Levine, Caroline. Forms: Whole, rhythm, hierarchy, network. Princeton University Press, 2015.
“Along the way, our critic would most likely keep her formalism and her historicism analytically separate, drawing from close reading methods to understand the literary forms, while using historical research methods to analyze sociopolitical experience. These would seem to her to belong to separate realms and to call for different methods.” (p. 1/5)
“The traditionally troubling gap between the form of the literary text and its content and context dissolves. Formalist analysis turns out to be as valuable to understanding sociopolitical institutions as it is to reading literature. Forms are at work everywhere. One might object, of course, that it is a category mistake to use the aesthetic term form to describe the daily routines of a nineteenth-century school. Surely the relation between literary and social forms is just an analogy, or an identity working at too a high level of abstraction—an expansion of the word form so broad as to make it meaningless. But a brief look at the history of the term suggests otherwise. Over many centuries, form has gestured to a series of conflicting, sometimes even paradoxical meanings. Form can mean immaterial idea, as in Plato, or material shape, as in Aristotle. It can indicate essence, but it can also mean superficial trappings, such as conventions—mere forms. Form can be generalizing and abstract, or highly particular (as in the form of this thing is what makes it what it is, and if it were reorganized it would not be the same thing). Form can be cast as historical, emerging out of particular cultural and political circumstances, or it can be understood as ahistorical, transcending the specificities of history. In disciplinary terms, form can point us to visual art, music, and literature, but it belongs equally to philosophy, law, mathematics, military science, and crystallography. Even within literary studies, the vocabulary of formalism has always been a surprising kind of hodge-podge, put together from rhetoric, prosody, genre theory, structural anthropology, philology, linguistics, folklore, narratology, and semiotics….form has never belonged only to the discourse of aesthetics. It does not originate in the aesthetic, and the arts cannot lay claim to either the longest or the most far-reaching history of the term.” (p. 2/6)
“an attention to both aesthetic and social forms returns us to the very heterogeneity at the heart of form’s conceptual history…forms are the stuff of politics. Drawing on the work of Jacques Rancière, I define politics as a matter of distributions and arrangements.Political struggles include ongoing contests over the proper places for bodies, goods, and capacities.” (p. 3/7)
“Let me start by articulating five influential ideas about how forms work. These are ideas that have guided literary and cultural studies scholars over the past few decades, but they have remained largely implicit—and disconnected from one another: Continue reading “[BOOK EXCERPT] Introduction of Forms”