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Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  234 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Forms offers a powerful new answer to one of the most pressing problems facing literary, critical, and cultural studies today-how to connect form to political, social, and historical context. Caroline Levine argues that forms organize not only works of art but also political life-and our attempts to know both art and politics. Inescapable and frequently troubling, forms sh ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published January 4th 2015 by Princeton University Press (first published January 1st 2015)
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Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: rad-school
ok i have a more nuanced critique of this book but overall: i liked it. i'm excited to use levine's guiding framework in my own work, especially the concept of "affordances" and the attention she pays to overlapping/conflicting/colliding forms as a place for some potentially politically disruptive interventions. i'm invested in the concept that new formalism isn't necessarily apolitical, and in navigating and balancing the tensions of responsible historicist practice and politically-engaged crit ...more
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This rich and thought-provoking study offers the contours of a method to read how subtle and complex patterns in space, time, relationships and distributions of wealth crosscut each other in all kinds of asymmetric and haphazard ways, giving way to a conception of socio-political change that is porous and resists the ideological deadweight of more monolithic and mechanistic theories. Levine’s project is therefore Foucauldian in spirit. But in the complexity of colliding forms she sees an importa ...more
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book thinks about the social/political dimensions of forms in clear, accessible prose. I found Levine's analysis of the history of critical theory theorizing form to be particularly useful, and I'm indebted to Levine for giving me some new vocabulary for thinking about my own experiments in formalism as a writer: i.e., I am frequently exploring the "affordances" of a given form in much the way Levine articulates here--for example, my "Traumarama" piece asks what else this form can do, what ...more
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The most accessible and understandable graduate school assigned reading material I have encountered yet. Even the chapter focusing on the HBO series "The Wire" was presented in a manner that continued her overall argument succinctly--despite my never having watched the show. ...more
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: English literature professors, engaged readers, lovers of _The Wire_
This is certainly an intriguing book, and I know that I'm late to the party since I'm reading it now. The way that Levine talks about social forms is very compelling and will be very useful for me and for many other critics; it's good that formalism is getting greater recognition. Sometimes, though, her assessments of other critical approaches (such as New Historicism) seemed a bit simplistic. I've considered myself a New Historicist for about 12? years now, and I hadn't bought into the totalizi ...more
By far one of the most readable things I've read for grad school, this book takes the idea of forms or categories for organizing thought and demonstrates how they overlap with other forms to create scenarios we couldn't predict. One of the most important thoughts from this book is that no single form dominates all the others--each form has the power to influence and disrupt other forms. Fascinating examples from literature, pop culture, and history illustrate concepts in an engaging way that len ...more
Jeremy Carnes
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very important exploration into the way forms signify in relation to social and cultural life. It broadens New Formalism (if you want to call it that) in all the right ways and draws attention to the complex ways in which we are organized by larger (or smaller) structures. This book has huge implications all over literary studies and cultural studies.
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I skipped the last chapter about The Wire bc I figured it would contain spoilers & would like to, someday, watch that show. Other than that, I read the whole book & was extremely interested in what the author had to say about forms.
Oct 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
I'm still processing this one. The idea seems too simple to not already be accepted: forms and their various interractions structure social existence. Texts offer the opportunity to disentangle and understand the political power wrapped on in particular forms.

More than anything else, Levine offers an incredibly useful vocabulary to begin these (new?) new formalist projects.

And, it's worth saying, one of the most clearly and delightfully written pieces of academic argumentation I've read in a l
Katarzyna Bartoszynska
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a really ambitious and interesting book, an unabashedly theoretical work that tries to rethink the relationship between literary form and social context. It does this in an unexpected way, by showing how social contexts are governed by forms, and examining how they can be "read".

Some people will hate this book, probably because they will take it as a programmatic statement or normative argument about what we should all be doing. I don't think it's either. I think it's a collection of al
Robinson Terry
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
*Read for Eng 672.*

I doubt that I would've read this book had it not been for Dr. Bradway, who put it on his syllabus. "Forms" proposes a new kind of formalism, a new way of interpreting art and culture and politics. Levine fleshes out four forms in this proposal: whole, rhythm, hierarchy, and network. She deftly weaves through history, culture, literature, and a range of other subjects as she justifies her claim for these four being "forms", in her definition of the word, which she elucidates i
Michael Greer
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The author of this work gives us an idea of what to expect on page 21 of my edition. "Organizing this book are four major forms." Let us ponder that statement. Books are compositions, highly organized collections of statements, remarks, quotes, data, and so forth. The organizing principle here is that there are four basic forms that shape "our" experience. By "our" the author means modern, liberal humanist thinking about human experience in general and literary experience in particular.

The auth
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very fine piece of literary theory. Levine is very much in the tradition of Mikhail Bakhtin, who bizarrely she doesn't quote. 'Forms' govern all aspects of our life, from politics to literature to shopping or using appliances. But there is no single 'form' which governs the whole. Instead, different patterns and systems overlap everywhere, sometime reinforcing one another and sometimes perplexing one anothers' operation. The book culminates with a chapter on The Wire, a messy text if e ...more
Nov 11, 2020 added it
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Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The great strength of this book is its political impetus, but not necessarily its literary analyses. There are certainly several issues with the methodology that Levine proposes and with the conclusions she draws (or does not draw), but altogether, I really enjoyed reading this book and it made me think about the way I think and argue. The style of writing is quite easy for theory and one does not need to be an expert in the field to follow her arguments.
Nikki Sojkowski
This book contains fascinating ideas about how forms present information and interact with each other, opening up the field of literary criticism. The way Levine writes is smooth and accessible, she details and contextualizes her ideas and references completely that there is no need to research outside sources because of confusion (only if she's sparked your curiosity!) ...more
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Not only is this book insightful for understanding multiples types of forms within literature, but one can also apply Levine’s rules of forms to other types of mediums like film, poetry, novels, and even aspects of daily life. Levine’s use of examples at every point helps to clearly grasp her ideas.
It is a brilliant read and very accessible to graduate students.
Meg Lebow
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: phd-prep
This is an incredible work of formalist theory, presenting a coherent, dynamic, and fascinating argument for a return to structural analysis. It's worth reading the whole book just to understand the vocabulary Levine will use in her final, brilliant reading of the show The Wire. ...more
Chris (The Genre Fiend)
An outstanding, thought-provoking book on understanding formalism. Levine's work is accessible, articulate and applicable in so many scenarios. A must-read for anyone in cultural studies (or communications in general). ...more
Mar 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
recommended by my lecturer for some of that sweet sweet polyvalent writing ... Mostly good. Some intellectual masturbation as ever, but decent.
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theory, academia
intersting and thought-provoking, but left me, somehow, mildly dissatisfied — thus only 4 stars.
Farah B.
Feb 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb. I can’t stop thinking about forms. I see them everywhere from the films I watch, books I read, and the mundane daily interactions I’ve with others.
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Far from an ideologically coherent society with power lodged in the hands of a few, this bold advance on the New Formalism gives us a social world constantly unsettled by the bewildering and unexpected effects of clashes among wholes, rhythms, hierarchies, and networks.

As a bonus it contains a climactic discussion of The Wire.

Reading it will enable you to recognize the power and significance of these multiple forms and make strategic decisions which permit outcomes that frustrate or elude the co
Sep 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I started reading this book in early September when I thought I would blitz through it before the semester started in earnest, and then the semester started in earnest. Oops! So I finished this book yesterday, having not looked at it since the first week in September, which admittedly is not the best way to read any kind of book, let alone a scholarly book that is structured both sequentially and cumulatively. Each chapter takes on a different conception of form, and then the final chapter (on H ...more
Oct 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
An astounding introduction into the complexities of formalism and its power in aiding political progress. Levine knows the literature and paradoxes of formalism, and her writing is strong and thorough. I can't imagine a more engrossing overview of formalist thought. ...more
Michael Meeuwis
I really don't know what to make of this--I found the opening really compelling, and the "networks" section quite weak; I liked some of the critical suggestions (particularly the one suggesting that we not always look at exceptions and fissures in systems, but rather the systems themselves) but didn't see why this book needed to pick fights with critics who (at least the ones that I knew myself) didn't seem quite as anti-holistic as the book claimed. And maybe this is just getting over graduate ...more
Jan 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have ever come across!
Aug 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A really amazing book that challenged me to think differently about the world...
Billy Dean
Mar 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fast and loose in some places, but largely excellent. This is not something she should be held accountable for, since it's not the sort of book she set out to write, but I wish it wasn't (sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly) focused on literary form and formalism. ...more
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