The Polish School of Formalism: Theory and Practice

Andrzej Karcz, University of Chicago

When, by 1930, the Russian school of Formalism was silenced as heresy in the Soviet Union, a similar school of literary theory and analysis began to take form in Poland. Like their Russian counterparts, many Polish literary historians and theorists rose up to question traditional methods of scholarship, which had been preoccupied with biographism, and the psychological and ideological aspects of literature. Like the Russians, Polish scholars postulated a new approach to literary art, and in their works they embarked upon analyzing basic Formalist concepts of the autonomy and methodology of literary scholarship, the distinguishing features of literature, and the morphology of the literary work.

While presenting a comparative and contrasting approach to Polish and Russian Formalism, the paper concentrates on the theory and practice of the Polish Formalist School (K. Woycicki, M. Kridl, F. Siedlecki, D. Hopensztand, K. Budzyk) and attempts to show which ideas of the Russian Formalists the Polish school accepted and applied, and which it modified and transcended. Thus the paper shows that the two schools of literary criticism dealt with the same problems of literary analysis, although they did not always propose similar solutions. Special attention in the paper is first paid to Woycicki's original definition of the subject of literary study and his Formalist, or even structuralist, concept of the literary work; in the paper his ideas are referred to analogous concepts of Shklovskij and Tynjanov. Later, the paper examines briefly Kridl's "integral method" and its use of the Russian scholars' Formalist theory. In dealing with the efforts of the younger members of the Polish school of Formalism, the paper analyzes the following: 1) Siedlecki's studies of Polish metrics and his use of both Shklovskij's concepts (defamiliarization, making it strange) and Tomashevskij's and Jakobson's ideas referring to rhythm and rhythmical patterns in poetry; 2) Budzyk's application of Vinogradov's concepts in the studies of stylistics; 3) and Hopensztand's venture into investigating the issues of stylistics and the sociology of language as a reflection, albeit remote, of Tynjanov's concept of relations between literary and extraliterary phenomena.

The paper closes with an observation that by applying and modifying the ideas of Russian Formalism, the Polish Formalist School of the 1930s modernized Polish literary scholarship in a fundamental way. Yet the school is remarkably little known and remains unappreciated in the scholarship on literary criticism.