Selection from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001 edition, 1062-1080

  1. What does Eichenbaum claim to mean by “the theory of the formal method”? Are his definitions self-evident from the choice of the words “theory” and “formal method”? (1062-63)
  2. What does it mean to investigate “what the subject matter of literature really is”? (historical as well as linguistic)
  3. What types of literature would be most attractive as subjects of study for critics with this aim? (self-referential works; fantasies, utopias and other heavily structured works; nonsense poetry; anything anti-realist)
  4. Do Eichenbaum’s views show the influence of Saussure? Of Marx?
  5. What does Eichenbaum believe to be the value of overarching or abstract theories of literature? (seeks to study concrete problems) Would many present-day literary critics agree with him?
  6. From what varieties of formalism does Eichenbaum take care to differentiate himself and his fellow critics of the Opoyaz school? (dislikes romanticizing journalism, 1065; believes symbolists outmoded, 1065; wishes to deal with specifics of art, 1065)
  7. How do the preoccupations of Eichenbaum and the Russian formalists differ from those of predecessors such as Coleridge or James? To what do you attribute some of these differences?
  8. What is the effect of Eichenbaum’s point of view as the spokesperson for a group? Does this make his essay more effective?
  9. What do Eichenbaum and his cohorts believe have been the flaws of aesthetics? (1063) What would they find limiting about a study of “problems of beauty, the aims of art, etc.”? What would have been their reaction to Kant’s aesthetics?
  10. What does he see as a difference between modern German and Russian studies of aesthetics? (1063)
  11. Under what historical circumstances had the Opoyaz school developed? What types of art and poetry accompanied the rise of post-revolutionary Russian literary criticism? (1064)
  12. What types of poetry and fiction were being written in the U. K. and the U. S. before and at the time of Eichenbaum’s essay?
  13. What does Eichenbaum find limited in the work of academic critics of the early twentieth-century? (1064-65) In that of “journalistic” symbolists such as Bely?
  14. What had been the relationship of his generation to symbolist poetry? (1065) How may this have affected their choice of “problems” to solve?
  15. What does Eichenbaum see as the aims and qualities of the Futurists? (1065) What were some aims of their generation?
  16. In section 2, “The Independent Value of Poetic Sound,” what is meant by a study of “literariness” rather than literature? (must study purely literary qualities, 1065-66; literature as language) What is its relationship to linguistics, and in particular, which aspects of linguistics?
  17. What does it mean to say that poetic language has “an independent value”? (1066-67)
  18. From this perspective, what was the value of nonsense verse? Dadaism? Sounds without ascribable meaning? (1067-68, his definition of impressionism provides a rather haphazard commentary) Which writers of the time created works of this type? Of ours?
  19. Could “nonsense” poetry evoke Freudian interpretations?
  20. What role does sound and articulation play in literary experience? (1067) Do these observations anticipate any present-day forms of literary study? (words may lack "meaning"; performance is important)
  21. What does Eichenbaum find erroneous in onomatopoeic explanations of the origin of words? (1068; sounds as well as images have significance)) Would Saussure have agreed with him?
  22. What does Eichenbaum find incorrect in the notion that poetry is based on a series of images? (1068) Which other features should be taken into account? (sound, basic euphony)
  23. Which modern schools of poetry/poets had centered on the creation of images or symbols?
  24. What do the Formalists find objectionable in the view that form should express content? (1069; form is a complete phenomenon--a "content")
  25. What constitutes the unique quality of a work of art? (1069) How do we experience this quality? To what degree would prior critics such as Kant or Aristotle agreed with this view?
  26. How is “form” defined in this context? (1069) How does it differ from “aestheticism” as he defines it? (1070)
  27. How did the Formalists seek to understand form? (1070-71) In particular, what became the new object of their study in its second phase? (technique, 1071)
  28. What is meant by “defamiliarization,” and what are its uses? (1070) For those who believe this is an important feature of literature, what types of texts would have seemed attractive? (poetry, highly symbolic works, works in exotic settings)
  29. What features of prose fiction were the object of Formalist study? (plot composition) What were some of the conclusions reached?
  30. What does it mean to say that plot is a compositional rather than a thematic concept? (1072) What functions of plot were studied by his colleagues? (impedes action, etc.,1072-73) [note "fabula" vs. "syuzhet"; the "fabula" or story consists of raw events; the "syuzhet" is its meaningful arrangement)
  31. Are there features of fiction which are not subsumed under the notion of “plot”? If so, could these have been studied using the formalist method?
  32. Why does Eichenbaum object to “genetic” or historical explanations for features of literature, such as the repetiton in oral poetry? (1073) In his view, what is wrong with “syncretism,” or the view of earlier critics that forms and beliefs coexist in primitive poetry?
  33. In opposition to the view that a new content creates a new form, what process does Eichenbaum suggest may lead to literary change and innovation? (1073-74; form of art is related to earlier versions--“the purpose of the new form is not to express new content, but to change an old form which has lost its aesthetic quality.” Here he anticipates Jauss and reception theory, 1074)
  34. What does Eichenbaum think in general about the effort to subject literary works to systems of classification? (1074)
  35. What is meant by “motivation” and “exposed structure” in fiction? What examples did the formalists select to illustrate these principles?
  36. Based on these examples, what types of literary works would the Formalists have admired? Which types of literature would have seemed to them least worthy of study?
  37. Did such preferences affect which kinds of texts have been studied and admired by twentieth-century critics?
  38. What distinction do the Formalists make between notions of plot and subject/story? Why is this distinction important?
  39. What new features are introduced by the idea of the skaz (traditional oral tale)?
  40. What does Eichenbaum find troubling about the blending of genres? (1077) Is a strict attention to genre distinction favored by most critics today?
  41. What to the Formalists is limiting about the identification of poetry solely with meter? What are some concepts which he wishes to substitute?
  42. What would be an advantage of defining poetry through its rhythms? Its “melody”? What value does he place on the unit of the line? (1079)
  43. What does he see as three fundamental styles of lyric poetry? (1078 declamatory, lyric (melodic), and conversational) Are these categories at all useful?
  44. What does it mean to say that “speech without meter may sound like poetry? (1079)
  45. Do these views reflect changes in the practice of poetry at the time? (free verse) Do you think that present-day critics of poetry would generally agree with his views?
  46. What does Eichenbaum believe to be the more adequate notion of “form” which the Formalists have promulgated? (form not contrasted with anything outside itself, but is the genuine content of poetic speech, 1080; emphasis on line) Is this the definition of “form” commonly in use today?
  47. How do Marxist structuralists such as Eichenbaum account for the presence of historical change within their theories?
  48. To what extent are they Marxists? Are they concerned with literature as the reflection of/expression of social conditions for the worker?
  49. To what degree have “formalists” such as Eichenbaum and those influenced by them affected the practice of twentieth-century literary study? Of criticism today?