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A brief history of Stylistics

Is Stylistics 'Formalist'?

In some modern literary criticism, 'formalist' is often used almost as a term of abuse. Some critics accuse stylistics of being 'formalist' and so inadequate to account for the variant responses of readers to texts. But is it? Certainly, one of its historical roots is in the group called the Russian Formalists, and one of its founding fathers, Roman Jakobson, tended to assume that all you had to do to account for a text was to analyse as completely as possible the details of its linguistic structure. But, although, like the Russian Formalists, stylisticians are concerned to describe the linguistic structure of literary texts precisely and in detail, they are also very interested in trying to understand how readers respond to that detail, as foregrounding theory, amongst others, shows. As you take part in the various sessions of this course you might like to consider how formalist stylistics is, and whether this is a good or a bad thing.

 


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