The Affordances of Form
This introductory chapter sets out the book's purpose, which is to make a case for expanding our usual definition of form in literary studies to include patterns of sociopolitical experience like those of Lowood School. Broadening our definition of form to include social arrangements has immediate methodological consequences. 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. Chaotic though it seems, this brief conceptual history does make two things quite clear. First, form has never belonged only to the discourse of aesthetics. Second, all of the historical uses of the term, despite their richness and variety, do share a common definition: “form” always indicates an arrangement of elements—an ordering, patterning, or shaping.
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