Yury Tynyanov and the ‘Literary Fact’

Avril Pyman

in Mapping Lives

Published by British Academy

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780197263181
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734595 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Centenary Monographs

Yury Tynyanov and the ‘Literary Fact’

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Russian Formalist theory argued that biography should be studied scientifically as the history of form, rather than as a history of personalities, ideas, or content. In other words, the study of literature is not philosophy, sociology, theology, or mythology, but an exact science of the primary matter of text: the word, the language, the speech, and the stylistic device. Biographies of authors were thought of as belonging to the separate ‘series’ parallel to the evolution of literature. However, in practice, the lives and times of the writers were often found not so much to run parallel to as to be contingent upon the texts they produce, in a way that made it increasingly difficult to preserve the clinical purity of the ‘science’ of literature. Hence, to deal with this, Formalists formulated new terms such as ‘literary facts’ and ‘literary milieu’. This chapter discusses Yury Tynyanov, who sought to distinguish his books about the writers' lives from his ‘scientific’ works of theory and research by writing them in the form of novels that were closely associated with film scenarios and historical fiction. It examines his Pushkin, an unfinished biography that culminated his achievements and which marked the beginning of the merging of literary-historical research, biography, and fiction.

Keywords: Russian Formalist theory; history of form; history of personalities; study of literature; science of literature; Formalists; literary facts; literary milieu; Yury Tynyanov

Chapter.  8302 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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