The Unity of the Canterbury Tales

The Unity of the Canterbury Tales

The Unity of the Canterbury Tales

The Unity of the Canterbury Tales

Excerpt

Any work of art, a poem, for instance, must be; and only in its being, only by virtue of its form, which makes it to be, can it possess its significance. The "significance" then of the work of art is the significance of the form of that work of art.

Form actualizes the matter of the medium -- in this case, words, themselves prefabricated forms -- in such a way that it organizes the work to be what it is. And of the two notions, matter and form, form has in literary studies the greater relevance. As Amado Alonso puts it: "Every work of art is essentially the creation of a structure, or a form, but it is also a structure made up of something, a form extracted from something. Considered in this way, complementary concepts of matter and form are subordinated to the one all-important concept of form."

The degree of beauty, that is, of aesthetic fulfillment, will be determined by the degree in which the formal actualization has been harmonious and complete. That significance, or meaning, or value of the poetic construct is not, of course, fundamentally a discursive or communicative one. Rather, since a poem is an object, and not a proposition, since it is a presentation, and not an argument, its meaning is structural, and the unfolding of its meaning is coexecutive with the development of its form. One cannot isolate the philosophico-rational imports of the object and regard them in se to get its meaning. For these values have been transfigured by a poet in a poetic structure, and consequently they are components of an aesthetic structure. They have meaning, aesthetic meaning, only as they are expressively present in and to the object, not as they may be rationally justified outside it.

This is not to say that the work of art cannot have significances other . . .

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