Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 20, 2019, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/russian-literary-formalism/v-1
Russian literary Formalism, an active movement in Russian literary criticism from about 1915 to 1929, approached the literary work as a self-referential, formed artefact rather than as an expression of reality or experience outside the work. It asked the question, ‘How is the work made?’ rather than ‘What does the work say?’ Its founding assumption, that poetic language differs from the language of ordinary communication, spawned numerous investigations of what the Formalists called ‘literariness’ – the qualities that make a work artistic. This distinction between practical and poetic language also allowed the Formalists to argue that literature was an autonomous branch of human activity, evolving according to its own immanent laws rather than as a consequence or reflection of historical events. Proceeding from this theoretical model, the Formalists viewed literary works as responses to previous literature rather than to the outside world.
In their literary theory and their interpretations of particular literary works, the Formalists were reacting to the predominant tendency of Russian literary criticism to draw direct correspondences between lived experience and the literary work. Boris Eikhenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Viktor Shklovskii, Boris Tomashevskii, Iurii Tynianov and other Formalists questioned accepted correspondences between life and art, casting doubt upon realist interpretations of Russian authors such as Gogol’ and Tolstoi, and examining the narrative structure of non-Russian works such as Tristram Shandy and O. Henry’s short stories. Their analyses showed how intonation, word order, rhythm and referential meaning interact within a literary work, and they argued that literary works are less a reflection of life than an attempt to refresh conventional perceptions. The influence of Russian literary Formalism is felt in more recent theoretical schools such as semiotics, structuralism, deconstruction, feminist criticism and new historicism, in so far as all of these take account of the particular use of language in any literary work.
Any, Carol. Russian literary Formalism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E060-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/russian-literary-formalism/v-1.
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