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  • Author: Serge Tchougounnikov x
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This paper argues that Russian Formalism is to be considered a constitutive part of the international empiriocritical movement—Ernst Mach (1838—1916) and Richard Avenarius’s (1843—1896). The conceptual parallelism between Empiriocriticism and Formalism is striking indeed. Thus, the cornerstones of the empiriocritical approach—the concept of series [Reihe] and the concept of elements [Elemente], understood as sensations [Empfindungen]—are plainly recognizable within formalist theories: the notion of ‘series’ (for example, the notion of ‘literary series’ or ‘poetic series’, leading to the famous concept of ‘literariness’, literaturnost’) and the very formalist idea of a necessarily perceptible character of aesthetic form are only two, most famous, examples of this astonishing affinity. Here are some of the most striking convergences between Empiriocriticism and Formalism: the relativity of any knowledge; continuity between knowledge and perception; the pragmatic dominant; the leitmotif of ‘the Unsalvageable Ego’. Besides, the paper seeks to situate Russian Formalism within European Aesthetic German-speaking Formalism. This kind of formalism formulates some basic oppositions correlated to different types of forming being associated with specific means and specific formal devices to affect them. In this context, particular morphological features result in producing particular feelings conceived in the spatial or syntactic perspective. From its German-speaking analogue, Russian Formalism has inherited this relational and spatial definition of feelings and, largely speaking, of emotionality within art. Indeed, both formalisms treat emotion as a ‘non-subjective’, ‘kinetic’, ‘syntactic’ phenomenon located on the surface of aesthetic objects.


German–Austrian psychology is a direct source of the European formalism movement both in the German context (Germany, Austria) as well as in Russia. This interest of the formalists in the corporeal component of linguistic and literary production has resulted in a particular research stream, which could be defined as a ‘linguo-somatic orientation’. In particular, this is the case of Alois Riegl’s [1] perceptive ‘tactile–optical’ method; Adolf von Hildebrand’s [2] architectonic conception; Konrad Fiedler’s [3] ‘sensorial aesthetics’; W. Wölfflin’s [4] ‘basic concepts’ of the art history, W. Worringer’s [5] psychological arts typology as well as Oskar Walzel’s sound-corporeal poetics elaborated during 1920 [6]. Within Russian formalism, psychological notions (such as ‘representation’, ‘sensation’, ‘apperception’, ‘series’, ‘clear and dark zones of consciousness’, ‘verbal gestures’ and ‘sound gestures’) are fundamental in nearly all the formalist conceptions (Viktor Šklovskij, Evgenij Polivanov, Lev Jakubinskij, Osip Brik, Boris Eixenbaum and Jurij Tynianov). This psychological background constitutes a rather heterogeneous constellation composed of psychological aesthetics and psychological linguistics of the second half of the 19th century. Independently of its intrinsic theoretical values, the formalist way of thinking about language and literature is based on the implicit dominance of psychology, which takes its sense only with respect to the German cognitive tradition, appropriated by the Geisteswissenschaften of this time. In this respect, European formalism participates in the large movement of psychologisation of the humanities. To this extent, the case of Russian formalism is really representative: it invites the rethinking of the genealogy of European structuralism in general. This accumulation of conceptual tools borrowed from the German psychological tradition also reveals a cognitive charge of the formalist theories. The latter constitute a conceptual link between the properly psychological past of the European Geisteswissenschaften and the ‘cognitive’ future of the actual research programmes. Beyond the borrowing of conceptual tools from the psychological trend, the formal method has found in psychology its inspiration for producing new models of analysis. This intrinsically cognitivist dimension of the formalist programme explains its late success during the 1950s–1960s, the period often and abusively called the period of the cognitivist revolution. In reality, it deals with the re-emergence of the research programme of the cognitivist sciences, rather exhaustively formulated by the German psychological tradition..