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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Friday, May 23, 2014


Part 3: Evaluation of Literature --- Formal Values and Values from the Personal Approach


Formal values are those qualities which distinguish the artistic form (in this case, the literary form --- poem, short story, novel, drama, and essay) as excellent within its class or specie. These are addressed to the question of whether or not the artistic form (in its particular genre) is good or conceded as excellent in its category. Is it a good poem? Is it good fiction?

Quite a sizable portion of this phase of evaluation may already have been accomplished in Criticism. But there are certain qualities that are peculiar to each art form which cannot be universalized because they vary according to rules of composition and to the system of formal values derived by the critic from his extensive reading of literature in a certain literary form.

For instance, the appreciator-critic may consider as a formal value of lyric poetry the emotional and personal nature of its images and figures. Since this value may have pleased him while reading personal lyrics, he invariably posits this as a quality that makes good lyrics. In the course of reading other lyric poems, he would try to find out if the value he has discovered in his extensive reading is reflected. If it is not, he would most likely think less of the poem he is appreciating. It must be emphasized that the formal values vary according to different stages of literary history, and also according to the nature of the literary form.

Since the appreciator determines the formal values, he must himself be well-versed in a literary theory which provides the basis for his criteria.


This level of evaluation is considered the most significant because it is the appreciator’s critical system which is now put to use... His critical system, it must be understood, is not an arbitrary bagful of doctrine. After all, it is based on empirical premises --- analysis, criticism, universal and formal evaluation; it is based, therefore, on the facts of the art.

Art and its value become doubly meaningful to the appreciator when he is able to relate it to his life and its conduct. What is the value of the work of art as far as his lifestyle is concerned? Will he be affected by it? How?

Understandably, in spite of the fact that personal evaluation has already been based on “facts” analyzed beforehand, the subjective responses of the appreciator will be given premium. His prejudices and biases will be given full reign, but they will be prevented from going berserk by the qualifications made by the facts of the objective art form. His evaluation must be verifiable and provable in terms of these facts; in literature, in terms of the textual material.

Previous discussion has shown that the formalistic (or technical) approach necessarily precedes all these other approaches because they find their bases in the facts established by technical-empirical criticism. In the absence of these foundations, it would be foolhardy to venture into diverse critical regions while risking unintelligibility and baseless loquaciousness.

Indeed, as R. P. Blackmur admits: “The advantage of the technical approach is I think double. It readily admits other approaches and is anxious to be complemented by them. Furthermore, in a sense, it is able to incorporate the technical aspect which always exists, or what is secured by other approaches. . . The second advantage of the technical approach is a consequence of the4 first; it treats of nothing in literature except in its capacity of reduction to literary fact, which is where it resembles scholarship, only passing beyond it in that its facts are usually further into the heart of the literature than the facts of most scholarship.” (1)

Biases of appreciators may be classified under any of the following approaches:

Moral approach, Sociological, Psychological, Philosophical, Archetypal or Totemic.

Wilbur Scott in Five Approaches of Literary Criticism, does not include the philosophical approach, but includes instead the formalistic approach, which we did not list down because it is considered to be the objective approach and is not subject to the biases and prejudices of the appreciator.

When the appreciator finds a piece of literature or art valuable because he found in it a “criticism of life”, and it gave him an insight into the manner in which man as a free being copes with his present circumstances, he is using the Moral approach.

If the value of the work of art lies in the appreciator’s interest in the creative process that went into the making of the work; if the critic analyzes the “interior life” of the author through his work of art; and if the critic finds pleasure in the dramatization of psychical states in the characters of fiction, then, the appreciator is approaching the work from the angle of psychology. I.A. Richards uses this approach together with the formalistic mode. Somehow, he is able to criticize the work after being able to establish the intention of the author as reflected in his work of art.

If the appreciator finds the work valuable because he would appreciate the social milieu in which the work was produced as well as how well the author has depicted and responded to his milieu, he is studying the work from a sociological standpoint.

Scott says: “Sociological criticism (evaluation) starts with the conviction that art’s relations to society are vitally important, and that the investigation of these relationships may organize and deepen one’s aesthetic response to a work of art. Art is not created in a vacuum; it is the work not simply of a person, but of an author fixed in time and space, answering to a community of which he is an important, because articulate, part. (2)

The attitudes and practices of the times in which the work was produced may be appreciated from the work. In many cases, literary historians approach works by f. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis in this manner so they could gain an insight into the social forces that obtained during the time they wrote their works --- the impact of socio-political forces may be seen in the Lewis novels as well as the impact of the depression years in the works of Fitzgerald. The present crop of committed literature being written in the Philippines at this writing may also be approached sociologically, so that their full significance may be appreciated.

When what is valuable to the appreciator is the reflection of a philosophical system in a work of art, he may approach it philosophically. For instance, existential thought may be appreciated in its dramatized form in the novels of Albert Camus, especially in “The Stranger”, or in the play of Jean-Paul Sartre, “No Exit”. Some philosophers use literature to develop their philosophical thoughts; some use it as a springboard of speculation.

Anthropologists may want o go through a work of art to find out whether it demonstrates “some basic cultural pattern of great meaning and appeal to humanity.” Literary historians may find great value in the language of the work most especially when it is embellished with the secret codes of the mythical material. If the value of the work is conceded to be in the use of literary traditions and linguistic devices that find their roots in earlier languages, then the appreciator may be approaching the work archetypically.

Whatever approach is used by the appreciator, provided it is ultimately focused on elucidating the meaning and significance of the poem, short story, novel, drama, or essay; and provided it is based on textual facts, that approach is valid. Certainly, it should convince him that the work is truly valuable. After all, the approach is his bias.


1 R.P. Blackmur, “A Critic’s Job of a Work,” Five Approaches of Literary Critcism, Pg. 341.

2 Wilbur Scott, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism,” Pg. 123

This concludes the series on Evaluation of Literature. The three levels of Literary Appreciation --- Analysis, Criticism (Style and Technique), and Evaluation that have been serialized in this blog are part of the author's collected lectures on Literary Theory at the De La Salle University in the Philippines. They were subsequently published as part of a book ,The Aesthetics of Literature , pubished by the De La Salle Textbook Committee under the Asia Foundation Grant (Philippines, 1972). Essential revisions have been made by the author in these blog entries as part of preparations to republish the book in its revised edition.

(c) All rights reserved under current International Copyright by Albert B. Casuga, Canada., 2009.

(c) Copyright by Author, Under Current International Copyright Laws, 2014. Canada.

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