Shklovskij and Intertextuality

Paula Powell Sapienza, Fairfield University

While lacking a fully-formed theoretic conceptualization of acmeist poetics, Viktor Shklovskij nevertheless possessed an intuitive, practical understanding of the acmeist use of what was later to be termed subtext and intertext. Quotation-introduced subtext (Kiril Taranovsky) figures as an important structural element in all of Shklovskij's writing, and he uses it to create new meaning through the assimilation, transposition, and transformation of signs, and to enter into literary polemics (metatextuality). A central point of debate that developed between Shklovskij and Osip Mandel'shtam in the 1910s and 1920s, for example, centered on the question of the role of cultural memory in literary production, the value of which the futurist Shklovskij denied. In the 1930s, however, a significant shift in Shklovskij's position took place, and he began to embrace Mandel'shtam's notions of repetition and remembrance, memory and recognition in verbal art.

In the final decades of his life, Shklovskij's reflections about how verbal art is created and, most especially, how it renews itself over time (through the enactment of cultural memory), are characterized by an attempt to contain and overcome the contradictions of futurist and acmeist thought on these issues within his own writing. Shklovskij accomplishes his task by creating intertextually organized texts that both recall and recast the futurist-acmeist debates of the past.

The purpose of this paper is to describe Shklovskij's methods of assimilation and transformation of others' texts, and to consider the extent to which Shklovskij was able theoretically to conceive of the intertextual processes that he produced critically and artistically. Relying upon Taranovskij's concept of subtext, the analysis will focus most specifically upon Shklovskij's appropriation of Osip Mandel'shtam's poem "Bessonnica" in his later books, Tetiva (1970), Energija zabluzhdenija (1981), and O teorii prozy (1983). Shklovskij takes Mandel'shtam's images of sleeplessness, the wedge of cranes, the sea, Homer, and the "love that moves all things," recasting them so as to raise the ever important issue for him of artistic invention while at the same time preserving Mandel'shtam's theme of cultural memory. Through lexical repetition and the introduction of other subtexts (e.g., Gogol''s "bird-trojka," Mandel'shtam's "blind swallow," and Majakovskij's "love"), Shklovskij creates an example of the type of multi-layered text that "preserves the traces of time," that is, that re-members its cultural antecedents, while at the same time creating new meaning that attempts to surpass the precursor's text.