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Russian Formalism

A Metapoetics

by Peter Steiner

Publication Year: 2016

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-6

Contents

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pp. 7-8

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Preface

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pp. 9-14

This book grew out of my earlier comparative study of Rus­sian Formalism and Prague Structuralism. The juxtaposition of these schools, I was surprised to find, pointed up their funda­mental difference much more than their similarity. The Prague School, with its single organizational center, shared frame of reference, and unified epistemological stance, could easily be conceived as a coherent movement. But its Russian counterpart was far more resistant to synthesis. I began to see Formalism, in...

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1. Who Is Formalism, What Is She?

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pp. 15-43

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 process....

2. The Three Metaphors

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p. 44

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The Machine

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pp. 44-67

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...

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The Organism

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pp. 68-98

A belief in the holistic nature of the literary work compelled other Formalists to seek a different conceptual frame for their study of literature. As the mechanistic Formalists, drawing their inspiration from the realm of technology, probed into the clock­work of devices in the literary work, another group of Formalists turned to biology and its subject matter-the organism-as their...

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The System

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pp. 99-137

I call the third Formalist model "systemic" because it uses the metaphor of the system as its primary frame of reference. The role of systemic Formalism was to fill the gaps left by the other two metaphors: to describe the relationship between art and byt and provide an account of literary history capable of explaining the dynamic interplay between these two domains....

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3. A Synecdoche

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pp. 138-139

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...

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Zaum'

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pp. 140-171

"Poetic language" was already a loaded term by the time it entered Formalist discourse. Aleksandr Potebnja (1835-1891), the heir to the tradition of Humboldtian linguistics, was the first to introduce the distinction between poetic and prosaic language into Russian philology.4 The Formalists' attitude toward their "precursor" was rather ambivalent, however. Their willingness to borrow from him implied a respect extended to no other nineteenth-century Russian philologist but Veselovskij. Still they ...

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Verse

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pp. 172-198

Perhaps the most influential among the early Formalist stud­ies of verse was Osip Brik's i920 lecture at OPOJAZ entitled "Rhythm and Syntax."1 In it he coined the term "rhythmical impulse," which became the "focal point of the Formalist and Structuralist conception of verse."2 To appreciate Brik's contri­bution fully it is necessary to sketch out its historical context....

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Expression

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pp. 199-241

Within the limits of this study of Russian Formalism, Roman Jakobson's theoretical model poses a special problem. In July of 1920 he left Russia for Czechoslovakia, and with the exception of a handful of articles all his major works were published out­side his native land . His stay abroad, which only subsequently turned into permanent exile, did not in the beginning preclude scholarly or personal contact with the Formalists he had left...

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4. The Developmental Significance of Russian Formalism

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pp. 242-270

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...

Index

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pp. 271-277


E-ISBN-13: 9781501707025
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801417108
Print-ISBN-10: 0801417104

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2016

OCLC Number: 647278913
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Russian Formalism