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Estrangement and the Somatics of Literature

Tolstoy, Shklovsky, Brecht

Douglas Robinson

Publication Year: 2008

Drawing together the estrangement theories of Viktor Shklovsky and Bertolt Brecht with Leo Tolstoy's theory of infection, Douglas Robinson studies the ways in which shared evaluative affect regulates both literary familiarity—convention and tradition—and modern strategies of alienation, depersonalization, and malaise. This book begins with two assumptions, both taken from Tolstoy's late aesthetic treatise What Is Art? (1898): that there is a malaise in culture, and that literature's power to "infect" readers with the moral values of the author is a possible cure for this malaise. Exploring these ideas of estrangement within the contexts of earlier, contemporary, and later critical theory, Robinson argues that Shklovsky and Brecht follow Tolstoy in their efforts to fight depersonalization by imbuing readers with the transformative guidance of collectivized feeling. Robinson's somatic approach to literature offers a powerful alternative to depersonalizing structuralist and poststructuralist theorization without simply retreating into conservative rejection and reaction. Both a comparative study of Russian and German literary-theoretical history and an insightful examination of the somatics of literature, this groundbreaking work provides a deeper understanding of how literature affects the reader and offers a new perspective on present-day problems in poststructuralist approaches to the human condition.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I wrote this book while on a Fulbright in Voronezh, Russia, where access to the hard-copy Russian originals of Tolstoy, Shklovsky, and their Russian critics and sources was easier than it might have been in the United States but every other aspect of the research was more difficult. My first thanks go, therefore, to Martha Swan, Lisa Harrison, and Anne Johnson in the Interlibrary Loan...

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pp. ix-xx

This book is in part a comparative study of Russian and German literary-theoretical history, specifically of a single strain of that history associated with the concepts of estrangement and alienation (Befremdung, Entfremdung, Verfremdung; ostranenie, otchuzhdenie) and formalist modernism, as well their roots in German Romanticism, Hegel, and Marx. Due to the antithetical impulses...

Part I. ZarazhenieTolstoy’s Infection Theory

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p. 1

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One. Tolstoy’s Infection

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pp. 3-33

“It is widely accepted in contemporary Anglo-American aesthetics,” Saam Trivedi writes in the opening lines of his 2004 article on Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy’s 1898 aesthetic tract What Is Art?, “that, despite Tolstoy’s own literary achievements, his ‘moralism’ about art is a view without much merit. For the most part, I concur with this current consensus about Tolstoy. However,...

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Two. Tolstoy’s Estrangement

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pp. 34-75

Tolstoy has a dual role to play in this book: as a theorist of artistic infection and thus of the somatics of literature (my topic in chapter 1), and as a literary exemplar of estrangement (my topic here in chapter 2). Estrangement as a literary device was first theorized by Viktor Shklovsky in 1917, and chapter 3 is devoted to a detailed discussion of that theory, but as critics invariably note,...

Part II. Ostranenie Shklovsky’s Estrangement Theory

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p. 77

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Three. Shklovsky’s Modernist Poetics

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pp. 79-132

In a 1966 article entitled “Obnovlenie ponyatiya,” “The Renewal of a Concept,” the 73-year-old reformed Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky returned in print to his most famous critical coinage, the priyom ostraneniya or “estrangement device” from his 1917 article “Art as Device.” Specifically, he examined the cultural afterlife of that concept, in Bertolt Brecht’s transformation...

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Four. Shklovsky’s Hegelianism

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pp. 133-164

I noted in connection with my tabulation of the “four Things” in chapter 3 that Shklovsky was a left-leaning Hegelian thinker who anticipated the Hegelian Marxism of Georg Lukács by several years—and that the Soviet ban on formalism came out of the Second International Marxist tradition pioneered by Plekhanov, Kautsky, and Bernstein and institutionalized in the Soviet Union...

Part III. VerfremdungBrecht’s Estrangement Theory

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p. 165

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Five. Brecht’s Modernist Marxism

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pp. 167-257

I put the Shklovsky etiology first for obvious methodological reasons—a book on estrangement in Shklovsky and Brecht could hardly do otherwise—but I do not intend this methodological priority to indicate historical preference or precedence. I don’t believe Shklovsky’s indirect influence on Brecht to be weightier or more decisive than any other; in fact, I assume that Brecht...


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pp. 259-291

Works Cited

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pp. 293-308


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pp. 309-317

E-ISBN-13: 9780801896316
E-ISBN-10: 0801896312
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801887963
Print-ISBN-10: 0801887968

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society
Series Editor Byline: Stephen G. Nichols, Gerald Prince, and Wendy Steiner, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 609271430
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Estrangement and the Somatics of Literature

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Brecht, Bertolt, -- 1898-1956 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Criticism -- Russia (Federation) -- History.
  • Criticism -- Germany -- History.
  • Tolstoy, Leo, -- graf, -- 1828-1910 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Alienation (Social psychology) in literature.
  • Shklovskiĭ, Viktor, 1893-1984 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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