The Homological Imagination : Toward a Critical History of Political Formalism

Aleksandar STEVIĆ*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


For more than a century now, the desire for a political interpretation of literary form has persistently resurfaced in many seemingly unrelated corners of literary theory and critical practice: in the early work of Georg Lukács and in the literary sociology of Lucien Goldmann and Franco Moretti, in poststructuralist readings of modernist fiction, in Foucauldian interpretations of the realist novel, in feminist narratology of Susan Lanser and Robyn Warhol, and, most recently, in the attempts by scholars such as Caroline Levine and Anna Kornbluh to subvert the distinction between the patterns of literary and social organization. And yet, despite the long list of scholars who sought to explore the relationship between form and ideology, attempts to develop a political formalism have been plagued by far-reaching methodological issues, including excessive reliance on homological reasoning, problematic mechanisms of assigning ideological significance to specific techniques, unresolved relationship between formal and thematic analysis, and implausible claims of literary formalism’s political relevance. In this essay, I introduce the categories of soft formalism, hard formalism, and expansionist formalism in order to analyse both the sources of literary criticism’s attraction to the project of political formalism and the methodological difficulties that make such a project a near impossibility: What do we truly mean when we speak of the politics of form? What do we promise when we imagine a political formalism? What theoretical and rhetorical moves do we perform in an attempt to fulfil that promise? And what do we deliver in the end?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-390
Number of pages28
JournalNew Literary History
Issue number3
Early online date6 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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