By K. M. Newton
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Additional resources for Twentieth-Century Literary Theory: A Reader
The formalist critic knows as well as anyone that poems and plays and novels are written by men - that they do not somehow happen - and that they are written as expressions of particular personalities and are written from all sorts of motives - for money, from a desire to express oneself, for the sake of a cause, etc. Moreover, the formalist critic knows as well as anyone that literary works are merely potential until they are read - that is, that they are recreated in the minds of actual readers, who vary enormously in their capabilities, their interests, their prejudices, their ideas.
See appendix to Burke's A Grammar of Motives (New York, 1945) and Chapter 8 of Brooks's The Well Wrought Urn, for their analyses of Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'. 2. ] See The Well Wrought Urn, Chapter 11. 3. ] 'Symbolic action' for Burke, in terms of works of art, is the creation of 'strategies for the encompassing of situations'. ' He defines a symbolic act as 'the dancing of an attitude' that must be distinguished from a real act. 4. ] Novel with a purpose. 5. , 1963). 8 JOHN M. ELLIS: 'THE RELEVANT CONTEXT OF A LITERARY TEXT' The question of the relevant context of a literary text is an important one because it is the basis of the more familiar question of what knowledge is necessary for the understanding of a work of literature.
Good literature is more than effective rhetoric applied to true ideas - even if we could agree upon a philosophical yardstick for measuring the truth of ideas and even if we could find some way that transcended nosecounting for determining the effectiveness of the rhetoric. NOTE 1. In giving his permission for this article to be reprinted, Cleanth Brooks requested that the following note by him be included: 30 TWENTIETH-CENTURY LITERARY THEORY This is an early essay intended to set forth a rather strict interpretation of a 'literary' criticism.