GS's Literary and Theatre Theory

Tihanov, Galin 2007. Gustav Shpet's Literary and Theatre Theory. CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 9(4): Article 3..

In an article on the history of the Moscow Linguistic Circle written in November 1976 for The Short Literary Encyclopaedia (Kratkaia literaturnaia entsiklopediia), but only published twenty years later, Roman Jakobson nated that Shpet's phenomenology of language left "an evident mark on the evolution of the Circle in the concluding phase of its life" (Jakobson, "Moskovskii" 367); elsewhere, he praised Shpet's important role as an "outstanding philosopher of Husserl's scheel" (Jakobson, "Example" 534), whom Husserl himself considered "one of his most remarkable students" (Jakobson, "Retrospect" 713; Jakobson also recalled that Shpet had urged him to acquaint himself with the ideas of Anton Marty). After Jakobson's departure for Estonia and then Prague in 1920, Shpet's (and later, through him, GAKhN's) influence became gradually so overpowering that it led to the split of the Circle in mid-1922 (Nikolaev 228). (Tihanov 2007: 2)
This refutes my guess that Jakobson read Marty in Prague and due to acquaintance with other Prague thinkers.
On 4 April 1920 Shpet participated in a most intriguing discussion on plat ['siuzhet'], where he and Betr Bogatyrev sided with Vinokur's insistence on the essentially verbal (slovesnaia) nature of plot, against Osip Brik's suggestion that in painting and sculpture plots of a non-verbal character are possible (Shapir 299-300). This discussion bears an early testimony to Shpet's belief in language as the provider of a universal semiotic code that enables the processes of translation and expression between different sign systems (literature, painting, sculpture etc.; Shpet advances this idea most comprehensively in his article "Literatura" which was drafted in the mid-1920s as an entry for GAKhN's Dictionary of Artistic Terms [Slovar' khudozhestvennykh terminov]). (Tihanov 2007: 2)
This refutes my guess that Jakobson read Marty in Prague and due to acquaintance with other Prague thinkers.
Of particular significance is the second instalment of the Aesthetic Fragments, where Shpet offered the first Russian definition of poetics as grammar: "Poetics in the broad sense is the grammar of paetic language and poetic thought" (Shpet, "Esteticheskie" 408; unless indicated otherwise, all translations are mine; emphasis in the original). This initially metaphorical use of "grammar" was later taken up be Roman Jakobson in the late 1950s and the early 1960s in his well-known programme for the study of the "Poetry of grammar and [the] grammar of poetry," where "grammar," purified from Shpet's reference to "poetic thought," evolved from a metaphorical to a term with distinct scope and content. Significantly, in the same place Shpet also speaks for the first time of the "poetic" (rather than simply aesthetic) "function of the word," thus foreshadowing Jakobson's later authoritative emphasis on the poetic function of language. (Tihanov 2007: 3)
This refutes my guess that Jakobson read Marty in Prague and due to acquaintance with other Prague thinkers.
The structure is a concrete construction whose individual parts can vary in 'size' (v razmere) and even in quality, but not a single part of the whole in potentia can be removed without destroying this whole (Shpet, "Esteticheskie" 382). The system, on the other hand, is a set of structures where each structure preserves its own particularity. The biological organism - Shpet's example - is precisely such "a system of structures," where each structure (bones, nerves, blood vessels etc.) remains concrete and distincti. This differentiation between structure and system was welcomed by some linguists in the 1920s, notably by Viktor Vinogradov (265) who read into Shpet's argument a privileging of the notion of structure (depth) over that of system (horizontality), and - by extension - of the paradigmatic approach over the syntagmatic. (Tihanov 2007: 3)
Finally an clear statement about what is systematic about a system: in contrast with structure, the system accommodates change, displacement and modification without ceasing to be a system, but continuing to function as a system.
Despite the pioneering suggestion of a difference between the poetic and the aesthetic function of language, Shpet remained interested mainly in the latter. He denied poetry - and literature in general - their special status as sole exponents of discursive figurativeness bestowed upon them by the Formalists. And although both in the Aesthetic Fragments and in the Introduction to Ethnic Psychology, he opposed resolutely the psychological interpretation of the image (as practiced by Potebnia), Shpet nonetheless sought to explain the image as hovering between the object and the idea; he endeavoured to clarify its relations to the inner form of the word, to its logical and ontological dimensions. (Tihanov 2007: 4)
Alas Shpet was knowledgeable about Potebnia's distinction but elaborated it to accommodate new approaches. Much like Shpet replaced poetic word or language with poetic function, Tynjanov replaced Anton Marty's "semantica" with "function" (e.g. auto- and synfunction instead of auto- and synsemantica).
Formulated as early as 1917 in his essay "Mudrost' ili razum?" ("Wisdom or Reason?"), Shpet's crucial concept of "inner form" harked back to Wilhelm von Humboldt's philosophy of language. It was sharpened in Shpet's work on the history and the current state of hermeneutics (in "The Hermeneutics and Its Problems," completed in 1918) and then occupied centre stage in both the Aesthetic Fragments and the Introduction to Ethnic Psychology, not to mention Shpet's 1927 monograph specifically dedicated to the inner form of the word. "Inner form," conveying the notion of a deefer semantic stability and thus positing a horizon of reliable interpretation, was also an important theoretical instruction in the research of Shpet's younger colleagues at GAKhN. In 1923, Shpet gave at GAKhN a paper on "The Concept of inner form in Wilhelm Humboldt," followed in 1924 by papers from Buslaev ("The Concept of Inner Form in Steinthal and Potebnia") and Keningsberg ("The Concept of Inner Form in Anton Marty"). (Tihanov 2007: 4)
But why then does the concept of "inner form" remain so cryptic - why are we unknowledgeable about its import today?
For Shpet "inner form" suggests, let us recall, a crucial evidence for the potential of art to produce serious, non-arbitrary versions of reality. The lack of "inner form" stands, more widely, for the lack of necessity and compelling direction in the work of art. (Tihanov 2007: 5)
Compare this to the formalist's insistence that the work of literary art is a lousy document (of everyday reality).
As a follower of Husserl and Humboldt, attempting a synthesis between phenomenology and hermeneutics, Shpet no doubt considered the Russian philosophical tradition to be lagging behind, deprived of adequate vocabulary, inarticulate, if not plain "dumb" (see the section "Neveglasie" in Shpet, "Ocherk"). Yet when it comes to literary and theatre theory rather than philosophy, Shpet was judged by many as in turn lagging behind; his neo-Humboldtianism, against the background of the radicalism of the Russian Formalists, earned him the reputation of a thinker who makes a virtue of arriving on the intellectual scene late rather than never. Viktor Vinogradov reports that the young supporters of Formalism at the Leningrad Institute of Art History (Gosudarstvennyi Institut Istorii Iskusstv) displayed a banner with words "Luchshe Shpet, chem nikogda" (literally, "better Shpet than never") to signal their sarcasm and distance from Shpet (see Vinogradov 265). The irony was not lost on those who knew that Shpet was a follower of German thought (see the German homophone spät [late] in the saying "besser spät als nie"). (Tihanov 2007: 6)
A nice little tidbit for the semiotics of names (nimesemiootika) and how a name can play the role of a noun or adverb.


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