Metaphors of Genre Inequality in Iurii Tynianov’s ‘The Literary Fact’

Robert Daly

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities (2013), pp. 10-18, doi:10.59860/wph.a16783a

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A contribution to: Fame and Glory

Edited by Jessica Goodman and Elizabeth Benjamin

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities 8

Modern Humanities Research Association


Abstract.  Iurii Tynianov was one of the leading figures in the Society for the Study of Poetic Language [OPOIAZ], a group of literary theorists and linguists founded in Petrograd around 1916, which constituted one of the two hubs of a movement now better known as Russian Formalism, the other being the Moscow Linguistic Circle. His principal interest as a theorist was the process that he termed ‘literary evolution’, which he explored in detail in his two major theoretical articles of the 1920s, ‘The Literary Fact’ (1924) and ‘On Literary Evolution’ (1927). In both of these articles, literary genre is the basic unit of analysis. This paper will focus on the representation of the inequality among literary genres, the unstable position of one genre relative to others, in the first of these articles, ‘The Literary Fact’. This first theoretical article, written during a period of relative calm for the Formalists, is much more digressive and suggestive than the second, ‘On Literary Evolution’, a condensed and tightly structured piece presented as a numbered list of theses. It therefore offers a more direct insight into the origins of Tynianov’s ideas.2 The aims of this approach are, first, to demonstrate that in ‘The Literary Fact’ Tynianov uses at least three different metaphors to represent the inequality among literary genres; secondly, to reveal, through an examination of the immediate context in which he uses them, that each of these metaphors is associated with a different theory of historical development; and, thirdly, to anchor this highly suggestive use of metaphor within the context of the development of Formalism. This approach raises broader questions both about the language of literary scholarship, which cannot be overlooked as a neutral means of expression, and about the multiplicity of extra-literary forces that determine literary inequalities.

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