Formalism, Anti-Formalism, Structures and Gestalt

In literary criticism, formalist analysis concentrates on the notion of cohesion and unity. In some cases, it attempts to reconstruct abstract grammars of cultural art. Much modern theory, both linguistic and literary, turns away from pervasive formalism.

Those who follow a set of fixed rules while reading and interpreting a text are formalists. In contrast, those who make a departure from the conventional way of reading under fixed terms and conditions are anti-formalists.

How Does Anti-Formalism Work?

In fact, the theorists shifted the focus on the relationship between consciousness and text rather than focusing on immanent objective structures. This is the fundamental concept of modern reader-response theory. In reader-response theory, the text is dependant upon the subject or conscious mind, for its realization.

Reader-response theorists do not necessarily reject the idea of formal patterns inherent in texts. In the past, theorists focused solely on the meanings provided by the text itself. Traditional theorists abandoned the reader’s responsibility¬†in the interpretation of texts. In fact, the interaction between textual form and readerly consciousness is important.

Moreover, there exists a tension between the socio-cultural and public voice of interpretive procedures. Both academic and the personal reading of texts are based on subjective identity. In fact, interpretation brings with it a different set of norms, expectations, and constraints.

If formal features can be recognized and described then some kind of textual meaning must be stable. If textual meaning is relatively stable we can set criteria for the description and evaluation of that meaning. Formalist criticism is then the critical practice which is readily institutionalized.

What is Gestalt? How Does Gestalt Work?

In Gestalt psychology, the human mind is seen as having a tendency to construct coherent wholes out of parts. So, what does Gestalt mean? Gestalt means ‘form’ which reflects the mind’s predisposition to construct formal coherence and to seek closure. While reading, one part of the text may lead to the construction of a particular Gestalt, a grasping of wholeness. However, further reading and information lead to the construction of a new Gestalt and the earlier Gestalt will be modified. Therefore, interpretation is made of layers of Gestalt. Essentially, it means new information is processed in the light of old, and a new whole is constructed as the reader proceeds through the text.

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