English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on Cleanth Brooks' "The Heresy of Paraphrase"
and "Irony as a Principle of Structure"

Al Drake | Cyber Cafe | Thurs. 6-7 | 714-434-1612

"The Heresy of Paraphrase" (1947)

1. What becomes of the poem, according to Brooks, unless we assert "the primacy of the pattern"? What does he say that this pattern or structure is not? By what is this structure "conditioned"? What indeed is the "structure meant"?

2. How does Brooks describe "the principle of unity" which "informs" this structure? What sorts of things does it unite? What sort of unity is achieved?

3. From what formula do most of the "common heresies" about poetry derive? What are the two "horns of the dilemma" that this formula leads to?

4. What happens if we try to incorporate the meaning of the poem in a statement? What happens to our statement, or proposition, "as it approaches adequacy"?

5. What do the phrases "so wore night" and "thus night passed" have in common, and what do they not have in common?

6. What are some of the consequences of allowing ourselves to be misled by "the heresy of paraphrase"?

7. What three analogies does Brooks offer for "the essential structure of a poem"? What is the point of each analogy?

8. In what does "the characteristic unity" of a poem lie? What is the "conclusion" of the poem? By what kind of process is the unity of the poem achieved?

9. Why don't the "meanderings of a good poem" have to be excused? What is the point of its "apparent irrelevancies"?

10. What is the difference between the "terms of science" and the "terms of a poem"? What is the difference between the words of the "ideal language" and words as poets use them?

11. What is there about the poet's task that has "induced poet after poet to choose ambiguity and paradox"?

"The Formalist Critics"

[will post soon...]




"Irony as a Principle of Structure" (1949) [Not assigned]

1. How can a modern poet "legitimately" move toward a universal? How does he move toward his "general meaning"?

2. By what is the "meaning" of any particular item in a poem modified? What do we characterize as "ironical"?

3. What sort of "pressure" does any statement in a poem bear? What does this mean?

4. Why does Brooks say that the "relation between part and part" in a poem is organic?

Discussion Questions

1. What might Marx say about Brooks' theories?

2. "A scientific proposition," says Brooks, "can stand alone. If it is true, it is true." Is there any sense in which a scientific proposition cannot stand alone? In other words, is there a "context" upon which it, too, depends for its meaning?

3. Can an objective theorist such as Brooks, with his emphasis upon the purely formal nature of the literary work, entirely escape discussion of the pragmatic uses of literature? Can you spot a contradiction on pages 966-68?

4. What might Brooks say of Pope's definition of "True Wit"?

5. In how many different ways do you see Brooks to have been influenced by some of Coleridge's ideas, especially his "organicism"? What indeed is meant by the term "organicism"?

6. What is Brooks' broadest sense of the term "irony"?

*The reading selections are from Adams, Hazard. Critical Theory Since Plato. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt, 1992. 961-74. ("The Heresy of Paraphrase" is the last chapter from The Well Wrought Urn, while the essay on irony was written in 1949.)

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.