Cleanth Brooks Questions on English 256 Introduction to Theory, Chapman University Fall 2012



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Assigned: Cleanth Brooks. "The Heresy of Paraphrase" from The Well Wrought Urn (1217-29).

"The Heresy of Paraphrase"

1. On 1217-19, what happens to our understanding of a poem, according to Brooks, if we fail to emphasize "the primacy of the pattern" (1218) or total structure instead of talking about poetry in terms of "form" and "content"? What sort of structure does Brooks appear to be invoking with regard to a given linguistic object, and what critical assumptions and habits is he thereby rejecting as unproductive?

2. On 1219-20, how does Brooks begin to analyze the perils of making "statements" about a given poem in our quest to arrive at its meaning? What problems almost immediately start cropping up when we do this, and what result can we expect after we have tried as hard as we can to craft an "adequate" statement or proposition about the poem's meaning? (If you are presenting on this question, develop an example of your own: i.e. try to do what Brooks says we shouldn't, and see what results you get.)

3. On 1221-22, what further explanation does Brooks offer regarding the propensity of readers and critics to make statements about poems? What is the nature of the error made – i.e. the "heresy" committed -- by those who insist on paraphrasing the actual words of a poem? What obvious and not-so-obvious ways of making this error does Brooks specify, and what unfortunate consequences should we expect if we commit "the heresy of paraphrase"?

4. On 1223-25, what three analogies drawn from other arts does Brooks offer for poetic structure? What does each analogy in succession add to his case against construing a poem in terms of logical or rational structure and in favor of a more dynamic way of understanding how poetry is structured and how we ought to interpret poetry? Which analogy does Brooks find most productive, and why?

5. On 1225-26, how does Brooks situate and explain "the characteristic unity" of a poem along the lines of a the drama analogy he has settled upon? How does a poem achieve the unity Brooks grants it? What does his example drawn from Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality" ode add to our understanding of what Brooks means by a poem's unity?

6. On 1226, how does Brooks deal with a possible challenge to his notion of a poem's unity and integrity? Why don't the "meanderings of a good poem" have to be excused? How are the "apparent irrelevancies which metrical pattern and metaphor introduce" to be factored in?

7. On 1226-28, how does Brooks develop his preference for the term "irony" as a means of capturing the way poetic language functions and allows the meaning of a poem to be apprehended? In discussing the significance of irony, what contrast does Brooks make between the language of science and the language of the literary arts, and how does this contrast advance his argument about the "ironic" quality of poetry?

8. On 1228-29, how does Brooks finally characterize the "task" of a good poet? What should happen to a poet's personal vision (emotions, ideas, aspirations, etc.) once they end up being expressed in a poem? Why have so many poets embraced "ambiguity and paradox rather than plain, discursive simplicity" (1228) in their attempts to craft a unified work of literary art?

9. General question: Brooks' theory of poetry and literature more generally is the first fully "formalist" one we have examined: that is, Brooks as the dean of the New Critics posits a literary object that is autonomous, one that has an integrity and separateness all its own and that isn't dependent on any outside frame of reference for its meaning. How do you assess this formalist approach to engaging with works of literature? What are its strengths and weaknesses? To what extent do you think "formalism" is still part of the intellectual environment in your own English or other humanities department in which literary texts are studied?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2010. ISBN 978-0-393-93292-8.