Russian formalism

Essay by puto20202University, Bachelor'sA, April 2004

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Russian Formalism

Russian Formalism is a movement of literary criticism and interpretation that emerged in Russia during the second decade of the twentieth century and remained active until about 1930. It concentrated on analyzing the internal structure of literary texts and involved detailed inquiry into plot structure, narrative perspective, symbolic imagery, and other literary techniques. In other words, it stressed the importance of form and technique over content.

This movement began in 1915-1916 with the founding of the Moscow Linguistic Circle and the Petersburg Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOJAZ). The most influential figure of the Moscow group was Roman Jakobson, while the most influential of Petersburg group was Victor Shklovsky.

In reaction to other approaches of criticism which concentrate on the relationship between the literary work and the cultural and sociological context it is supposed to reflect, the Formalists approached literature as a separate system looking at the literary work as being isolated from the political, sociological, and economical conditions of the time.

From this point emerged certain dominant principles:

* Focus on defining the literariness of the literary work: This attitude was expressed by Roman Jakobson in 1921 when he said: "the object of the science of literature is not literature, but literariness -that is, that which makes a given work a work of literature" .

Initially the Formalists emphasized the differences between literary language and non-literary language. They developed the concept of "defamiliarization". This concept is particularly associated with Shklovsky who stated in his 1917 "Art as Technique" that: "the technique of art is to make objects unfamiliar, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artful...