Russian formalism

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The Russian formalism is a school of literary theory that originated around 1915 , but was suppressed as early as 1930 for ideological reasons. The teaching and methodology of the Russian formalism can be described as an early expression of the structuralism founded by Ferdinand de Saussure .

In a literary and scientific situation in which hermeneutical , biographical or psychological methods of interpretation were applied to literary texts at random , the Russian formalists decided to focus exclusively on the literary text itself, the literary fact . The core question of her work was: What makes a literary work of art such, what is the literary or poetic nature of a linguistic work of art?

This was a decisive step in the direction of modern literary theories, because it was no longer a question of what a literary work of art was, i.e. the criteria that are used to canonize literature. Rather, the Russian formalists investigated how literary texts were “made”; they were interested in the various processes with which literary texts are produced. In doing so, they analyzed the various processes of “alienation” and found that such processes draw the reader's attention away from the content or the meaning to the “made-up” of the text itself. They therefore saw the process of alienation as a constitutive principle of construction for literary texts and described this autoreflective dimension of linguistic works of art as their “poetic function”. An important concept that arose in this context is that of literary evolution , which goes back to Viktor Schklowski and Juri Tynyanow .

In the Russian formalism, special forms of semantic, phonetic or structural oppositions were examined, which, as a kind of subtext, determine the meaning of literary texts. These oppositional structures were then carefully researched, especially in structuralism.

The Russian formalists have also dealt intensively with the medium of film .

The Soviet doctrine of socialist realism put an end to the ideologically inconsistent Russian formalism in the early 1930s. Approaches to formalism were continued in the Prague literary structuralism .


Important representatives of Russian formalism were Viktor Schklowski , Wladimir Propp , Boris Eichenbaum , Juri Tynjanow , who was also a writer , and Roman Jakobson , who emigrated to Prague in 1920 and later to the USA .


  • Victor Erlich: Russian formalism. 1st edition, Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp 1973 ISBN 3-518-07621-3
  • Jurij Striedter (Ed.): Russian formalism. Texts on general literary theory and on the theory of prose. 3. Edition. Munich 1971. ISBN 3-825-20040-X
  • Poetics of the film , ed. by Wolfgang Beilenhoff, German first edition of the film-theoretical texts of the Russian formalists with an afterword and notes. Munich: Fink Verlag, 1974
  • Aage A. Hansen-Löve: The Russian formalism. Methodological reconstruction of its development from the principle of alienation. Vienna 1978. ISBN 3-7001-0251-8
  • Yuri Tynyanow, On the basics of film . In: Franz-Josef Albersmaier, texts on the theory of film. 3. through and exp. Edition. Stuttgart: Reclam 1998. pp. 138-171 ISBN 3-150-09943-9