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Russian Formalism

Russian Formalism: A Metapoetics OPEN ACCESS

Copyright Date: 1984
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
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    Russian Formalism
    Book Description:

    Russian Formalism, one of the twentieth century's most important movements in literary criticism, has received far less attention than most of its rivals. Examining Formalism in light of more recent developments in literary theory, Peter Steiner here offers the most comprehensive critique of Formalism to date. Steiner studies the work of the Formalists in terms of the major tropes that characterized their thought. He first considers those theorists who viewed a literary work as a mechanism, an organism, or a system. He then turns to those who sought to reduce literature to its most basic element-language-and who consequently replaced poetics with linguistics. Throughout, Steiner elucidates the basic principles of the Formalists and explores their contributions to the study of poetics, literary history, the theory of literary genre, and prosody. Russian Formalism is an authoritative introduction to the movement that was a major precursor of contemporary critical thought.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-0702-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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  1. These words of Špet’s encapsulate the historian’s dilemma. Writing about a school of literary theory from the past, I indeed have nothing but words at my disposal and no Polonius as a whipping boy. “Words are chameleons,” declared the Formalist Jurij Tynjanov, whose own words I shall soon have occasion to reclothe in my own language; his phrase in turn is borrowed from a famous Symbolist poet, with whose generation the Formalists had locked horns in an animated dialogue. Words change meaning as they pass from one context to another, and yet they preserve the semantic accretions acquired in the...

  2. Probably the best known Formalist model was advanced by Viktor Šklovskij, the self-proclaimed “founder of the Russian school of Formal method.”¹ His answer to the question “what is Formalism?” was very clear: “In its essence the Formal method is simple—a return to craftsmanship.”² Technology, that branch of knowledge pertaining to the art of human production, was the predominant metaphor applied by this model to the description and elucidation of artistic phenomena.³

    Šklovskij’s obsession with the machine analogy was well known to his contemporaries. In a commemorative article about Jurij Tynjanov, Lidija Ginzburg recalls a random chat of 1925 in...

  3. 3 A Synecdoche (pp. 138-241)

    The three metaphors of Russian Formalist theory, decisive as they were in their proponents’ thinking, still do not account for perhaps the most fundamental Formalist conception: the notion of language as the material of poetry. “Insofar as the material of poetry is the word,” Žirmunskij wrote, “the classification of verbal phenomena provided by linguistics should be the basis for a systematically constructed poetics. Because the artistic goal transforms each of these phenomena into a poetic device, every chapter of theoretical poetics should correspond to a chapter from the science of language.”¹ Language thus generated a fourth Formalist model. But the...

  4. Readers who have patiently followed my discussion up to this point might now find themselves uneasy about its metapoetic method. I began by berating those who dealt with Formalism in a piecemeal fashion, and demanded instead a holistic approach. Yet have I not treated the Formalist movement as a cluster of loosely connected theoretical models without any obvious common denominator? Furthermore, in chapter 1 I argued that the epistemological assumptions behind the individual Formalist models were too disparate to provide a unified basis for the movement. I also insisted on the futility of a purely historical approach for distinguishing Formalism...

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
Funding is provided by National Endowment for the Humanities