And Why Is It Now Dead?

Tihanov, Galin 2004. Why Did Modern Literary Theory Originate In Central And Eastern Europe? (And Why Is It Now Dead?). Common Knowledge 10(1): 61-81.

In retrospect, one can locate literary theory within a period of some eighty years, from its inception in the late 1910s until perhaps the early 1990s. The beginnings of the discipline were marked by the activities of the Russian Formalists. Wolfgang Iser's turn in the late 1980s from reception theory and phenomenology of reading to what he called "literary anthropology" presaged the end of literary theory per se, and the death of Yuri Lotman in 1993 confirmed it. Lotman had in any case come gradually to embrace semiotics as a global theory of culture rather than a narrowly conceived theory of literature. (Tihanov 2004: 61)
Literary theory died with Juri Lotman? // After reading the whole paper it's clear that what Tihanov means by "literary theory per se" and "a narrowly conceived theory of literature" is formalist-structuralist theory of literature, that is, a tradition beginning in 1910 and "dying down", as it were, in the eorly 1990s.
There were, in Germany, earlier attempts to take an autonomous approach to art, but these involved music and the visual arts rather than literature. Heinrich Wölfflin's dream of a history of art without names was echoed in Osip Brik's belief that, had Pushkin never existed, Eugene Onegin would have written itself. (Tihanov 2004: 61)
The translator of one of Shklovsky's texts, Jaan Ross (in Väljataga ed. 2014. Kirjandus kui selline), notes that this was a joke with reference to Joseph Jacob's estimation (in "Some Recent Utterances of Mr. Newell and Mr. Jacobs. A Criticism". Folklore 4(3): 434-350): "a story of twelve incidents could only occur casually with the same order of incidents in two different places once in 479,001,599 times; in other words, it is, roughly speaking, five hundred million to one against its thus occurring alike by chance in two different places." (Jacobs 1893: 280) In brief, it was not Osip Brik's belief that Eugene Onegin would have written itself eventually, it was just a contemporary scholarly pun. // Also, for Eugene Onegin to "occur" again "in a different place" implies that Eugene Onegin must first exist.
By the 1970s, however, there were clear signals, particularly in the writings of the Tartu School, that literary theory would itself try (in an increasingly ambitious union with semiotics) to assume the role of a general theory of culture, though success would mean by definition the end of literary theory proper. (Tihanov 2004: 62-63)
How? Does semiotics of culture really overtake all of literary theory? I tend to see cultural semiotics as a development of formalist literary theory towards other fields of culture. I don't see how this impinges on the autonomy of literary theory or necessitates its demise.
The abandonment of literary theory in favor of projects in semiotics as a form of cultural theory (Lotman), and in favor of forays into philosophical anthropology (Iser), were symptoms of ill health and of a decline in self-sufficiency. The main cause of these transformations was the changing status of literature and its consumption in a postindustrial society, increasingly globalized and dependent on an incessant flow of information and image-based communication. (Tihanov 2004: 63)
It may be true that literature itself changed, but Tihanov seems to neglect the social conditions that brought about the demise of Opojaz and the Prague Linguistic Circle - namely, soviet power and the mandatory turn towards soviet realism in 1934.
Over the past two decades, the economy of leisure has also changed dramatically, especially in the more affluent West: depersonalized and mediated but commercially successful forms of entertainment make the experience of private reading ever more demanding by comparison. (Tihanov 2004: 63)
What a nice unsubstantiated claim. I don't know how to measure leisurely book reading, but according to UNESCO statistics the number of book published per year has gone from 250,000 in 2002 to 2.2 million this year thus far (and we're only half-way through this year). // Also, one could argue that with the "democratization" of literature (self-publishing and what-have-you) literature has become, on the contrary, less demanding (but, here, compared with older literature, not with other forms of entertainment and leisure).
Indeed, the supposed advances in literary theory in its second "golden age," in the 1960s and 1970s, were hardly more than elaborations and variations on themes, problems, and solutions played out in the interwar period in Central and Eastern Europe. (Tihanov 2004: 64)
I just perused through The Slavic and East European Journal issues from the 1970s and noticed that a few papers started paying attention to nonverbal communication and symbolism. This is a topic that could hardly have been touched in the 1910s and 20s.
The weight of phenomenology varied from environment to environment. Its influence was of the first importance for Ingarden, but less systematic and powerful on Russian Formalism, where Gustav Shpet was the main intermediary between German phenomenology and the Formalists; nor was the impact of phenomenology especially strong on the Prague Circle. Jakobson was the one clear exception in both schools. His theory of rhythm and verse was underwritten by a phenomenological understanding of "poetical time" as "time of expectation" (Erwartungszeit), a concept forged on the frontier of phenomenology and German psychology. (Tihanov 2004: 72)
I have yet to read anything by Špet, though his relation with phenomenology has been noted - Jakobson (1985[1979b]: 281) called Špet "Husserl's disciple". I wonder if this Erwartungszeit has anything to do with the notion of frustrated expectations.
Poetic synesthesia, which interested Richards, was said to mobilize all human faculties and contribute to improving "intimate relations with other human beings." Even when Richards moved to Harvard and, in his later years there, experienced the influence of Jakobson, he never embraced the notion of a "poetic function" separating literature from other discourses. (Tihanov 2004: 78)
Could I. A. Richards have influenced John Cowper Powys?
References from footnotes:
  • Osip Brik, "The So-Called Formal Method," in Formalist Theory, ed. Lawrence Michael O'Toole and Ann Shukman, Russian Poetics in Translation, vol. 4 (Colchester: University of Essex, 1977).
  • Peter Steiner, "The Roots of Structuralist Esthetics," in The Prague School: Selected Writings, 1929-1946, ed. Steiner (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982), 174-219.
  • Endre, Bojtar, Slavic Structuralism (Amsterdam: J. Benjamins, 1985).
  • Jurij Striedter, Literary Structure, Evolution, and Value: Russian Formalism and Czech Structuralism Reconsidered (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).
  • Lubomir Doležel, Occidental Poetics: Tradition and Progress (Lincoln: University of Nebraska PRess, 1990).
  • Krystyna Pomorska, "The Autobiography of a Scholar," in Language, Poetry and Poetics: The Generation of the 1980s - Jakobson, Trubetzkoy, Majakovskij, ed. Pomorska et al. (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1987).
  • Ladislav Matejka, "Jakobson's Response to Saussure's Cours," in Jakobson entre l'Est et l'Ouest (1815-1939): Un episode de l'histoire de la culture europeenne, ed. Froncois Gadet and Patrick Seriot, Cabiers de l'ILSL., no. 9 (Lausanne: University of Lausanne, 1997).
  • Roy Harris, "Jakobson's Saussure," in Saussure and His Interpreters (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001), 94-108.
  • Heda Jason and Dmitrii Segal, "Precursors of Propp: Formalist Theories of Narrative in Early Russian Ethnopoetics," PTL 2 (1977): 471-516.
  • Doležel, "Structuralism of the Prague Circle," in From Formalism to Poststructuralism, ed. Roman Selden, vol. 8 of The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
  • Carol Any, Boris Eikhenbaum: Voices of a Russian Formalist (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994).
  • Jakobson, "Yuri Tynjanov in Prague," in The Problem of Verse Language, by Yuri Tynjanov, ed. and trans. Michael Sosa and Brent Harvey (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1981), 135-40.
  • Milada Souckova, "The Prague Linguistic Circle: A Collage," in Sound, Sign, and Meaning: Quinquagenary of the Prague Linguistic Circle, ed. Matejka (Ann Arbor: Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan, 1976).
  • František Galan, Historic Structures: The Prague School Project, 1928-1946 (London: Croom Helm, 19885).
  • [For a brief account of Shpet's role, see] Douwe Fokkema, "Continuity and Change in Russian Formalism, Czech Structuralism, and Soviet Semiotics," PTL 1 (1976): 153-96, esp. 164-65.
  • [On the Prague Linguistic Circle and phenomenology, see] Oleg Sus, "On the Genetic Preconditions of Czech Structuralist Semiology and Semantics: An Essay on Czech and German Thought," Poetics 4 (1972): 28-54, esp. 30.
  • Elmar Holenstein, Roman Jakobson's Approach to Language: Phenomenological Structuralism, trans. Catherine Schelbert and Tarisius Schelbert (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976).
  • Tihanov, "Viktor Shklovskii and Georg Lukacs in the 1930s," Slavonic and East European Review 78.1 (2000: 44-65.
  • Christopher Pike, "Introduction: Russian Formalism and Futurism," in The Futurists, the Formalists, and the Marxist Critique, ed. Pike (London: Ink Links, 1979): 1-38.
  • I. A. Richards, Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment (1929; reprint, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1966).


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