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The Bloomsbury Companion to Stylistics

The Bloomsbury Companion to Stylistics

Author: Violeta Sotirova

Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic


Publish Date: November 19, 2015

ISBN-10: 1441160051

Pages: 744

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Stylistics as a movement within linguistics was the product of a number of intellectual pursuits which converged in Middle- and Eastern-European philological circles in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The Jena School of Romance Philology, led by Meyer-Lübke, trained two of the finest philologists involved in inaugurating the discipline of stylistics in Germany: Leo Spitzer (1948) and Karl Vossler (1932). The French linguist and student of Saussure, Charles Bally, extended Saussurean Structuralism to include in it a theory of style (1909). But by far the most significant influence on modern stylistics is the work of the Russian Formalists.

The theoretical foundations of modern stylistics were laid by the Russian Formalists and Czech Structuralists, working at a time, at the beginning of the twentieth century, marked by incredible intellectual activity. Although Erlich deems ‘the beginnings of Russian Formalism’ to have been ‘anything but spectacular’ (1980: 63), the ideas of these young scholars about the nature of literature were subsequently exported to America and Western Europe by Roman Jakobson, and they formed the basis of such influential movements as French Structuralism. Moreover, these ideas still underlie much of the theoretical discourse of those disciplines concerned with the study of literature. The non-spectacular character of the two circles in which Russian Formalism originates – the Moscow Linguistic Circle, founded in 1915 with Jakobson as its most prominent junior member, and the Petersburg Opojaz (Obščestvo izučenija poetičeskogo jazyka [Society for the study of poetic language]), founded in 1914 with Šklovsky, Èjxenbaum and Tynjanov as most prominent members – was due to the fact that they ‘were at first simply small discussion groups, where young philologists exchanged ideas on fundamental problems of literary theory’ (Erlich 1980: 63–4).

The question that prompted the stirring up of activity, the theoretical articles and debates that occupied these scholars, was the question of what literature was, or rather, as redefined by Jakobson, the question of what ‘literariness’ was: ‘The object of study in literary science is not literature but “literariness,” that is what makes a given work a literary work’ (Jakobson 1921; cited in Èjxenbaum 2002[1927]: 36). The characteristic aim from the very start was ‘to create an autonomous discipline of literary studies based on the specific properties of literary material’ (Èjxenbaum 2002[1927]: 4).

And the answer to the question of ‘literariness’ that led to the foundation of the discipline of stylistics (or, as the Formalists called it, poetics) was that literature could not be defined in any other way but by its linguistic make-up. Literature, for the Russian Formalists, was made of language, and this claim remained influential for decades to come: ‘[t]he novelist’s medium is language: whatever he does, qua novelist, he does in and through language’ (Lodge 1984: ix). Its definition, therefore, had to focus, first of all, on what literary language was. This, of course, could only be done in relation to other kinds of language, or in Èjxenbaum’s words, as a sort of ‘methodological procedure’ during which ‘the opposition between “poetic” language and “practical” language’ had to be established (Èjxenbaum 2002[1927]: 8).

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