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  • Moskovsko-tartuskaia semioticheskaia shkola. Istoriia, vospominaniia, razmyshleniia
  • Richard S. Wortman
Sergei Iur′evich Nekliudov, ed. Moskovsko-tartuskaia semioticheskaia shkola. Istoriia, vospominaniia, razmyshleniia. Moscow: Shkola “Iazyki russkoi kul′tury,” 1998. 381 pp. ISBN 5-7859-0081-5.

The term "Moscow-Tartu" school describes a movement that arose during the 1960s among linguists and specialists in literature, folklore, ethnography, and allied disciplines in the Soviet Union. Its governing doctrine was semiotics, and the theory and practice of semiotics as a science of signs continued to provide its guiding principles through the 1970s. The study of semiotics liberated scholars from Marxist-Leninist principles and institutional constraints, opening new possibilities and areas of research. It established culture as an autonomous sphere of research. By demonstrating the vitality of the Russian tradition of linguistic and literary studies, the movement restored academic pride and purpose to scholars in those areas. By the 1970s and 1980s, the intellectual interest of the leaders of the school had shifted, semiotic theory receded into the background, and many earlier adherents adopted different approaches and interests. But the school's influence endured in the works of those trained under the guidance of its leading figures and in the memories of those for whom it was a central formative experience.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the school's adherents began to come to terms with historical significance and its meaning for their own personal development. This volume, edited by the folklore specialist, Sergei Iur'evich Nekliudov, represents the summation of these efforts, bringing together previously published memoirs and articles, and several new contributions regarding the school's impact abroad. The first section deals with the early history of the school, the second is devoted to memoirs, the third considers its relationship to developments in Europe and the United States. An appendix contains a summary of works on Eastern studies published by distinguished Moscow Orientalists in the Trudy po znakovym sistemam, the principal scholarly periodical of the school. The 26 contributions are diverse both in the assessment of the importance of the school and the authors' own personal responses. Rather than summarize their content, I will try to convey my own sense of what the volume tells us about the school's significance, especially for the study of Russian history.

The opening articles of the volume by the linguists Viacheslav Ivanov and Boris Uspenskii describe the movement's origins and early years. At the beginning [End Page 821] of the 1960s, a group of prominent Moscow linguists endeavored to revive the pre-revolutionary and émigré traditions of Russian structuralist linguistics. Ivanov traces these to the Kazan' school of Jan Niecislaw Baudouin de Courtenay and Nikolai Viacheslavovich Krushevskii, whose traditions were carried on after the revolution by the Prague school and particularly Nikolai Sergeevich Trubezkoy and Roman Jakobson. In his memoir, Vladimir Nikolaevich Toporov mentions three major events that marked the revival of linguistics and the beginnings of a semiotic school in the Soviet Union (146–47). In 1956, Jakobson's visit to Moscow inspired the formation of a Seminar on Structural and Mathematical Linguistics under the Philological Faculty of Moscow University. In 1960, the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences established sectors of structural linguistics in several of its institutes. Finally, the Symposium on the Structural Study of Sign Systems, held in 1962 under the auspices of the Institute of Slavic Studies and the newly formed Sector of Structural Typology, discussed an array of semiotic subjects: the importance of signs in language, art, mythology, and even card tricks. The theses of the symposium were published in a small edition. Official organs, like Voprosy literatury, criticized them in great detail, unwittingly making their content known to a broad public.

If the Moscow founders of the school reclaimed the pre-revolutionary linguistic heritage, the Tartu component came out of the setting of early 20th-century formalist criticism in Leningrad. When Iurii Mikhailovich Lotman began his studies at Leningrad University in 1939, the Slavic Faculty boasted a veritable roster of luminaries: Viktor Maksimovich Zhirmunskii, Vladimir Iakovlevich Propp, Mark Konstantinovich Azadovskii, Boris Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum, Boris Viktorovich Tomashevskii, and Grigorii Aleksandrovich Gukovskii. When he returned after the war, in 1946, the last three were...


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