International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy

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Towards the formalist dimension of war, or how Viktor Šklovskij used to be a soldier

Jan Levčenko

pp. 89-100

Viktor Šklovskij, the famous Russian literary theorist, and the founder of Russian Formalist School, published his first books in 1914, when World War I had just started. One of them consisted of the futuristic essay, Resurrection of the Word, first presented in December, 1913, and devoted to the problem of the death and resurrection of literature through the use of transrational language (in Russian ZAUM, i. e. beyond, or trans-sense). Another book, entitled The Saturnine Fate, concerned archaic prose poetry devoted to the war that had just begun. Šklovskij borrows an official military rhetoric and changes its accents, turning it into an instrument of pacifism. It should be stressed that 1914 was the same year the new Formalist theory started growing, reaching a first intellectual peak in 1916 when the key Šklovskij essay, Art as Device, was published. At the same time, Šklovskij had been drafted into the army, and war became a fruitful background for this emerging theory. Šklovskij first served as an instructor in the armored car division; following the February 1917 bourgeois revolution he was actively involved in agitation for the Provisional Government as a commissar, first on the Western front, then later on the Southern front. After the Russian bourgeois revolution of 1917, as events grew out of control, the explosion of history required simultaneous reflection. Šklovskij began writing memoirs long before he reached old age, based on his own conception of the genre. A war depicted in a book with the intertextual title Sentimental Journey is reconstructed here as a mechanism paralleled principally with the automobile; a means of transport to be handled with care. In the first part of the book, the war is seen as having a specific order of things, as opposed to a revolution which follows more the path of chaos. However, throughout his journey, Šklovskij observes the logic of events and concludes that the processes of war and revolution do not stand opposed, but instead have a consequential relationship.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11212-014-9201-6

Full citation:

Levčenko, J. (2014). Towards the formalist dimension of war, or how Viktor Šklovskij used to be a soldier. Studies in East European Thought 66 (1-2), pp. 89-100.

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