Art as Device, Shklovsky

Art as Device, Shklovsky - Art as Device (1917) Victor...

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1 Art as Device (1917) Victor Shklovsky "Art is thinking in images." This maxim, which even high school students parrot, is nevertheless the starting point for the erudite philologist who is beginning to put together some kind of systematic literary theory. The idea, originated in part by Potebnya [leading figure in the Russian Symbolist school of poets and critics], has spread. "Without imagery there is no art, and in particular no poetry," Potebnya writes [in 1905]. And elsewhere, "Poetry, as well as prose, is first and foremost a special way of thinking and knowing." Poetry is a special way of thinking; it is, precisely, a way of thinking in images, a way which permits what is generally called 'economy of mental effort,' a way which makes for a 'sensation of the relative ease of the process.' Aesthetic feeling is the reaction to this economy. This is how the academician Ovsyaniko-Kulikovsky [a leading Russian scholar and literary conservative], who undoubtedly read the works of Potebnya attentively, almost certainly understood and faithfully summarized the ideas of his teacher. Potebnya and his numerous disciples consider poetry a special kind of thinking - thinking by means of images; they feel that the purpose of imagery is to help channel various objects and activities into groups and to clarify the unknown by means of the known. Or, as Potebnya wrote: The relationship of the image to way is being clarified is that: (a) the image is the fixed predicate of that which undergoes change - the unchanging means of attracting what is perceived as changeable. . . . (b) the image is far clearer and simpler than what it clarifies. In other words: Since the purpose of imagery is to remind us, by approximation, of those meanings for which the image stands, and since, apart from this, imagery is unnecessary for thought, we must be more familiar with the image than with what it clarifies. It would be instructive to apply this principle to Tyutchev's comparison of summer lightning to deaf and dumb demons or to Gogol's comparison of the sky to the garment of God. [The reference is to 19th-c. Russian writers known for their bold use of imagery.] "Without imagery there is no art" - "Art is thinking in images." These maxims have led to far- fetched interpretations of individual works of art. Attempts have been made to evaluate even music, architecture, and lyric poetry as imagistic thought. After a quarter of a century of such attempts Ovsyaniko-Kulikovsky finally had to assign lyric poetry, architecture, and music to a special category of imageless art and to define them as lyric arts appealing directly to the emotions. And thus he admitted an enormous area of art which is not a mode of thought. A part of this area, lyric poetry (narrowly considered), is quite like the visual arts; it is also verbal. But, much more important, visual art passes quite imperceptibly into non-visual art; yet our perceptions of both are similar. Nevertheless, the definition "Art is thinking in images," which means (I omit the usual middle
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This note was uploaded on 11/16/2011 for the course PHIL 104 taught by Professor Shafieyan during the Spring '11 term at School of Visual Arts.

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Art as Device, Shklovsky - Art as Device (1917) Victor...

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