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Jan Levchenko: Disappearing Formalism: Figures of Compensation in Victor Shklovsky’s Prose of the Early 1930s

The present paper is devoted to Viktor Shklovsky’s ironic reflection on his well-known penitential article “Monument to a Scientific Error” (1930), in which he ritually renounced his basic Formalist ideas. Soon after this opportunistic deed he published two significant books – “A Hunt for Optimism”, written in his usual combination of prose, criticism and scholarliness, and “A Tale on Shadows” – a parable for a children’s audience. Though incomparable in scope, the books both demonstrated the new writing strategy of the former Formalist. His discourse became winding, vague and ambiguous due to the rhetorical gestures that the new political context demanded he use to hide the theoretical work. Actually Shklovsky had not turned away from his path of ironical self-estrangement, as can be seen in his autobiographical novels after “Sentimental Journey”(1923). Indeed he intended to adopt the new historical challenge and was secure in his knowledge of literary techniques. He failed to notice only one thing – that the newest trends exclude any possibility of theory. The two aforementioned books illustrate the dramatic struggle with the former analytical “self” that the former theorist was soon forced to demonstrate.