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Russian Formalism

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Michelle Matheny

on 5 November 2013

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Transcript of Russian Formalism

Russian Formalism
1913 - 1934
First: A Review of Formalism/
New Criticism
Prominent 1930s - 1950s
Focus on text itself.
Focus on close reading.
Focus on text structures: diction, literary devices (symbols, metaphors, allusions, etc.).
Abandons biographical, historical, and cultural contexts.
Revolutionized English classrooms (Guerin et al. 74-96).
Early History of Russian Formalism
Partly modeled on Structuralism (Saussure).
Began in Moscow c.1913.
Two distinct scholarly groups: The Moscow Linguistic Circle (1915) and the Petersburg OPOJAZ (Society for the Study of Poetic Language - 1916).
Enjoyed academic freedom in years following Russian Revolution: 1921 - 1925 (Selden 29-31).
Russian Formalism

Moscow Linguistic Circle
Started in 1915
Formed by linguist and structuralist Roman Jakobson.
Also included Grigorii Vinokur and Petr Bogatyrev (Groden 634, Guerin 30).
Roman Jakobson: Founder - Linguist and Structuralist
Grigori Vinokur
Petr Bogatyrev
OPOJAZ - Society for the Study of Poetic Language
Started 1916
Based in St. Petersburg
Members included Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, Boris Eikhenbaum, and Boris Tomashevsky (Groden 634, Guerin 30).
Victor Shklovsky
Yuri Tynianov
Boris Eikhenbaum
Boris Tomashevsky
Vladimir Propp
Morphology of the Folktale (1928).
Analyzed structure of Russian folktales, based on Saussure's work.
Identified characters (actants) and 31 typical actions (functions) in Russian folktales.
The repetition of functions create a structure and rules for these tales.
Similar to the mythological approach: hero, villain, etc. (Groden 635, Guerin 171).
Propp's Work
The Firebird
Compare: Formalism/Russian Formalism
Focus on text.
Rejected mysticism of Romantics.
Detailed, close readings.
Literature is a form of human understanding.
Focus on method.
Scientific basis for literary theory.
Human content (ideas, emotions) had no literary significance.
Division between form and content.
Focus on how literary devices produce aesthetic effects.
Literature is a special use of language.
Key Terms/Concepts
byt: content of common language and experience as opposed to poetic language; the dull, ordinariness of life.
literariness: the use of literary devices to challenge our assumptions and create defamiliarization
defamiliarization (ostranenie): process of making literature strange and unfamiliar.
laying bare: literature calling attention to its own structure (Groden 634-7, Selden 29-45).
Definition: the content of common language and experience as opposed to poetic language; the dull, ordinariness of life.
The use of literary devices to challenge our assumptions and create defamiliarization.
Roman Jakobson introduced this term: "Object of literary science is not literature but literariness" (1921).
World-wide trend: Ezra Pound - "Make it new!" (qtd. in Fry 2009).
Defamiliarization ("ostranenie" - making strange)
Making literature strange and unfamiliar; slowing down to prolong perception and interfere with reader's habitual responses (Groden & Kreiswirth 636).
Ordinary life (byt) makes our perceptions automatized.
Art and literature should give us a fresh perception.
"Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important" (Jakobson 1917).
Similar to Bertolt Brecht's alienation effect ("Verfremdungseffekt").
Laying Bare
Literature calling attention to its own structure.
In drama, breaking through the "fourth wall."
Hamlet speaks directly to audience: "A little more than kin and less than kind" (I.ii.65).
Plot and Story
Plot (sjuzet): artful arrangement of incidents.
Story (fabula): chronological telling of incidents.
Classics often began in media res - in the middle of things.
Russian formalists sought to disrupt familiar plot arrangements, drawing attention to plot itself as a literary object and help defamiliarize the story.
Understood that content motivates form (Henderson & Brown).
Realism most common form of motivation, but tends to hide its artificiality, i.e., heroes are always rescued (Selden 36-7).
Our minds look for patterns and try to naturalize what is unfamiliar (Ibid).
Motivation naturalizes images; defamiliarization "roughens the surface" (Fry 2009).

"All right," said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin . . ."
Victory Shklovsky saw Laurence Sterne's novel Tristram Shandy as being "without any kind of motivation." Sterne "lays bare" the structure of the novel, which increases the novel's literariness and causes defamiliarization ("Sterne's Tristram Shandy" 27).
Arnolfini Portrait, van Eyck
Composition V, Kandinsky
A literary device set to the forefront that organizes a work of literature.
What dire Offense from am'rous Causes springs,
What mighty Contests rise from trivial Things,
I sing, - This verse to Caryl, Muse! is due;
This, ev'n Belinda may vouchsafe to view.
(Rape of the Lock, Canto I).

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the moon, Nokomis (Song of Hiawatha).
Works Cited
Fry, Paul. "Russian Formalism." Yale University, Open Yale Courses, 2009. Web. 22 September 2013. <http://oyc.yale.edu/english/engl-300/lecture-7>
Groden, Michael, and Martin Kreiswirth. The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Print. 634-7.
Guerin, Wilfred L. et al. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print. 169-71, 178-83.
Henderson, Greig E., and Christopher Brown. "Glossary of Literary Theory." University of Toronto English Library. Web. 24 September 2013. <http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/glossary/Formalism.html>
Knight, Charles. "Menippean Satire." University of Massachusetts-Boston. Web. 25 September 2013. <http://www.faculty.umb.edu/charles_knight/meniphnd.htm>
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Song of Hiawatha. Web. 24 September 2013. <http://web.archive.org/web/20080920012728/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/LonHiaw.html>
Pope, Alexander. The Rape of the Lock, Canto I. Web. 24 September 2013. <http://people.umass.edu/sconstan/poem1c1.html>
Selden, Raman, and Peter Widdowson and Peter Brooker. A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory, 4th Ed. London: Prentice Hall, 1997. Print. 29-45.
"The palm of his right hand, as he fell upon the bed, receiving his forehead, and covering the greatest part of both his eyes, gently sunk down with his head (his elbow giving way backwards) till his nose touch'd the quilt; - his left arm hung insensible over the side of the bed, his knuckles reclining upon the handle of the chamber pot" (Sterne, qtd. in Selden 34).
Types of Russian Formalism
Mechanistic Formalism: Focused on form and literary techniques - OPOJAZ and Viktor Shklovsky.
Organic Formalism: Focused on organic unity of literary works; form and content as an organic whole - Vladimir Propp and "Morphology of the Folktale."
Systemic Formalism: Literature viewed in its social and diachronic (historical) context - Yuri Tynianov and Roman Jakobson.
Linguistic Formalism: Focused on poetic language; distinguished between practical and poetic language - Roman Jakobson (Selden 31-40).
Bakhtin School
Began toward end of the formalist movement, but not officially part of it.
Mikhail Bakhtin, Pavel Medvedev, and Valentine Voloshnikov.
Bakhtin - anti-Stalin and libertarian in his approach to literature.
Formalistic in nature; interested in linguistic structure of literature but not abstract linguistics (Selden 41-45).
Bakhtin School
Pavel Medvedev
Mikhail Bakhtin
Valentine Voloshinov
Bakhtin School
Critiqued monologic (single-voiced) works, i.e., Tolstoy's War and Peace.
Emphasized need for polyphonic (many-voiced) discourse and dialogic novels, i.e., Dostoyevsky.
Carnivalization: describes the effect of the Carnival on literature when social hierarchies are inverted.
Socratic dialogue: many characters/voices discuss an issue and arrive together at a conclusion (Guerin 178-83, Selden 41-5).
Bakhtin School
Menippean satire: Heaven, the Underworld, and Earth subjected to carnivalization.
Characteristics include: comedic, fantastic, satire and parody, polyphonic, dialogic, and concerned with current topics (Selden 41-5, Knight).
Later History
Leon Trotsky stated Russian Formalism neglected the social world (1927).
Tynianov/Jakobson responded that "the prime significance of social factors is not at all discarded."
Soviet state dictated an end to formalism as Stalin came to power, c. 1929.
Socialist realism became sanctioned method of literary critique.
Shklovsky renounced formalism; Jakobson emigrated to U.S. (Groden 637, Fry).

plot (sjuzet): arrangement of incidents that make a story; only plot is literary.
story (fabula): chronological telling of incidents; organized by writer.
motivation: a literary work's references to ideas, themes, and reality as the writer's reason for using literary devices.
dominant: a literary device set to the forefront that organizes a work of literature (Groden 634-7, Selden 29-45).
Key Terms/Concepts
Discussion Questions
What strengths do you see in Russian Formalism?
What weaknesses do you see in this approach?
What type of genre is most suitable for this approach?
What genre is most suitable for Bakhtin's approach?
Do you use any aspects of this approach in your own reading?
By Michelle Matheny
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