This article reappraises the distinctive theory of genre developed by Yuri Tynianov (1894-1943), a key figure in the Russian formalist movement. Tynianov modifies Shklovky's conception of genre as a "repertoire of devices" by emphasising the interdependence of devices and the relations of dominance and subordination between them, and between genres themselves. Rejecting static definitions of literature and what he saw as the artificial disjunction between synchronic and diachronic approaches, Tynianov treats genres and genre-systems as perpetually evolving entities, and conceives of genre study as "a kind of dynamic archaeology." The originality of his theory rests partly on his analysis of four variables in generic evolution Ð form, function, "orientation" and status Ð and his recognition that these features may evolve either separately or together. Notable too is his explanation of how genres behave when they are in ascendance or decline, seeking "maximal tension" or reducing to their "minimal condition" - though never quite dying out. Many of these ideas, summarised in his well-known essays "On Literary Evolution" and "The Literary Fact", are first worked out in his study of "The Ode as an Oratorical Genre," translated into English for the first time in this issue of New Literary History. The present article examines Tynianov's arguments, highlighting his work on the ode, on poetic structure in general, and on the complex processes involved in the evolution of a major literary genre.


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pp. 553-563
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