Beyond Literary Landscapes—Literary Criticism: Russian Formalism

Beyond Literary Landscapes—Literary Criticism: Russian Formalism

From my early beginnings as a young introvert, the public library has always been a bit of a refuge.  Years later, not much has changed, albeit with an additional affinity for endless hours spent scouring second-hand bookstores to add to my ever-growing “to-read” pile.

From one bookworm to another, this column will be underscoring and outlining various literary genres, authors, and recent reads and can serve as an introduction for those unfamiliar with these works, as a refresher for long-time aficionados, and maybe as an inspiration for readers to share their own suggested topics.  Do you have a topic that you would like covered in this column?  Feel free to contact me for an interview and a feature in an upcoming column.


This week, our focus shifts from authors, novels, and genres to literary criticism.  This upcoming three-part series will consider notable critics and global literary movements.  We begin with Russian Formalism, “an innovative 20th-century Russian school of literary criticism.”

A notable “Russian literary critic and novelist,” Victor Shklovsky, was born on January 24, 1893, in St.  Petersburg, Imperial Russia and died on December 8, 1984, in Moscow, the former USSR.

One famous main concept of Russian Formalism includes ostranenie, which can be translated as defamiliarization or making strange, and “refers to the techniques writers use to transform ordinary language into poetic language …  which induces a heightened state of perception.”  In particular, Russian Formalists focus on “[forcing] the reader outside of the usual patterns of perception by making the familiar appear strange or different.”


An example of a notable work by Victor Shklovsky includes Theory of Prose.


His works are set throughout Imperial Russia, as well as the former USSR.


Shklovsky’s works take place throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


These works may be of interest to AU students who would like to understand the history of literary criticism, especially lesser-known concepts, such as defamiliarization.


AU’s wide range of diverse courses make it easy to study this topic in depth.  Courses related to Russian Formalism are available in a variety of disciplines, including ones that may fit into your Degree Works.  (Always check with an AU counsellor to see if these particular courses fulfill your personal graduation requirements!)

AU students interested in learning more about this topic may enroll in ENGL 316: Approaches to Literary Theory and Criticism, a senior-level, three-credit course, which “is an introductory level course designed to familiarize you with a variety of critical perspectives and help you understand literary works more profoundly by integrating literary theory in your response to these works.”  (Students should note that this course requires several prerequisites, including ENGL 211: Prose Forms and ENGL 212: Poetry and Plays).

Students may also be interested in ENGL 423: Advanced Literary Theory, a senior-level, three-credit course, which “investigates the theory and practice of communication, and more specifically, how people understand and use language and literature to make meaning.  (Once again, please note that this course requires ENGL 211: Prose Forms and ENGL 212: Poetry and Plays as prerequisites).  Happy reading!