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Roman Jakobson, linguistica e poetica

 | 
Edoardo Esposito
, 
Stefania Sini
, 
Marina Castagneto

Jakobson e il formalismo russo

Roman Jakobson and the Generation «that Squandered its Poets»

Andrei Ustinov

Texte intégral

 

  • 1 «Roman was theatrical in the best sense, raised as he was in the emotional Russian tradition of poe (...)

Roman was theatrical in the best sense, raised as he was in the emotional Russian tradition of poetry recitation.
George Siegel1

1At about 10 o’clock in the morning on April 14, 1930 the greatest Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky shot himself in the heart. The news of his suicide spread like wildfire, and Roman Jakobson, one of the poet’s closest friends in the last decade of his life heard about the calamity the next day in Prague, where he had settled since arriving there on July 10, 1920 as a translator for the first Soviet Red Cross Mission in Czechoslovakia.

2Within the Russian émigré milieu Mayakovsky’s name was more than notorious ‒ he served as the most striking expression of all that was wrong in post-revolutionary Russian poetry and Soviet letters in general. For the politics-obsessed émigrés Mayakovsky stood as nomen est odiosum. Ever since the 1920 slamming editorial Art Triumphant, published in the émigré press by the opinionated Alexei Tolstoy, who later returned to the Soviet Russia and was mockingly nicknamed ‘the Red Count’, Mayakovsky’s name had become synonymous as an artistic expression of Bolshevism as the scourge of the times. Despite being keenly interested in political battles even while far away from Soviet Russia, Russian émigrés unanimously preferred to confuse Mayakovsky’s politics with his poetry, boycotting his visits to Berlin, Paris and New York, and allowing critics to write nasty things on every occasion.

3Thus the common reaction to his passing was equally political, turning Mayakovsky’s suicide into a cautionary tale of the complete demise of the Soviets, most popular sentiments being: «Serves him right for siding with the Bolsheviks! Anyway, he was a Communist versifier, not a poet». Nowhere through the political din, it seemed, could a genuinely non-political, literary, or simply human response be heard: one of Russia’s greatest poets was now silenced forever, and the world was poorer for it.

4In contrast to Paris and Berlin, the two capitals of Russia Abroad, a more tolerant and much less politicized Prague displayed a heart-broken sadness and genuine empathy. The magazine «The Will of Russia» («Воля России»), not exactly pro-Soviet but less narrow-minded than more influential émigré publications, printed a magnificent poetic obituary To Mayakovsky by Marina Tsvetaeva. She responded with a tragic clarity and her timeliness was exquisite, since Tsvetaeva knew exactly what that death meant, writing to her friend and confidante Anna Teskóva, Mayakovsky’s occasional translator into Czech, less than a week after the suicide, on April 21st:

  • 2 Marina Tsvetaeva, Sobr. soch. v 7 tt., T. 6: Pis’ma, Moskwa, Ellis-Lak, 1995, p. 386. Unless noted, (...)

‒ Бедный Маяковский! (Ваш „сфинкс“.) Чистая смерть. Всё, всё, всё дело ‒ в чистоте...2
‒ Poor Mayakovsky! (Your ‘sphynx’.) A clean death. Everything, everything, everything is about cleanliness...

  • 3 From Jakobson’s letter to Kruchenykh (Jan-Feb, 1914) regarding poems sent or the collection: «Если (...)

5For Jakobson, a poetic tribute however authentic and timely it may have been, was not a sufficient answer. To respond to the poet’s death in verse one had to be a poet of a comparable magnitude to Mayakovsky and Tsvetaeva, and no such poet existed. Jakobson himself had abandoned writing poetry after his brief stint with Alexei Kruchenykh, the mad clown of Russian futurism who had included two of Jakobson’s pieces as R. Aliagrov in his Transrational Boog ‒ renamed from original Masturbation («Онанизм»)3 in a belated response to Marinetti’s Zang Tumb Tuum.

  • 4 Kazimir Malevich, From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism, in Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theor (...)

6Being a scholar Jakobson went further by sending requests for contributions to a book in memory of Mayakovsky that would, on the one hand, establish once and for all his undeniable significance for the development of Russian poetry in the 20th Century; and on the other hand, show the Russian-speaking world in both the Soviet Union and the Diaspora, as well as the Russian-reading world in general, the Real Mayakovsky, in the sense in which Kazimir Malevich contended that the ‘real’ meant the actual, present and defining human existence hic et nunc in terms of the cultural sphere, with its call for the «breakup and violation of cohesion»4 to advance the comprehension of reality.

  • 5 Umberto Eco, Il pensiero semiotico di Jakobson, in Roman Jakobson, Lo sviluppo della semiotica, Mil (...)

7Borrowing a term from an artistic manifesto was nothing new for Jakobson, as he insisted that any literary innovation originates with an artistic shift in perception, as had happened with Futurism, Dada, or Poésie transmental (заумь). As Umberto Eco neatly remarked, while discussing Jakobson’s 1919 piece on Futurism, both Italian and Russian, «Jakobson ha sempre parlato del linguaggio verbale in riferimento ad altri fenomeni comunicativi. Molto presto il suo orizzonte di indagine si estende dall’espressione poetica alla pittura (1919)».5 In his study of poetics Jakobson observed poetry as ut pictura poesis (as is painting so is poetry) openly postulating that in his groundbreaking Notes on the Prose of the Poet Pasternak (Randbemerkungen zur Prosa des Dichters Pasternak):

  • 6 «Die Überwindung der Grundlagen des Symbolismus begann in der Malerei, und eben diese hat in der An (...)

The overcoming of the main principles of Symbolism began in painting, indeed, painting occupied a dominant position in the initial period of Futurist Art. Later, with the discovery of the signifying nature of Art, Poetry would turn out to be a model path for artistic innovation. This tendency to identify the relation of Art to Poetry is expressed by all the poets of the Futurist Generation.6

8The word Generation is paramount here, as it becomes a unifying concept in the article that Jakobson would write for the collection in Mayakovsky’s memory himself: On a Generation That Squandered Its Poets (ОПоколении, растратившемсвоихпоэтов). This concept will embrace separate ideas that Jakobson nourished on the verge of the 1930s, and will streamline the interrelations between avant-garde Art, non-conventional Poetry, and the Generation that gave clarity in the New Vision of the 20th Century and gave it a clean artistic and literary expression. Jakobson described how he achieved such theoretical and emotional serendipity in this article in a letter to one of his most keen students, Hugh McLean, dated October 1, 1976:

  • 7 Hugh McLean, Smert’ Vladimira Maiakovskogo, «Slavic Review», 36, March 1977, p. 155.

Dear Hugh,
Thanks for your appreciation of my pages of long ago, about which [Osip] Mandel’shtam once said ‘Biblical words’ and Lilia Brik, ‘You perceived what no one noticed.’
Mayakovsky’s perdition shook me to my bones with its unexpected realization of something long foreseen. In letters that followed from Elsa Triolet (with the opening words ‘They bungled’) and from Erenburg, there was talk of the frenzied hounding and unendurable spiritual isolation of M[ayakovs]ky in the last phase of his life. I felt it my duty to say something about the ruined generation; and I wrote, completely shutting myself away for several days, I wrote without interruption. When I has finished, I called together some Russian friends who either lived in Prague or were passing through, and read them what I had written. Bem and Gessen and Savitskii and Čiževsky were speechless, and the first to break the general silence was Bogatyriov, who shouted: ‘You will never write anything more powerful or more profound!’ [...]
I [decided to] thought of publishing a collection of articles and reminiscences about M[ayakovs]ky by Russians living in the West, and I wrote to Erenburg, Elsa Triolet, [Jean] Pougny, [Natan] Al’tman, [Mikhail] Larionov, and I think, David Burliuk and [Dimitry Sviatopolk-] Mirsky; but for various reasons no one except Mirsky ultimately sent anything; and, having with some difficulty come to an agreement with Kaplan, the Russian publisher in Berlin [Jakobson mistakenly mixed the publisher of the ‘Petropolis Verlag’ Abram Kagan with the publisher of the by that time defunct ‘Epoche-Verlag’ Solomon Kaplun with whom he corresponded in the early 1920s. - A.U.], I had no alternative but to publish a mini-collection of only two articles, a booklet that later, through the efforts of the Hitlerites and the Stalinist censorship became an extreme rarity.7

9The little brochure The Death of Vladimir Mayakovsky (СмертьВладимираМаяковского) was published in Berlin in the last pre-Hitler year. It turned out to be the last German publication of Petropolis, as two months later the publisher Abram Kagan fled to Belgium. However, like most of his editions it was done extremely well; and Kagan would later recall, «after initial resistance, I poured my heart into this book». In spite of its brevity, The Death of Vladimir Mayakovsky was published as a real book with well selected typefaces and an impeccable reproduction of the Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s portrait of Mayakovsky with no title or any additional signs that could have muddled that impression of the poet speaking «at the top of his voice» and looking «at the depth of his gaze» at his readers.

10On a Generation That Squandered Its Poets brought to the forefront the complex of ideas that Jakobson was contemplating on the verge of Yury Tynianov’s visit to Prague in December of 1928. The primary topic of their discussions was to be the crisis of formalism, and the split between members of the OPOIAZ (Society for the Study of the Theory of the Poetic), a group of literary theoreticians founded back in 1919, which Jakobson always considered the cradle of European literary scholarship of the 20th Century and the birthplace of the theory of poetics. And most importantly, the destiny of their Generation of literary scholars, that for Jakobson unequivocally embraced his contemporaries ‒ poets and artists. During Tynianov’s visit he was able to try out his ideas out and verify their validity.

11At that time Jakobson was developing the concept of what Generation actually meant. The concept embraced those born in the 1880s, like Picasso and Apollinaire who shook the status quo in both Art and Poetry in their time, up to his own generation of the 1890s, and fluctuated to selected latecomers born in early 1900s. By the term Generation he meant artists and writers, scholars and scientists born at the start of the century, with whom Jakobson had affinity or whom he perceived as what René Girard would later call «Le Bouc émissaire», or «Lamb to the Slaughter» in his generation, like Lev Lunts.

12Lunts was a founding member of the Serapion Brethren, the Petrograd literary collective, named after Die Serapionsbrüder, a literary and social circle, formed in Berlin in 1818 by E. T. A. Hoffmann and several of his friends. Lunts was the second youngest in this literary group, and the most vocative in defining the group’s literary direction ‒ in writing adventurous and complex prose that followed in the footsteps of the OPOIAZ theoretical postulates on the necessity of prose based on an elaborated plot providing «развёртывание сюжета» ‒ unveiling of the plot.

13Lunts suggested the name for the group, and also wrote a passionate statement Why We are Serapion Brethren? in 1921, which became the group’s manifesto. Subsequently, he wrote a second manifesto entitled “Go West!”, that proclaimed adventure novels and stories by European writers from Dumas to Conan Doyle as the model of how the new Russian prose should be created. His own literary output consisted of novellas and plays, including the extremely subversive Outside the Law (Внезакона) that was first accepted for production but immediately banned in the Soviet Union.

14However, it was published in Gorky’s magazine «Table-Talk» in Berlin and staged in Europe. In 1923 Lunts was diagnosed with a rare heart disease, and moved to Germany, where his family had previously emigrated. Unfortunately, his illness turned incurable and a year after ‘travelling through’ Hamburg hospitals, he died at the age of 23 of a brain embolism, thought to have been caused by a congenital heart defect.

15Lunts’ plays – including The Apes are Coming and Bertrand de Born ‒ were brought to Jakobson’s attention by Viktor Shklovsky who was a close friend of Lunts’. When Lunts arrived in Germany, Shklovsky had been in Germany for some time, as he had crossed the Finnish border and gone into exile in order to escape Bolshevik repressions against the Socialist Revolutionaries for whom he had fought. Shklovsky tried to bring Lunts into the fold of culturally flourishing Russian Berlin, but failed as he unpredictably returned to Moscow. On October 31, 1923 another Serapion Brother, the poet Vladimir Poesener informed Lunts,

  • 8 «Она мне вчера сказала, что получила письмо из Москвы от Лили, в котором та пишет, что Витя благопо (...)

Yesterday [Elsa Triolet] told me, that she had received a letter from Moscow from Lilia [Brik], where she writes that Vitia [Shklovsky] successfully reached Moscow, and is already giving lectures. God bless him!8

16Soon enough Shklovsky himself was confessing in a collective letter from Serapion Brethren and their friends, composed for Lunts on February 1, 1924:

  • 9 Ibid., p. 255.

Лёвик, я цел, тебя целую. Твой рассказ <«Хождения по мукам»> очень хороший. ВикторШ.9
Liovik, I am safe and sound, and kiss you. Your story [“The Roads to Calvary”] is very good. Viktor Sh.

17Shklovsky’s unexpected return, along with Lunts’ grave illness prevented him from having any meaningful participation in literary and theatrical endeavors, which soon came to an end with the financial crisis and the complete collapse of the Weimar Republic at the end of 1923. The publisher of both Jakobson and Lunts, the aforementioned Solomon Kaplun informed him in an unpublished letter of November 22:

  • 10 «‒ Что касается издания Ваших пьес, то в данный момент это как будто дело безнадежное. Ни мы, ни ка (...)

‒ As for the edition of your plays, at the current moment this would be a hopeless endeavour. Neither we [Epoche-Verlag], nor any other publishing house in Germany would be able to undertake such a project, because the printing of Russian books has been in fact brought to a complete halt. Perhaps, after a while it might change. Then I will be glad to be of service to you.10

18Soon enough, Kaplun sent condolences to Lunts’ father, also asking for a photo portrait in order to commemorate the talented youngster in the last to be published issue of «Table-Talk».

19Another letter to Natan Iakovlevich Lunts came from Jakobson who became involved in the posthumous fate of Lunts’ oeuvre. This letter written on April 1, 1925 has not been published before:

  • 11 Cf.: Roman Grynberg i Roman Jakobson: Materialy k istorii vzaimootnoshenii, ed. by R. Jangirov, in (...)

Прага, 1 апреля <1925>.
Дорогой Натан Яковлевич,
не сердитесь, что так долго не отвечал Вам. Хотелось прежде выполнить Вашу основную просьбу ‒ продвинуть в Праге постановку „Вне закона“. Эта пьеса должна была итти <sic!> в Праге уже давно, и рукописный перевод давно готов. Но постановке помешал ряд злоключений, о которых здесь распространяться не буду, ибо по существу своему, они ни к искусству вообще, ни к пьесе в частности, отношения не имеют. Вчера мне звонил заведующий репертуарной частью Виноградского театра (это второй по величине драматический театр в Праге и в Чехословакии) и сказал, что пьеса, о которой я с ним не раз уже говорил, в театре пойдет. Как только вопрос встанет более конкретно, а я думаю, что это произойдет в будущем сезоне, я Вам подробно напишу.
Что касается Пиранделло, то он, когда был в Праге, говорил мне, что „Вне закона“ ‒ лучшая из новых русских пьес, чрезвычайно сценичная и динамичная, и что он собирается поставить эту пьесу в своем театре в самом близком будущем. Больше об этом ничего не знаю.
Сердечный привет Гринбергам.11
Искренно уважающий Вас

  • 12 Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Yale University). Lev Lunts Papers (GEN MSS 104). Box 1. F (...)

Р. Якобсон12

20Lunts’ early death, although from natural causes, appeared to Jakobson in conjunction with Mayakovsky’s suicide, as an acceleration of the losses of the Generation to which he belonged himself, since he happened to have been born between Mayakovsky and Lunts, between the ending of the 19 and the dawn of the 20 Century.

21To establish these borders, he went further, enlisting in his Generation Velimir Khlebnikov (1885–1922), his kindred spirit. But also those who were not dead, yet silent, being lost in time and restrictions of the New Order that had been coming into power in the Soviet Union in relation to artistic and literary circles, groups and organizations in 1925, and again in 1928.

22A bit later, Jakobson established a strong link between the genesis of the Formalist School and its Poetic Ambiance in his treatise The Formal School and Contemporary Russian Literary Science (Формальнаяшколаисовременноерусскоелитературоведение) that had been recently translated:

  • 13 «Принципы формальной школы, которые сформировались в России отчасти под воздействием современной по (...)

The principals of the Formal School that were formed in Russia partly under the influence of contemporary Russian poetry, in turn had an obvious influence on Russian poets such as Mayakovsky and Tikhonov, as well as young representatives of Russian post-World War I prose, especially on the group of so-called ‘Serapion Brethren’, to which belonged, for example, Kaverin, Zoshchenko, Lunts...13

  • 14 Smert Vladimira Maiakovskogo, Berlin, Petropolis, 1931, p. 29.

23And an important remark in On a Generation that Squandered Its Poets: «... не случаен тесный стык М. с литературоведами-формалистами» / «The tight connection of Mayakovsky with the Formalists is not surprising».14

  • 15 Knizhnyi ugol, 7, 1921, pp. 9-17.

24Jakobson’s ideas about the generational structure of the literary process echoed the same patterns of thought as were expressed by Boris Eikhenbaum in his writings throughout 1920s. Specifically, in his preface to the monograph Anna Akhmatova: An Attempt at Analysis (1923): «Ten years is a sacred number: this is exactly how much History grants to each generation» («Десять лет ‒ цифра сакральная: именно столько дарит история каждому поколению»). Or even earlier, in Eikhenbaum’s confessional and powerful essay Moment of consciousness (Мигсознания) in the Fall of 1921:15

Каждому поколению отведен свой «участок времени», после которого «вдруг (и всегда с жуткой внезапностью) наступает момент, когда видит оно, что <...> уже стало следствием. Что оно уже в цепях Истории, с которой так дерзко и беспечно заигрывало... Миг сознания и возмездия <...>». В эти моменты писатели пишут свои «авторские исповеди», где и каются, и надрывно кричат, и гневно требуют...

Each generation is allotted its own “plot of time”, after which «suddenly (and always with a terrible abruptness) comes a time when it realizes that [...] it has already become a consequence. That the generation is already in the chains of History, with which it so boldly and blithely flirted... A moment of consciousness and retribution [...]». In these moments writers write «their confessions», in which they repent and cry hysterically, and angrily demand...

  • 16 Cf.: M.O. Chudakova, Literatura sovertskogo proshlogo, Moskva, Iazyki russkoi kul’tury, 2001, pp. 3 (...)

25This was exactly the moment of consciousness for Jakobson: if Eikhenbaum’s essay was a meditation on the unexpected («cruel chance» / «жестокая случайность») death of Alexander Blok – the most important poet of his generation (Blok was born in 1880; Eikhenbaum ‒ in 1886), for Jakobson this moment of consciousness revealed itself with Mayakovsky’s suicide (Mayakovsky was born in 1893; Jakobson ‒ in 1896). And as a law, each ensuing literary generation that followed the generation born in the 1880s, specifically Jakobson’s – the generation that was born in the 1890s and entered the cultural and literary process at the end of the 1910s and in the early 1920s ‒ had it much worse than the preceding one.16

26Yet before that, the topic of retroactive reflection, the theme of his generation’s destiny, the question of personal responsibility «for actions that join the stream of history» («поступки, вливающиеся в поток истории»), the issue of choosing a path and building a passage for the generations to come were sparked by Yury Tynianov’s visit to Prague.

  • 17 Pis’ma i zametki N.S. Trubetskogo, Moskva, Iazyki slavianskoi kul’tury, 2004, p. 120 (a note to let (...)

27Jakobson was both happy and proud to host him, as he remarked in a letter to his older colleague and friend Prince Trubetskoy from February 2, 1929: «Tynianov was here until the beginning of January. He feels sorry that you saw him very unstrung. He then recovered. He has a powerful mind and great taste» («Тынянов здесь пробыл до начала января. Жалеет, что Вы его видели очень развинченным. Он потом оправился. У него сильная мысль и большой вкус»).17 But what was really significant for Jakobson in this visit was the fact that he was welcoming his contemporary, the representative of his Generation.

  • 18 Letters and Other Materials from the Moscow and Prague Linguistic Circles, 1912‒1945, ed. by Jindři (...)

28On the very verge of Tynianov’s visit, he was complaining about not being able to find a common language with «the very conservative and uninspiring»18 Grigorii Vinokur, former secretary of the Moscow Linguistic Circle:

  • 19 Vinokur (1896-1947) was born the same year as Jakobson.

Скучаю по тебе до физической боли. Неужели так и не побываешь на Западе? А я уж надеялся. Здесь вместо тебя ‒ трёхсотлетний Винокур.19 С ним ни о чем не могу договориться. Он как ушибленный. Боится настолько всего, что пахнет футуризмом или Опоязом что скоро над Надсоном будет плакать. Из его рассказов я вынес грустное впечатление.

  • 20 Letters and Other Materials from the Moscow and Prague Linguistic Circles, cit., p. 54.

I miss you to the point of physical pain. Do you really not visit the West? I was already hoping that you would. Here, instead of you is a 300-year old Vinokur. I cannot talk to him about anything. As if he is retarded. He is so afraid of anything that smells of Futurism or OPOIAZ that it looks as if he will soon be crying over Nadson. His stories left a very dreary impression.20

29Tynianov’s visit was more than timely, as he was able to explain those changes and to define the path out of the crisis. As Jakobson later recalled in his memoir Yury Tynianov in Prague (July 1974):

  • 21 «В своих пражских размышлениях вслух Тынянов безошибочно учел и взвесил все факторы глубокого кризи (...)

In his Prague conversations Tynianov accounted for without error and weighed up all the factors of the deep crisis that OPOIAZ was going through which reflected the general state of Russian literary science. Besides the aggravated external interferences, which threatened to become aggravated further, he clearly recognized and exposed with ruthless rigor the internal symptoms of stagnation and decline. [...] Sharing Tynianov’s reasoning, I proposed to him that we renew OPOIAZ and through cohesive ideological work we defend the organic development of our scholarship at a time of the radical revision of general scientific and scholarly methodology on a world scale. This is how the idea of joint theses came into existence.21

  • 22 The picture was taken in Hradčany, by the Katedrál sv. Klimenta (Karlova ul. 1) ‒ Katedrální chrám (...)

30A wonderful picture taken in those days in Prague shows Tynianov, Jakobson and Bogatyriov happy and laughing, agreed on their route and ready to put everything into action.22 The Tynianov-Jakobson Theses proclaimed raising anew the Opojaz flag over the ruins of the formal school. The major impetus for the announced reunification was the internal crisis and pronounced balkanization of the formalists throughout the 1920s, while formal method and what was to become a universal methodology for the analysis of language and literary scholarship had taken a distinctive turn in the direction of historical studies.

31Tynianov got interested in putting his theories into practice by delving deeply into writing prose, first in the imitation of the style of the protagonists of his studies, moving on to fictionalized biographies of Kiukhel’bekker (1925), then Griboedov (1928), and finally, Pushkin, that remained unfinished because of his death from multiple sclerosis in 1943. He was hardly satisfied with such work.

  • 23 «Kniga i revoliutsiia», 4, 1923, pp. 6-9.
  • 24 In depth analysis of Tomashevsky’s ideas and of the meaning of biography in Formalist theory can be (...)

32Boris Tomashevsky was the first to build a literary theory in correlation to the author’s biography, starting with his groundbreaking article Literature and Biography (1923),23 where he delineated two types of writers – those with a biography and those without one. The first type of writers (romantics) realize their literary tasks by leaning on their biography in their creative process, nurturing a certain biographical myth. The second type (realists) create closed, idiosyncratic works, not letting even a single biographical trace into their writing; such biographies could be of interest to a historian of culture, but not to a literary scholar.24 Thus Tomashevsky dedicated his work to the romantics, writing on Pushkin and his French contemporaries, as well as designing the first and now ubiquitous one-volume collection of Pushkin’s works that was republished more than a dozen times.

33Eikhenbaum wrote on the second type in Tomashevsky’s gradation, specifically Tolstoy, where he offered an immanent analysis of his early works, outside of biography. Also, he was involved in the long-term development of incorporating sociology into literary theory, thus drifting further away from his colleagues, becoming almost foreign to them, especially after his conflict with Tomashevsky with regard to his professorship at the Department of Philology of Leningrad State University that ended up in the court of arbitration in the summer of 1927.

  • 25 M.O. Chudakova, op. cit., p. 445.

34Consequently, the Jakobson-Tynianov Theses, as Marietta Chudakova emphasizes in her prodigious article, «were among many things, an act of unannounced polemics with Eikhenbaum’s articles from 1927-28».25 And Jakobson himself recalled in his memoir:

  • 26 Shklovsky expresses a similar sentiment in his letter to Jakobson of February 16, 1929: «Представь (...)
  • 27 «Мы с Тыняновым, как я писал Трубецкому, „решили во что бы то ни стало восстановить Опояз и вообще (...)

Tynianov and I, as I was informing Trubetskoy, ‘decided whatever the cost to restore OPOIAZ and in general to start the fight against deviations26 like Eikhenbaum’s [...]27

35These were Leningrad formalists, while Shklovsky moved to Moscow. He was always omnipresent, always active, picking up all the projects and engaging in every possible endeavor that his mercurial nature and forthright approach would permit. He was beyond history, or, better, for him history meant today, or yesterday at the latest, as he embraced the contemporary with the same zeal and passion, with which he had made Tristram Shandy and Don Quijote his contemporaries a decade earlier.

36As the most organized and meticulous of the bunch, Tomashevsky succinctly summed the crisis of the Formal School in his observations:

  • 28 «Томашевский говорил: смысл формализма в том, что он сделал историю литературы теоретической и теор (...)

[T]he significance of formalism is in the fact that it made the history of literature theoretical, and made literary theory ‒ historical. Its catastrophe, however, is that the process of alignment with historical scholarship gradually kills the foundational principle of the specificity and concreteness of literary science.28

  • 29 Omry Ronen, Literary Synchrony, Choice and Critical Value Judgment in Roman Jakobson’s Scholarship (...)

37Therefore, the success of the Opojaz resurgence first and foremost depended on a complete withdrawal from historical discourse and meditations on the possibilities of literary scholarship. For Jakobson it meant the development of the concept of a poetics of the present, or a shift from diachronic aspects of literary theory to what Omry Ronen aphoristically called, «the idea of synchronic poetics, and of literary synchrony in general as a key to Jakobson’s system of value judgments».29

38It was quite obvious that under the circumstances the mandate for this shift had to be handed to someone who was deeply immersed in the contemporary, and who engraved the contemporary into his life. This is why the final, 9th thesis of the Problems in the Study of Literature and Language blatantly stated:

  • 30 «9. Исходя из важности дальнейшей коллективной разработки вышеотмеченных теоретических проблем и ко (...)

9. Given the importance of the further collaborative working out both of the theoretical problems mentioned above and of the concrete tasks that arise from those principles (the history of Russian literature, the history of the Russian language, the typology of linguistic and literary structures, etc.), it is necessary to restore OPOIAZ under the chairmanship of Viktor Shklovsky.30

39As resulted from this decision Shklovsky initiated an active correspondence with Jakobson, and the first topic that came into view was the repatriation of the latter from Prague to Moscow. The issue of return even preceded Tynianov’s visit. In his letter of November 28, 1923, Shklovsky ascribes Jakobson’s return to the Soviet Union as a condition sine qua non, as if it had been already decided for him:

  • 31 «Относительно твоего приезда тебе расскажет Тынянов, но лучше приехать, имея уже базис, т.е., присл (...)

Tynianov will tell you more regarding your return, however it is better to arrive, having the base ready, i.e., sending ahead your book, that will establish you as a scholar and bring you money to turn yourself round. From material point of view our writers live better than others, and I live better here than abroad.31

40Jakobson’s bipolar vacillations between returning to the Soviet Union and staying put abroad can be traced in his letters through 1920s. On December 26, 1923 soon after Shklovsky’s repatriation he confesses in his letter to Elsa Triolét:

By the way, I am contemplating, whether I should move to Paris by mid-1924? I am a bit tired of Prague, I do not like Berlin, and Moscow is plain annoying!

41In his letter to Nikolai Durnovo from November 19, 1924, he categorically declines the idea of moving to Moscow:

  • 32 «Вообще в Москве всё тусклее. Ярослав Францевич Папоушек приехал из Москвы, по словам Надежды Филар (...)

It grows dimmer in Moscow. Jar[oslav] Frantsevich [Papoušek] returned from Moscow one gloomy pessimist, in Nad[ezhda] Fil[aretovna] words. Yesterday Sonia [Fel’dman ‒ Jakobson’s wife] received a letter from her kin ‒ it is rather bleak at the Soviets: one is dead, another one is ill, one more is arrested, another one is fired from his job. [...] As for my job: there arrived from Moscow another demand of my removal [...] Antonov is fighting back, but that cannot go on forevery. I will not go back to Russia, it is impossible to adjust here; “all I can do is to go out to the garden and eat some worms,” that’s how the English proverb goes...32

42But in another letter, of February 4, 1927, he writes about the ultimatum that he and Bogatyriov have sent to Moscow University School of Ethnology displaying their intent to move there:

  • 33 «В Москве пекут при деятельном участии Ушакова и Ю. Соколова на этнологическом факультете „Цикл южн (...)

Bogatyriov and I wrote to Ushakov and Sokolov with a demand to be made Department chairmen. <...> Sokolov promises to keep our names for consideration, but informs us that a final decision would not be made for some time. Now we insist on getting Ushakov’s response, as well.33

  • 34 Ibid., p.78. Cf. in Roman Jakobson’s letter to Elsa Triolet from December 26, 1923, soon after Shkl (...)

43Jindřich Toman acutely observed, «One may speculate on the basis of passages [in those letters] that as late as 1927, Jakobson and Bogatyriov were only marginally integrated in their Czech environment».34

44In this context it is important to mention how Jakobson was perceived by the Czech government. Jaroslav Papoušek, mentioned above, was a diplomat and a secret agent. In his submission to the Czechoslovakian Ministry of Foreign Affairs of March 5, 1923 he reported the following on Jakobson:

  • 35 «Весь его интерес всегда сосредоточен на вопросах литературы и филологии. Никогда он не говорит о п (...)

He always focuses all his interest on issues of literature and philology. He never speaks of political affairs [...] he has made no attempt to penetrate the circles of the Russian emigration. [...] He is not a spy, not a provocateur, the Soviet mission [for which Roman Jakobson served as press-secretary. -- A. U.] does not use him for purposes of political. Let alone intelligence work.35

45The dilemma ‘to return or not to return’ oscillates throughout other Jakobson’s letters: somewhere it appears more clear, somewhere there are hints, but the expressions remain oblique. Yet what is important is the fact that the theme of return is present in Jakobson’s mind, and the issue is very sensitive.

46That sensibility of return vs. stay, his anxiety à la Evgeny Onegin who experienced it right after killing Lensky, «Unrest then seized him with vexation, A restless urge for change of place (A very tortuous sensation, and few support it with good grace)» («Им овладело беспокойство, Охота к перемене мест (Весьма мучительное свойство, Немногих добровольный крест...»); prevailed in Jakobson’s letters at the close of the decade. But that train of thought was derailed with Mayakovsky’s suicide and those «external interferences», that Jakobson mentioned vaguely in his memoir on Tynianov that developed much further and much faster than either of them could have anticipated.

47Early autumn of 1930 could be considered the first and yet nascent official attack on all things formalist. The official anti-formalist campaign was yet to come, and would reach its apogee in the Kremlin-authorized denunciation of Dmitry Shostakovich with the squib Muddle Instead of Music in the January 28, 1936 issue of «Pravda». The first strike at formalism, however, was delivered in vol. 11 of the Literary Encyclopaedia, that gave a proletarian outlook at formalism, as follows:

  • 36 «Игнорирование познавательной сущности литературы, ее идейной стороны, внешне-описательный подход и (...)

Ignoring the cognitive essence of literature and its ideological aspect, T[omashevsky]’s works have been characterized by an externally-descriptive approach and other inevitable vices of Formalism which have deprived them [...] of great scholarly value. After the capitulation of Formalism T[omashevsky]’s engaged primarily in the study of textology.36

  • 37 «Через ушаковцев, я познакомился с членами общества „Опояз“».
  • 38 Viktor Shklovsky, Pamiatnik nauchnoi oshibke, «Literaturnaia gazeta», 4, 1930, Janvar’ 27, p. 2.
  • 39 Or, a testimonium paupertatis, as Razumnik Ivanov-Razumnik mocked this exorcism of Shklovsky, in hi (...)

48Needless to say, Jakobson always respected Tomashevsky who also visited him in Prague. They met in Moscow via MLK, as Tomashevsky would recall in his autobiography, «I met members of the OPOIAZ society through Ushakov’s followers».37 The culmination of this series of attacks on formalism was Shklovsky’s penitential excuse for an essay A Monument to а Scientific Mistake.38 And this is how the history of the OPOIAZ revival had that sadly infamous Exegi monumentum for an epilogue.39

49Under these circumstances, Jakobson’s On a Generation That Squandered Its Poets was perceived as an epilogue of a different variety – the one that its author did not have to be embarrassed about. It turned out to appear not just as a promised obituary to the greatest poet of Jakobson’s Generation, but as a farewell to Generation as such – including his OPOIAZ brothers in arms. Mayakovsky’s suicide symbolized the closure for this Generation, the stop sign in its evolution.

  • 40 «Непомерна жуть, когда внезапно вскрывается призрачность псевдонима, и, смазывая грани, эмигрируют (...)

50More importantly, On a Generation That Squandered Its Poets carried the weight of a paramount, defining and ultimate decision that Jakobson made: writing this article and publishing it in the collection The Death of Vladimir Mayakovsky signified for him the point of no return.40

51The point of NO return to Soviet Russia.

Notes

1 «Roman was theatrical in the best sense, raised as he was in the emotional Russian tradition of poetry recitation. Roman’s voice soared, he whispered, his gestures were broad and effective, sometimes he sat, sometimes stood, or strode vigorously up and down on the platform and your eyes and ears were riveted on him, for his very appearance was theatrical: a small body, an immense buffalo head (it was not for nothing that one of his affectionate nicknames given to him by his students was the “fierce aurochs” [Буй Туръ]; the phrase of course comes from the English translation of the Igor Tale), two eyes staring or glaring in different directions, an immense brow and a heavy mop of hair». (O Rus! Studia litteraria slavica in honorem Hugh McLean, ed. by Simon Karlinsky, James L. Rice and Barry P. Scherr, Oakland, CA, Berkeley Slavic Specialties, 1995, pp. 30-31.)

2 Marina Tsvetaeva, Sobr. soch. v 7 tt., T. 6: Pis’ma, Moskwa, Ellis-Lak, 1995, p. 386. Unless noted, all the translations in this essay are mine.

3 From Jakobson’s letter to Kruchenykh (Jan-Feb, 1914) regarding poems sent or the collection: «Если возможно, напечатайте в сборнике „Онанизм“, хоть без заглавия» («If possible, please include in the ‘Masturbation’ collection, even without the title»; Bengt Jangfeldt, Jakobson-budetljanin, Stockholm, Almqvist & Wiksell Intl., 1992, pp. 74, 156).

4 Kazimir Malevich, From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism, in Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism, 1902-1934, ed. and trans. by John E. Bowlt, New York, Viking Press, 1976, p. 127.

5 Umberto Eco, Il pensiero semiotico di Jakobson, in Roman Jakobson, Lo sviluppo della semiotica, Milano, Bompiani, 1978, p. 14.

6 «Die Überwindung der Grundlagen des Symbolismus begann in der Malerei, und eben diese hat in der Anfangszeit der futuristischen Kunst die beherrschenden Höhepunkte besetzt. Ferner wird die Dichtung, je nach der Entblößung des Zeichencharakters der Kunst, gleichsam zum Mustergut des künstlerischen Neuerertums. Den Hang zur Identifizierung der Kunst mit der Poesie bekunden sämtliche Dichter der futuristischen Generation». Roman Jakobson, SW. V: 5: On Verse, Its Masters and Explorers, ed. by Stephen Rudy, Martha Taylor, The Hague - Berlin, Mouton, p. 417; originally «Slavische Rundschau», VIII, 1935.

7 Hugh McLean, Smert’ Vladimira Maiakovskogo, «Slavic Review», 36, March 1977, p. 155.

8 «Она мне вчера сказала, что получила письмо из Москвы от Лили, в котором та пишет, что Витя благополучно добрался до Москвы и уже читает лекции. Дай ему Бог здоровья!» [«Serapionovy brat’ia» v zerkalakh perepiski, ed. by E. Lemming, Moscow, Agraf, 2004, p. 197].

9 Ibid., p. 255.

10 «‒ Что касается издания Ваших пьес, то в данный момент это как будто дело безнадежное. Ни мы, ни какое-либо другое издательство в Германии не может взяться за это дело, так как фактически печатание русских книг здесь совсем приостановлено. Может быть, через некоторое время это изменится. Тогда я буду рад услужить Вам». (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Yale University). Lev Lunts Papers (GEN MSS 104). Box 1. F. 9).

11 Cf.: Roman Grynberg i Roman Jakobson: Materialy k istorii vzaimootnoshenii, ed. by R. Jangirov, in Roman Jakobson: Texts, Documents, Studies, ed. by Henryk Baran et al., Moscow, RGGU, 1999, pp. 201, 212.

12 Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Yale University). Lev Lunts Papers (GEN MSS 104). Box 1. F. 43.

13 «Принципы формальной школы, которые сформировались в России отчасти под воздействием современной поэзии, сами оказали очевидное влияние на русских поэтов, например, на Маяковского или Тихонова, а также на молодых представителей русской послевоенной прозы, в особенности на группу так называемых «Серапионовых братьев», к которой принадлежали, например, Каверин, Зощенко, Лунц...» (Roman Jakobson, Formal’naia shkola i sovremennoe russkoe literaturovedenie, Moskva, Iazyki slavianskikh kul’tur, 2011, p. 12.).

14 Smert Vladimira Maiakovskogo, Berlin, Petropolis, 1931, p. 29.

15 Knizhnyi ugol, 7, 1921, pp. 9-17.

16 Cf.: M.O. Chudakova, Literatura sovertskogo proshlogo, Moskva, Iazyki russkoi kul’tury, 2001, pp. 381-383.

17 Pis’ma i zametki N.S. Trubetskogo, Moskva, Iazyki slavianskoi kul’tury, 2004, p. 120 (a note to letter XLIII.)

18 Letters and Other Materials from the Moscow and Prague Linguistic Circles, 1912‒1945, ed. by Jindřich Toman, Ann Arbor, Michigan Slavic Publications, 1994, p. 54.

19 Vinokur (1896-1947) was born the same year as Jakobson.

20 Letters and Other Materials from the Moscow and Prague Linguistic Circles, cit., p. 54.

21 «В своих пражских размышлениях вслух Тынянов безошибочно учел и взвесил все факторы глубокого кризиса, переживаемого Опоязом и отразившего общее состояние русской науки о литературе. Помимо обострившихся и грозящих дальнейшим обострением помех извне, он четко опознавал и с безжалостной строгостью вскрывал внутренние симптомы стагнации упадка. <...> Разделяя доводы Ю<рия> Н<иколаевича>, я предлагал ему сплоченной идейной работой обновленного Опояза отстоять органическое развитие нашей науки в момент мирового радикального пересмотра всенаучной методологии. Возникла мысль о совместных тезисах» (Jakobson, SW. V, cit., p. 563).

22 The picture was taken in Hradčany, by the Katedrál sv. Klimenta (Karlova ul. 1) ‒ Katedrální chrám Apoštolského exarchátu Řeckokatolické církve. Якобсон жил на ул. Jakobson lived on Bělského street, now 974/16 (Praha 7).

23 «Kniga i revoliutsiia», 4, 1923, pp. 6-9.

24 In depth analysis of Tomashevsky’s ideas and of the meaning of biography in Formalist theory can be found in Aage Hansen-Löve’s classic study: Aage A. Hansen-Löve, Der russische Formalismus. Methodologische Rekonstruktion seiner Entwicklung aus dem Prinzip der Verfremdung, Wien, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1978, p. 405 et passim.

25 M.O. Chudakova, op. cit., p. 445.

26 Shklovsky expresses a similar sentiment in his letter to Jakobson of February 16, 1929: «Представь себе, что нас двоих <Тынянова и Шкловского> недостаточно. Борис Михайлович <Эйхенбаум> в последних работах разложился до эклектики. Его литературный быт ‒ вульгарнейший марксизм. Кроме того, он стал ревнивым, боится учеников и прочее невеселое <...> Вывод: Опояз можно восстановить только при твоём приезде, т.е. ОПОЯЗ ‒ это всегда трое» (Gregory Freidin, Vopros vozvrashcheniia I. O pokolenii, sokhranivshem svoikh uchenykh: Viktor Shklovsky i Roman Jakobson v 1928-1930 gg., in Literature, Culture and Society in the Modern Age: In Honor of Joseph Frank, pt. II, ed. by Edward James Brown, Stanford, 1991, pp. 180-181).

27 «Мы с Тыняновым, как я писал Трубецкому, „решили во что бы то ни стало восстановить Опояз и вообще начать борьбу против уклонов вроде эйхенбаумовского“» (Jakobson, SW. V, op. cit., p. 560.) This concerned literary science only. As for political and bytovye / everyday discussions with Tynianov, Jakobson expressed a rather different sentiment in another letter to the same correspondent: «От тыняновского и Вашего, кстати, совершенно равнозначного, пессимизма, от известий всё более печальных у меня сейчас такой маразм, какого ещё, кажется, никогда не было» (Ibid.).

28 «Томашевский говорил: смысл формализма в том, что он сделал историю лит<ературы> теоретической и теорию ‒ исторической. Катастрофа же формализма, по-видимому, в том, что приобщение к исторической науке постепенно убивает основополагающий принцип специфичности <и конкретизации литературной науки>» (From Lidiia Ginzburg’s letter of July 7, 1927 to Boris Bukhshta; (NLO, 49, 2007, p. 351); this passage is preceded by the following observation: «Мы все толковали о кризисе; только теперь я начинаю понимать, где он зарыт»).

29 Omry Ronen, Literary Synchrony, Choice and Critical Value Judgment in Roman Jakobson’s Scholarship and Teaching, in Contributions to the International Congress “Roman Jakobson Centennial”, Moscow, RGGU, 1996, p. 117

30 «9. Исходя из важности дальнейшей коллективной разработки вышеотмеченных теоретических проблем и конкретных задач, из этих принципов вытекающих (история русской литературы, история русского языка, типология языковых и литературных структур и т. д.), необходимо возобновление Опояза под председательством Виктора Шкловского» («Lef», 12, 1928, p. 37). The existing English translation by Herbert Eagle, first published in: Readings in Russian Poetics: Formalist and Structuralist Views, ed. by Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1971, pp. 79-81; republished in «Poetics Today», 2/1a, Autumn 1980, pp. 29-31; included in: Roman Jakobson, SW. III: Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry, ed., with a preface, by Stephen Rudy, The Hague-Berlin, Mouton, 1981; ‒ ends with thesis 8, completely omitting the last No. 9. Here translation is mine.

31 «Относительно твоего приезда тебе расскажет Тынянов, но лучше приехать, имея уже базис, т.е., приславши вперед себя книгу, которая бы реализовала тебя научно и дала бы деньги перевернуться. Материально писатели у нас живут лучше других, и я здесь живу лучше, чем за границей», РГАЛИ (Москва), Ф. 562 (Шкловский), 1.477.

32 «Вообще в Москве всё тусклее. Яр<ослав> Францевич <Папоушек> приехал из Москвы, по словам Над<ежды> Фил<аретовны Мельниковой-Папоушковой> мрачным пессимистом. Вчера Соня <Фельдман> получила письмо от своих ‒ очень мрачно: кто мрет, кто болен, кого выкинули со службы, кого арестовали. <...>

На службе: снова пришло требование из Москвы о моем устранении, о том же сообщает П<?>. Антонов<-Овсеенко> отбивается, но это не может вечно продолжаться. В Россию не поеду, здесь не устроиться, остается, по английской поговорке, пойти в сад и есть червяков» (LettersandOtherMaterialsfromtheMoscowandPragueLinguisticCircles, op. cit., pp. 80, 83).

33 «В Москве пекут при деятельном участии Ушакова и Ю. Соколова на этнологическом фак<ультете> „Цикл южных и западных славян“. Мы с Богатыревым написали Ушакову и Ю. Соколову, прося кафедр. Ушакову пишем подробно и о Вас. Ответ получили пока только то Соколова <...> Обещает нашу кандидатуру, но пишет, что пока дело затягивается. Добиваемся ответа от Ушакова» (Ibid., p. 107).

34 Ibid., p.78. Cf. in Roman Jakobson’s letter to Elsa Triolet from December 26, 1923, soon after Shklovsky repatriated: «Между прочим, подумываю, не перебраться ли к середине 1924 г. в Париж. В Праге немного надоело, Берлина не люблю, а в Москве сейчас очень нудно» (Bengt Jangfeldt, op. cit., p. 92).

35 «Весь его интерес всегда сосредоточен на вопросах литературы и филологии. Никогда он не говорит о политических делах <...> не предпринял никаких попыток проникнуть в круги русской эмиграции. <...> Он не шпион, не провокатор, советская миссия не пользуется им в целях политической или тем более разведывательной работы» (T. Glanc, Razvedyvatelnyi kurs Jakobsona, in Roman Jakobson: Texts, Documents, Studies, cit., p. 358).).

36 «Игнорирование познавательной сущности литературы, ее идейной стороны, внешне-описательный подход и пр. неизбежные пороки формализма лишили <...> работы Т<омашевского> большого научного значения. После капитуляции формализма Т<омашевский> занялся преимущественно текстологией».

37 «Через ушаковцев, я познакомился с членами общества „Опояз“».

38 Viktor Shklovsky, Pamiatnik nauchnoi oshibke, «Literaturnaia gazeta», 4, 1930, Janvar’ 27, p. 2.

39 Or, a testimonium paupertatis, as Razumnik Ivanov-Razumnik mocked this exorcism of Shklovsky, in his letter to Arkady Gornfel’d: «Вспоминал о Вас, читая testimoniumpauperitatis Шкловского в „Литературной газете“; долго же надо было ему осознавать свою pauperitas!» (Gregory Freidin, op. cit., p. 179).

40 «Непомерна жуть, когда внезапно вскрывается призрачность псевдонима, и, смазывая грани, эмигрируют в жизнь призраки искусства» (Smert’ Vladimira Maiakovskogo, cit., p. 28). Jakobson’s collaborator in this volume, Prince Sviatopolk-Mirsky returned to the USSR in 1932, was arrested in 1937, sent to the GULAG, and died on June 6, 1939 in the vicinity of Magadan.

Auteur

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