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Class 8 Notes

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Saved by Alan Liu
on January 30, 2014 at 1:24:03 pm

Preliminary Class Business




       Readings from Russian Formalism:

(in required book: Lemon & Reis, ed., Russian Formalist Criticism)  


  • Victor Shklovsky, "Art as Technique" (1917)
  • Boris Eichenbaum, "The Theory of the 'Formal Method'" (1926) 
  • Boris Tomashevsky, from "Thematics" (1925): read only pp. 66-87, 92-95 



Principles of Russian Formalism


Comparison of New Criticism & Russian Formalism


(A). Differentia Specifica


(B). Defamiliarization ("ostraneniye")


  • Victor Shklovsky, "Art as Technique" (1917)
    • (p. 12): "And so life is reckoned as nothing.  Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war.  'If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been.'  And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.  The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.  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 artfulness of an object; the object is not important."


    • Shklovsky quoted in Eichenbaum's "Theory of the Formal Method" (p. 112):  "We do not experience the commonplace, we do not see it; rather, we recognize it.  We do not see the walls of our room; and it is very difficult for us to see errors in proofreading, especially if the material is written in a language we know well, because we cannot force ourselves to see, to read, and not to 'recognize' the familiar word.  If we have to define specifically 'poetic' perception and artistic perception in general, then we suggest this definition: 'Artistic' perception is that perception m which we experience form--perhaps not form alone. but certainly form."



(C). The Motif


  • Story (fabula)   vs.   Plot (sjuzet)


  • Boris Tomashevsky, from "Thematics" (1925)


    • (p. 68): "Mutually related motifs form the thematic bonds of the work.  From this point of view, the story is the aggregate of motifs in their logical, causal-chronological order; the plot is the aggregate of those same motifs but having the relevance and the order which they had in the original work. . . .  [T]he aesthetic function of the plot is precisely this bringing of an arrangement of motifs to the attention of the reader."


    • (p. 67): "After reducing a work to its thematic elements, we come to parts that are irreducible, the smallest particles of thematic material: 'evening comes,' 'Raskolnikov kills the old woman,' 'the hero dies,' 'the letter is received,' and so on.  The theme of an irreducible part of a work is called the motif; each sentence, in fact, has its own motif."


    • (p. 78): "The system of motifs comprising the theme of a given work must show some kind of artistic unity.  If the individual motifs, or a complex of motifs, are not sufficiently suited to the work, if the reader feels that the relationship between certain complexes of motifs and the work itself is obscure, then that complex is said to be superfluous.  If all parts of the work are badly suited to one another, the work is incoherent.  That is why the introduction of each separate motif or complex of motifs must be motivated.  The network of devices justifying the introduction of individual motifs or of groups of motifs is called motivation."


  • Other materials for discussion:
    • Heinrich Wölfflin, Principles of Art History: The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art, trans. M. D. Hottinger (1932; rpt. New York: Dover, 1950) [originally pub. 1915]
    • Alfred Hitchcock

(D). Structure (or System)


  • Window screen analogy
  • Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale (1928), pp. 92-93
  • Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1949)
  • Chess game analogy





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