Theology And Literature: A Linguistic Approach -- By: Samuel T. Logan, Jr.

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 36:3 (Spring 1974)
Article: Theology And Literature: A Linguistic Approach
Author: Samuel T. Logan, Jr.


Theology And Literature: A Linguistic Approach

Samuel T. Logan, Jr.

I

During the past fifty years literary critics have become increasingly self-conscious creatures. The “critic’s job of work,” as R. P. Blackmur described it, has itself proved as fascinating and as mysterious as the primary texts upon which that job is performed. The question about the mode of existence of the work of art (“where and in what sense does King Lear exist?”) has gradually been replaced as the subject of scholarly discussion by a similar question dealing with the mode of existence of the critic (“what should the critic be doing when he reads King Lear?). As a part of this mushrooming interest in criticism per se, one particular theoretical approach has established and maintained a degree of academic predominance. That approach has variously been labelled Formalism, Analytical Criticism, and New Criticism, and possibly as much has been written about it as its advocates have actually written about literature. My justification for adding to this material is both historical and apologetic. Historically, it seems that the New Criticism has been aging rapidly during the past decade and that we are moving toward yet newer emphases. If this is true, it behooves us to be fully aware not only of where we have been, but also of where we are going. My own theoretical sympathies lie very much with such a change of direction, and thus I see this paper as an apology—a “word for”—that change.

One central emphasis of Formalism has been on the objectivity and autonomy of the work of art. In 1951, Cleanth Brooks wrote what amounted to a manifesto for the Formalist position, and his initial statements will serve as a summary of Formalist concerns:

Here are some articles of faith I could subscribe to:

That literary criticism is a description and an evaluation of its object.

That the primary concern of criticism is with the problem of unity-the kind of whole which the literary work forms or fails to form, and the relation of the various parts to each other in building up this whole …

That in a successful work, form and content cannot be separated.

That form is meaning.

That literature is ultimately metaphorical and symbolic.

That literature is not a surrogate for religion.1

Essentially, Brooks has made the meaning of literature intrinsic and has defined its value in terms of internal coherence. He has thereby cut off the poem both from the poet and from the audience and has, with W. ...

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