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Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network

Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Formsoffers a powerful new answer to one of the most pressing problems facing literary, critical, and cultural studies today-how to connect form to political, social, and historical context. Caroline Levine argues that forms organize not only works of art but also political life-and our attempts to know both art and politics. Inescapable and frequently troubling, forms shape every aspect of our experience. But forms don't impose their order in any simple way. Multiple shapes, patterns, and arrangements, overlapping and colliding, generate complex and unpredictable social landscapes that challenge and unsettle conventional analytic models in literary and cultural studies.

    Borrowing the concept of "affordances" from design theory, this book investigates the specific ways that four major forms-wholes, rhythms, hierarchies, and networks-have structured culture, politics, and scholarly knowledge across periods, and it proposes exciting new ways of linking formalism to historicism and literature to politics. Levine rereads both formalist and antiformalist theorists, including Cleanth Brooks, Michel Foucault, Jacques Rancière, Mary Poovey, and Judith Butler, and she offers engaging accounts of a wide range of objects, from medieval convents and modern theme parks to Sophocles'sAntigoneand the television seriesThe Wire.

    The result is a radically new way of thinking about form for the next generation and essential reading for scholars and students across the humanities who must wrestle with the problem of form and context.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5260-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-V)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VI-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XIV)
    (pp. XV-XVIII)
  5. I INTRODUCTION The Affordances of Form
    (pp. 1-23)

    If a literary critic today set out to do a formalist reading of Charlotte Brontë’sJane Eyre, she would know just where to begin: with literary techniques both large and small, including the marriage plot, first-person narration, description, free indirect speech, suspense, metaphor, and syntax. Thanks to rich recent work on the history of the book, she might also consider the novel’s material shape—its size, binding, volume breaks, margins, and typeface. But unlike formalists of a couple of generations before, she would be unlikely to rest content with an analysis of these forms alone. Traditional formalist analysis—close reading...

    (pp. 24-48)

    Totality. Unity. Containment. Wholeness. For many critics, these words are synonymous with form itself. To speak oftheform of a work of art is to gesture to its unifying power, its capacity to hold together disparate parts. For Aristotle, the work of literature must be “whole and complete,” coming to “resemble a living organism in all its unity.” In 1818, Samuel Taylor Coleridge argued that the art work “holds in unity” the “variety of parts.” In the twentieth century, both Marxists and New Critics understood form as a closed whole. This long tradition of conceiving literary form as unifying...

    (pp. 49-81)

    Unlike the constraints of artful unities and rigid boundaries, rhythmic forms have often seemed natural, arising from the lived time of the human body. “Metre begins with the pulse-beat,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1872.”¹ Contemporary poet Clarence Major continues this tradition, writing that “Poetry has its basis in the very beating of our hearts, in the rhythm of our footfalls as we walk, in the pattern of our breathing.”² Joining poetry and music to the body’s own patternings of time, rhythm can seem uninhibited, effortless—conveying “existential freedom” and expressing “presence and pleasure.”³

    And yet, rhythm can also be...

    (pp. 82-111)

    The wordhierarchycomes from the Greekhieros, meaning “sacred,” andarche, meaning “rule.” The term was first used in the sixth century CE, when it referred to levels of angelic choruses, but it soon came to be applied to the governance of the Church, to describe its strictly ordered levels of authority and subordination. Gradually, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, its meaning widened beyond the religious context to apply to the natural sciences and to society more generally.¹ These days it can refer to organizations, values, and social relationships.

    It is not difficult to understand hierarchies, like...

    (pp. 112-131)

    Sprawling and spreading, networks might seem altogether formless, perhaps even the antithesis of form. For some influential theorists, in fact, it is their resistance to form that makes networks emancipatory—politically productive. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari famously offer up the rhizome as a network that connects any point to any other, and argue for it as a disorganizing, destabilizing answer to the more conventional unifying form of the tree, with its binary branches that all reach back to a common root, fixing a single order. “Nothing is beautiful or loving or political aside from underground stems and aerial roots,”...

    (pp. 132-150)

    Most accounts of social relationships in literary and cultural studies encourage us to focus our attention on the ways that a couple of formations intersect at any given moment: imperialism and the novel, for example, or the law and print culture. But what happens if we change the scale of our formal perspective and begin with many forms? Paying attention to numerous overlapping social forms may seem daunting, if not impossible, but if it is in fact true that forms very often find their organizing power compromised, rerouted, or deflected by their encounters with other forms, then a formalist cultural...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 151-168)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 169-174)