Literary Criticism 336 ENG (II)RUSSIAN FORMALISM Dr Mohammed Fahmy Raiayh
• Russian formalism is the European counterpart of the Anglo-American New Criticism.• It is a school of literary criticism that originated in the former Russia around 1915.• In 1929 – 1930, it was censured by Stalin and its centre of activity moved to Prague.• The leading Figures of the school are Viktor Shklovsky, Yury Tynyanov, Boris Eikhenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Peter Bogatyrev, Osip Brik, Boris Tomashevskii, and Juri Tynianov.
Basic Principles• In reaction against previous literary theories, Russian Formalists rejected unsystematic, subjective and impressionistic ways of dealing with literature, inherited from the 19th century and attempted a scientific description of literature as a special use of language.• Biographical, social, political, or cultural contexts are not important in the critical process.• They focused on the form of literature, rather than its content.• They emphasized the difference between literary language and non-literary practical language that aims at communicating information.
Literariness• The Formalists focused on what Jakobson called ‘literariness,” or that which makes a literary text different from other types of writing.• The literariness or artfulness of a work of literature, that which makes it an aesthetic object, resides entirely in its devices, which should also form the sole object of literary studies.• Formalist critics read literary texts in order to discover their “literariness”—to highlight the devices and technical elements introduced by writers in order to make language literary.• The way something is said is more important than what is said.
Devices• Examples of literary devices that we do not find often in practical language are forms of repetition that one does not find in ordinary language such as rhyme, a regular meter, or the subdivision in stanzas that we find in many poems.• Poetry is not poetry because it employs deep and universal themes to explore the human condition, but rather because in the process of defamiliarizing the language it draws attention to its own artificiality, to the way it says what it says. Not ‘what’, but ‘how’ a text means is the important thing.
Defamiliarization• Victor Shklovsky (1893-1984) introduced the concept of defamiliarization in “Art as Technique” (1916).• Defamiliarization means “making it strange.”• The perceptions of human beings become automized by repetition. The habitual nature of everyday experience makes perception stale and automatic. Art returns to us the awareness of things.• Defamiliarization of that which is or has become familiar - automatically perceived - is the basic use of literary language. Art and literature have the ability to make us see the world anew – to make that which has become familiar, because we have been overexposed to it, strange again. Instead of merely registering things in an almost subconscious process of recognition because we think we know them, we once again look at them.
“And art exists that one may recover the sensationof life; it exists to make one feel things, to make thestone stony. The purpose of art is to impart thesensation of things as they are perceived and not asthey are known. The technique of art is to makeobjects unfamiliar, to make forms difficult, to increasethe difficulty and length of perception because theprocess of perception is an aesthetic end in itself andmust be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing theartfulness of an object: the object is not important.” Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique”