Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Russian Formalism

Russian Formalism
Background: -
    Theme, historical background, facts and realities, personality and mind of author were regarded most important in analyzing any piece of literary work, for a long long time and language was considered as something of secondary importance.
          In twentieth century there arose two formalistic movements namely;
1: American                                               New Criticism     
2: Russian                                         Russian Formalism
          Both the movements share a lot of characteristics and are almost same in nature. Both of these movements talked about Formal aspects of literature, hence both are kept under the same tag “Formalism.” Both the movements started separately.
Russian Formalism: -     (Mid 1910s – 1930s)
          A school of literary criticism that originated during World War I, that flourished in the 1920s in the former Soviet Union. Its practitioners focussed on the Form (rather than Content) of any literary work. The movement met with the great deal of opposition. It ended in 1930s. Many practitioners of this movement left Russia and continued their work in other countries. Many other later movements are also related to Russian Formalism, for example, Structuralism, Post Structuralism and Deconstruction.
          Russian Formalism originally arose in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The two groups chiefly responsible for its theoretical development.

1: The Moscow Linguistic Circle: est. 1915
          Prominent member of this school was Roman Jakobson. The theorists of this school insisted on the differentiation between poetic and practical language.

2: St. Petersburg: OPOYAZ (the society for the poetic language) est. 1916
    Viktor Shklovsky was the prominent member of this school. The main interest of the members of this school was the general principles governing literature and distinguishing it from other forms of verb expression.        
          Both the schools have one element common, i.e., Language. There interest was in the Formal aspects of literature. This was a clear deviation from old concept in which Content was important, not Form. Formalists regarded theme, personality and mind of author, historical background, facts and realities, external things. They regarded Language more important and primary thing. They shifted the focus from content to text. They argued that literary language has a special function: to reinvigorate language. They viewed literary language as fundamentally different from everyday speech.
          This movement was;    
       Text Oriented Approach
        Linguistically Based Approach  
          Formalists were of the view that art is not a spokesman of historical background.

What is literature if it is not historical background?
          The essence of literature is Literariness. They believed that Literariness, by virtue of its capacity to overturn common and expected patterns, could rejuvenate language.

What is Literariness?
     Literariness is a feature that distinguishes literature from other human creations and is made of certain Artistic Techniques, or devices, employed in literary works.
          They regarded language as “use of technical devices” and literature, then, is the “total of technical devices.” A poem is the sum of poetic and technical devices.
          Literature is different from other disciplines, phenomenon, and activities where language is used, because literature uses language in a special and different way. Literature is a matter of use of language in a different way.
          The emphasis on Form and Literariness was accompanied by an interest in the literary devices that makes the Foregrounding- and therefore rejuvenation of language is possible.

    This term was coined by Viktor Shklovsky in 1917 in “Art as Technique”
          It means to see common things in an unfamiliar or strange way, in order to enhance perception of the familiar. The term used as a means to distinguish poetic from practical language. We get a fresh perception of Literature. Different use of language is important than to use it ordinarily.  Common things are taken and made different. When language is presented in a different and unusual way it changes social facts and realities.

          “Giving unusual prominence to one element or property of a text, relative to other less noticeable aspects.” Foregrounding, by Formalists, means drawing attention to how they say something rather than what they say. It is opposite of Background.

In the above drawn picture the straight vertical lines with less shadowed area represents Background, and the obliquely drawn lines with dark shadowed area represents Foregrounding, because it is represented in an unusual way to show it prominent.
          Literary devices were “deviation from everyday speech.” Formalists studied the special rhythmic patterns, syntax, structure, imagery that distinguish a literary work from other discourse.
          Language is foregrounded in literature to make it strange, unusual, and defamiliarized.
          The upright heart and pure…..
          Here in this line Milton broke normal writing rules and made the language foregrounded. In general practice the Noun always comes first then Adjective.

Famous Theorists of Russian Formalism:

v  Viktor Shklovsky:
He wrote an essay “Art as Technique” in 1917
v  Boris Eichenbaum or Eikhenbaum:
He wrote a book “How Gogol’s overcoat was made” in 1919
v  Tynyanov:
“The problem of verse language” in 1924
“On literary evolution” in 1927
v  Vladimir Propp:
“Morphology of folktale” in 1928
v  B. Tomashevsky:
“On verse” in 1929