Viktor Shklovsky  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky (Saint Petersburg, 24 January, 1893; Moscow, 6 December 1984) was a Russian and Soviet critic, writer, and pamphleteer.

Life and work

He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and attended St. Petersburg University. During the war, he served as a Commissar in the Russian army, as described in his memoirs, Sentimental'noe puteshestvie, vospominaniia (A Sentimental Journey).

He was the founder of the OPOYAZ (Obshchestvo izucheniya POeticheskogo YAZyka—Society for the Study of Poetic Language), one of the two groups, with the Moscow Linguistic Circle, which developed the critical theories and techniques of Russian Formalism.

In addition to literary criticism and biographies about such authors as Laurence Sterne, Maxim Gorky, Leo Tolstoy, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, he wrote a number of semi-autobiographical works disguised as fiction.

Shklovsky developed the concept of ostranenie or defamiliarization in literature. He explained this idea as follows:

"The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important." (Shklovsky, "Art as Technique", 12)

In other words, art presents things in a new, unfamiliar light by way of formal manipulation. This is what is artful about art.

Shklovsky's work pushes Russian Formalism towards understanding literary activity as integral parts of social practice, an idea that becomes important in the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Russian and Prague School scholars of semiotics.

He died in Moscow in 1984.


In English, by Viktor Shklovsky:

  • A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922 (1923, translated in 1970)
  • Zoo, or Letters Not About Love (1923, translated in 1971)
  • Mayakovsky and his circle (1941, translated in 1972)
  • Third Factory (1926, translated in 1979)
  • Theory of Prose (1925, translated in 1990)
  • Leo Tolstoy (1963, translated in 1996)
  • Knight's Move (1923, translated in 2005)
  • Energy of Delusion: A Book on Plot (1981, translated in 2007)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Viktor Shklovsky" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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