sort of criticism whether or not he or she conveyed their point.