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The Russian Tradition from Potebnia to Shklovsky, with Some Poets in Between
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The Russian Tradition from Potebnia to Shklovsky, with Some Poets in Between

Aleksandr Potebnia:
From Myth to Science—
And Back Again

The history of the modern tradition in Russia can safely be said to begin with the Ukrainian-born philologist Aleksandr Potebnia (1835—1891). Until the 1980s few people in the West paid much attention to Potebnia's role in the history of modern language theory and criticism. He customarily received a few pages in historical accounts of Russian Formalism and even Russian symbolism. Victor Erlich mentioned him decades ago in the book that introduced the English-speaking world to Russian Formalism.[1] A voluminous, more recent study of Russian Formalism, in German, contains one fairly long discussion of Potebnia and numerous brief references to him.[2] There have been sporadic articles on him both in the Soviet Union and in the West,[3] though generally not in widely read journals, and there have even been a few books on him published in the Soviet Union.[4] In the 1980s, however, Potebnia began to attract some attention in the West, owing in large part to the surge of interest in early twentieth-century Russian language theory and psycholinguistics, and in 1986 a full-length book in English on Potebnia was published.[5]

The work that established the outline of Potebnia's thought for his entire career was a collection of articles called Mysl' i jazyk (Thought and Language). It was published in 1862, the year Potebnia turned twenty-seven. His purpose in this book was to take Humboldt's work


as a point of departure, correct certain of Humboldt's misconceptions, and explore an area left unclear in Humboldt, namely, the relation between thought and language. As Potebnia sees it, a satisfactory account of this relation is precisely where his contemporaries and immediate predecessors are most deficient. Potebnia devotes the second and third articles of his collection to the work of Humboldt and two of his successors, Karl Friedrich Becker (1775–1849) and August Schleicher (1821–1868), showing how the system of each of these linguists collapses on this point. Both Becker and Schleicher focus on the problem of whether thought precedes language or language precedes thought, but, as Potebnia sees it, both assert one position only to contradict it unwittingly later on.[6] Humboldt is not much better on this count, in Potebnia's estimation, because although he does not actually contradict himself, he certainly leaves the matter confused. Thought and language simply do not coincide in any simple formula, Potebnia points out, and Humboldt does not seem to have been aware of that.[7]

The thought-language problem itself is not exactly the point here since Potebnia's impact on succeeding generations had little to do with this issue. It has more to do with the progress of the myths I have been talking about. But there is a matter of chronology in Potebnia's discussions of his immediate predecessors that is fascinating because it partially explains why his impact on Bely and subsequent thinkers was what it was. Potebnia reduces the flaws in Becker's thinking to a contemptuous phrase, referring to the German linguist's "fruitless formalism."[8] The whole problem in Becker and Schleicher appears to be a lack of logical and scientific rigor, as the contradictions in their arguments demonstrate.

If Potebnia had waited another ten years or so, however, he would have been much less likely to fault Schleicher for lack of methodological rigor. Schleicher's most important contribution to the history of linguistics was his Darwinian Theory and Linguistic Science, published in 1873. Ernst Cassirer assigns this book a cardinal position in the same transitional phase of the history of linguistics that Humboldt belongs to. Schleicher's book, in Cassirer's view, represents the last step needed after Humboldt "to dissolve linguistics completely into natural science and linguistic laws into pure natural laws."[9] Schleicher's book was a vigorous assertion of positivism in the study of languages and resolved the earlier thought-language issue by proposing a doctrinaire monism that denied the independence of thought or spirit from matter.

Potebnia formed his theory in the late 1850s largely in response to


recent developments in language philosophy and did not change it substantially for the rest of his career. The date is crucial because ten years later the picture would have been very different, and chances are that his thought would not have taken the direction it did had he started writing then. If Potebnia's view of language is infused with a particular type of mythic thinking, it is no doubt partly because of this circumstance. Later thinkers like Bely owed their conception of language in no small measure to this accident in the history of linguistics.

The most important impulse Potebnia gave to modern literary aesthetics was his redefinition of inner form, which profoundly affected his own version of the poetry-prose distinction. The notion of inner form arises in the context of a psycholinguistic distinction that is central to Potebnia's doctrine. In a section on "the language of feeling and the language of thought" Potebnia distinguishes between the two cognitive processes of understanding and association. Understanding of language takes place when sound precedes meaning; association takes place when meaning precedes sound. Understanding is thus a sort of immediate, necessary apprehension of the meaning of language, whereas association promotes only an indirect apprehension through the assignment of purely conventional meanings to signs. Inner form is relevant only to understanding, not to association, because it is directly tied to human thought. "The inner form of a word," says Potebnia, "is the relation of the content of thought to consciousness; it shows how man's own thought represents itself to him."[10]

What does this statement mean? Potebnia tells us in the most concrete terms, by making yet another distinction. A word whose inner form is in evidence is one whose meaning is objective, as opposed to one whose meaning is subjective . Words accessible to the understanding have objective meanings since the meaning is simply there, whereas words apprehensible only through association are subjective since listeners must rely on their own subjective faculties to supply a meaning. What, then, is an objective meaning? Easy: it is the "closest etymological" one. Thus the Russian word for table, stol, has an objective meaning because it contains the Slavic root /STL/, "to spread." The presence of this root confers on the word stol a kind of immediate meaningfulness and thus makes it objectively understandable to a speaker of Russian.[11] In a word like this the inner form is successfully joined to the outer form, or the sound of the word.

Of course, this theory sounds glib and naive today. But Potebnia has done something extraordinary: he has attempted to take the Humbold-


tian notion of inner form and bolster it firmly on a "scientific" foundation of philology, thus making concrete what had been vague and intangible in his German predecessor. But at the same time, apparently without knowing it, he has replaced Humboldt's truly original contribution to the philosophy of language, namely the energeia concept, with the old myth of origins. Potebnia thus claims the existence of a state of primeval purity and thinks that because it has been identified with scientifically established etymological roots, it won't be seen as mystical or mythical.

But mystical and mythical is just what it is, and the person who noticed this was Andrei Bely. In a review article of Potebnia's Thought and Language published in 1910, Bely pointed to the most prominent paradox of Potebnia's system. He shows how Potebnia's notion of the relation between inner and outer form leads to a view of the ideal word that privileges the artistic over the ordinary, since the ideal word for Potebnia, containing as it does an inherent, objective meaning, must necessarily be an autonomous entity, a symbol. "This conclusion," Bely says, "again and again brings [Potebnia] back to the poet-romantic's dream of an unexpressed, fluid, momentary, and rationally incommunicable meaning that shines through as if from the depths of every word. Behind the cover of its ordinary sense the word conceals inside itself a primevalelemental, magical-active force. . . . From linguistics, grammar, and the psychology of verbal symbols Potebnia arrives at the assertion of a mysticism of the word itself."[12]

Bely's comment is valuable for two reasons. The first is simply the shrewdness he shows in calling attention to a pitfall in Potebnia's thinking. The second is the light he sheds, perhaps unwittingly, on Potebnia's historical role. Bely finds it shockingly contradictory that Potebnia should take as a point of departure the supposedly scientific disciplines of linguistics, grammar, and psychology and arrive from them at a position as mystical as his doctrine of inner form.

But from our perspective this contradiction is exactly what is so important in Potebnia. Potebnia was apparently convinced that his emphasis on the thought-language problem and his psycholinguistic foundation were a timely corrective to the least scientific aspects of Humboldt's theory. He was not willing to consider himself a part of the romantic legacy in language philosophy that unabashedly espoused mystico-mythical ideas. And if, as Bely accurately noticed, Potebnia ended up regressively asserting a mythical tradition even older than Humboldt's, this is only an indication to us that he is a transitional figure.


He is a perfect example of the process I have described because he subscribes at once wholeheartedly and unwittingly to one of the oldest myths in existence but views himself as rejecting all myth. To a significant extent for Potebnia, the myth—beyond the actual myth of origins—is that there is no myth.

The Poetry-Prose Distinction

Since there is no myth and, consequently, no murky, unscientific conceptual framework, Potebnia blithely makes his way from his conception of inner form to a poetry-prose distinction that will be adopted in many significant respects by even the most formalistic of subsequent Russian linguists, critics, and aestheticians. In the last article in Thought and Language Potebnia systematizes his conception of inner form and gives it more clarity. He now speaks of words as containing three elements: outer form, which is defined as the "articulate sound"; content; and inner form, which he unabashedly defines as the "closest etymological meaning" (Mysl' ijazyk, p. 134). What does this system have to do with poetry? The successful unity of sound and meaning is the "form" of poetic production, Potebnia says. The force responsible for creating this unity, the "third link," is none other than inner form (p. 138). Now inner form is also the symbolic meaning of a word, by which Potebnia means the meaning that is directly accessible. Symbolic meaning, or "symbolism," is the province of poetic language, as Potebnia says at the beginning of the article. "Poeticity," he had said, is the symbolism of language, whereas "prosaicity" is the "oblivion of inner form" (p. 134).

There are profound analogies, according to Potebnia, between words and art. Art, like language, is a means for the creation of thought, and its goal, like that of the word, is to produce a certain subjective mood (nastroenie) in both creator and perceiver. Art, because it is an active, creative force, is a form of energeia, just like language (p. 143). But not all language, of course: only poetic language enjoys the privileged status that makes it analogous to art. There is an excellent reason for this, too. The privileging of poetry does not arise from an arbitrary decision that judges it superior to prose. Poetry is privileged because it is earlier . We have here the myth of origins all over again, and Potebnia easily slips into a Rousseauistic mode of evocation to make his point. Everything is "first," "in the beginning," back in a mythic past of perfect linguistic transparency. "The first word is poetry," says Potebnia; this is why poetry precedes all the other arts. "The most perfect words of folk poetry


date back to a time when people would not have been in a condition either to conceive of or to produce anything worthy of the name of paintings or statues." "In the beginning the word and poetry concentrated within themselves the entire aesthetic life of the people" (p. 150).

Poetry precedes not only all other forms of art but all other forms of speech as well. So primal is poetry, in fact, that the "late" division between poetry and prose can be said to arise from poetry itself (p. 152). The distinction comes about as a result of a gradual process of loss over time. Poetic language is language still imbued with inner form, whereas prosaic language develops in proportion to the loss of inner form. Inner form is lost as the objectivity of language (that is, objectivity understood in Potebnia's sense) gives way increasingly to abstraction. With the rise of abstraction in a word comes its increasing distance from sensual perception. This distance, incidentally, is why prosaic language tends to be the domain of science: prose is given to analyzing reality, whereas poetry seizes reality directly in its sensible manifestations, says Potebnia, loosely translating from Humboldt (p. 152).

Potebnia's opposition thus not only sets up poetry in a favored position of mythic purity but also specifically ties aesthetic value to poeticity and, by extension, to the myth of origin. A poetic word is valued in direct proportion to its symbolism, which means its inner form, which means its proximity to a primal state, which means its proximity to its own etymological root. And the corollary is that the more abstract a word, the more detached from its origin, the more intellectual effort required to discern its meaning, the less poetic and, consequently, the less aesthetically valued it is.

The Word Is the Work

Since primal language is poetry, and since poetry is at the root of art, it follows that there is a fundamental analogy between art and language, artworks and words.[13] Put one way, in fact, there really is no difference between a word and an artwork, since the word (poetic, of course) is art. But the analogy works on the level of specifics, too: the artwork in general contains the same three moments as the word, namely outer form, inner form, and content, and these three moments interact in the name of the same function for the artwork as for the word, namely the creation of thought.[14]

Thus the word, in its strict sense as a discrete lexical unit of meaning, is a kind of microcosm of the larger artwork of which it might form a


part. As long as the word is a poetic one, the same propositions that are true of the word are true of the artwork. The artwork, by implication, functions like a symbol in the way the word does. And it stands in the same relation to the world as the word does: like the word, it creates something that was not there before, it is energeia rather than ergon, and, as a consequence, it contains more than what the speaker or artist put into it.

In one way this kind of thinking sounds perfectly trite and entirely unworthy of anyone's attention. After all, isn't the lack of distinction between individual lexical units and the broader units of meaning in language more a regressive idea than a progressive one? Ancient cultures did not distinguish sharply between the individual word, of the sort that we expect to find listed in a dictionary, and speech or utterance. In those days (and in oral cultures today, I'm told), the only parts of language that really are perceived as intrinsically discrete are proper names.

But Potebnia is pointing to something that really is new and something that will be prominently featured in the following generation or two. Apart from the mythic aspects of Potebnia's theories, apart from the silly idea that the inner essence of a word is nothing more than the word's Slavic or Indo-European root, Potebnia's conception carries a level of philosophical complexity that merits attention. He sees the act of speaking as a deeply relational act, one that touches each of a complex of coordinates without actually rendering any one of them or being identical to any one of them. These coordinates are things like the word (as lexical item, "articulate sound"), the image or concept, the speaker, and the world, with inner form as a kind of pure (but only vaguely defined) mediating function. That is to say, the word is a structure of relations, and this is the source of its analogy to the larger units of language and, ultimately, to works of art composed of language. Words, phrases, language, poems—all these things are there in our perception as relational complexes. In a literal sense they are nowhere, and yet they truly have the power to create a "somewhere."

The notion of symbol will serve to designate this class of things for Andrei Bely. When he comes along to define symbols, he does so in a way that makes it impossible to determine whether he is talking about words, poems, specific figures of poetic speech, or, for that matter, signifying objects in the very broadest sense of the term. This is not only because Bely has decided to return to an archaic notion of language as logos, where logos can mean, as it did in Greek, a range of things from discrete utterances to language broadly conceived. It is also because Be-


ly's interest transcends the limited philological subject of words as lexical items. He is concerned with a much more modern subject, and that is meaning, specifically its structure and function. But it is Potebnia, standing on the border between the realm of linguistic myth and the realm of modern science and functionalism, who had set the stage. And to judge from what he had to say about his predecessor, Bely knew it.

The Value of Formalism and the Formalism of Values

Everything came together for Bely in 1909, if you can call what happened that year "coming together." It came together in the sense that Bely wrote most of his greatest theoretical works in a stupendously concentrated period of activity. He claims to have written his crowning article on the theory of symbolism, "The Emblematics of Meaning," in a week (the article is close to a hundred printed pages long). After writing his trend-setting article on metrics, "Lyric Poetry and Experiment," Bely wrote three accompanying pieces on metrics and his famous "Magic of Words" in a single month, then in two additional months dashed off the two-hundred-odd pages of commentary to his collection Symbolism and reread Potebnia.[15]

Bely's concern for the previous twelve years or so had been a theory of symbolism, something to define the cultural and philosophical era of which he was a part. Symbolism is the monument to this whole period since in it are collected Bely's most important theoretical pronouncements. But the book has a strangely schizoid character that would appear to make nonsense of any superficial attempt to find a unified vision in the different things Bely says. Bely himself knew this and wrote about it toward the end of his life in his memoirs. This "heap of screamingly contradictory articles," he says of Symbolism, was a reflection of his "stormy and agonizing personal life" at the time.[16]

It's true that the articles are "screamingly contradictory." There are articles proposing purely formalistic and scientific systems of aesthetics; there are the articles on metrics, which rely on the extensive use of statistics for verse analysis; and there are the difficult idealist articles on theory of symbolism, like "The Emblematics of Meaning" and "The Magic of Words." It's not true, however, that all these contradictions are simply the reflection of Bely's personal life. They are the reflection


of a deep division in Bely's thinking, one that arguably lasted his entire adult life.

Less self-conscious remarks that Bely made about his theoretical writings will show what I mean. For both in the period when the essays were written and later on, in his memoirs, Bely seems confused about the true orientation of his studies. One moment he appears to think that the secret to a theory of symbolism lies in the direction of Kantian epistemology, or what he calls criticism (since Kant arrives at his epistemology through a critique of pure reason), and the next moment he appears to think that it is some sort of religion. In the introductory footnote to "The Emblematics of Meaning," for example, Bely states that the theoretical foundation for a theory of symbolism (a foundation, incidentally, that has not yet been established, he says) is to be found "in the context of a critical reappraisal of the basic epistemological premises concerning reality."[17] In his memoirs he speaks of the "epistemology of symbolism" and how he had wanted his theory to be critical (in the Kantian sense) rather than mystical.[18] But in the preface to Symbolism Bely unabashedly writes that symbolism is "a certain religious creed, having its own dogma," that this is the positive side of a doctrine of symbolism whose negative side alone he has given in "The Emblematics of Meaning." He then goes on in a bizarre and rambling paragraph to explain that theory and dogma are irreconcilable because "dogma is the Word become Flesh." About this, he continues, it is best to read in the Gospel according to John (S, p. ii).

Bely has good reason to be confused. His readers have been confused for more than half a century. It is at least to his credit that he later recognized just how chaotic the contents of this book were in subject, method, and, most of all, ideological orientation. My own view, however, is that there is a great deal less confusion in it than even Bely thought. To be sure, it is difficult to reconcile the contradictory things Bely says about his aims in approaching a theory of symbolism. But that difficulty assumes one takes him seriously when he characterizes his own work. As it happens, in spite of the breadth of knowledge that came from his desultory nature and amazing eclecticism, Bely showed an extraordinarily narrow understanding of what he himself did. His theory of symbolism can't be completely defined by being identified as a form of religion any more than it can be completely defined by being described as critical. It has the ability to encompass both forms of knowledge, because for Bely a theory of symbolism is a universal theory of


meaning. It accounts for all types of signifying objects and thus can be used to analyze, say, religious icons as well as words in a poem.[19]

This universality has to be recognized before any sense can be made of Bely's theory of symbolism. But once it is, then that theory takes on a tremendous number of implications for our study of the theory of language, for a theory of language necessarily becomes a subset of a theory of symbolism. Bely's confusion then falls into place as another symptom of a transitional age. Like Potebnia, Bely was in the process of abandoning the traditional myths but was unwilling to let go entirely.

The essay where Bely presents what might plausibly be characterized as a theory of language is "The Magic of Words." Bely's rhetoric sounds as if he had lifted it directly from the pages of Potebnia, and this is not especially surprising since Bely had reread Potebnia (whom he mentions repeatedly) and written his review of Thought and Language in the same period when he wrote "The Magic of Words." He evokes the myth of origin, for instance, in terms largely reminiscent of Potebnia. "In the beginning (pervonacal'no[*] ), poetry, the process of cognizing, music, and speech were all one and the same," he says in a passage strikingly similar to the one in Thought and Language where Potebnia asserts that poetry is the first expression of the aesthetic life of a people (S, p. 431).[20] He refers at one point in the essay to inner form, without mentioning either Potebnia or Humboldt, and speaks freely of representations, images, contents, and all the other terms that Potebnia had established as integral parts of his theory. The entire second part of "The Magic of Words," in fact, is borrowed (in this case with appropriate attribution) from a posthumously published work by Potebnia called Notes on the Theory of Literature .[21]

The central concern of the essay is Bely's poetry-prose distinction. Poetic speech for Bely is "living" speech, and the thing that distinguishes it from prosaic, or "dead," speech is that it is generative, creative. "The word creates a new, third world: a world of sound symbols by means of which both the secrets of a world located outside me and those imprisoned in a world inside me come to light," Bely says. "The aim of communication is to kindle, through contact made between two inner worlds, a third world that is indivisible for those communicating and that unexpectedly deepens the individual images of the soul. . . . The original victory of consciousness lies in the creation of sound symbols. For in sound there is recreated a new world within whose boundaries I feel myself to be the creator of reality" (S, p. 430; SE, p. 94).

But only the poetic word is creative in this sense. In opposition to it


stands the dead and deadly "word-term." Such is "the common prosaic word," which "has lost all its sound and pictorial imagery." It is a "fetid, decomposing corpse," says Bely. Word-terms come about as the result of a process of abstraction like the one Potebnia describes. As in Potebnia, the process begins in the mythical era with the poetic word and ends with the abstract term. In fact, Bely outdoes Potebnia by presenting the process as a kind of genesis of human knowledge: "The word begot myth; myth begot religion; religion begot philosophy; and philosophy begot the term" (S, p. 440; SE, p. 103).

Although Bely's rhetoric sounds a great deal like Potebnia's, and many of the terms of his discussion are borrowed from Potebnia, there is a significant difference of emphasis. Bely has restored to Potebnia's philosophy of language the geneticist orientation of Humboldt, but with a modification that firmly establishes Bely's modernity. Language is certainly an organic and creative force for Bely, just as it had been for Humboldt. But Bely is concerned more immediately with the individual act of speech; Humboldt had seen the creative force of language at the level of a whole people and a whole language. And because Bely focuses on the individual act of speech, his interest is attracted to the ontological dimension of language and speech. He even uses this term at one point in a discussion otherwise lifted from Potebnia. Speaking of the creation of a metaphor, Bely says that in a metaphor, which joins two images into one figure of speech, a new, third image is generated from the combination of the two original images. This third image, he says, is independent of the two images that "engendered" it because "creation endows it with ontological being independently of our consciousness" (S, p. 446; SE, p. 109). Where Potebnia had sought to account for the representational powers of language, Bely seeks to account for language's ability to generate being.

Even Bely's reformulation of Potebnia's derivation of the poetry-prose distinction shows this difference in orientation. For Bely, it is not enough to point to a historical (or mythico-historical) process that begins with poetry and ends with prosaic abstraction. He insists that the steps of this progress are linked by the generative force of the word: each step begets the next.

Another aspect of Bely's essay shows a reorientation that is distinctly Belyan if not specifically modern. Bely repeatedly uses the word cognition without saying clearly what he means by it. In "The Emblematics of Meaning" he develops at great length a polarity between cognition, by which he essentially means ordinary scientific understanding, and


creation, by which he means the sort of power he attributes to speakers of poetic language in "The Magic of Words." Both are forms of knowledge; hence language for Bely is a form of knowledge. This is why he says at the beginning of "The Magic of Words" that "cognition is impossible without words" (S, p. 429; SE, p. 93). Words are the vehicles of knowledge—word-terms for scientific knowledge (cognition) and poetic words for creation.

Recognizing that Bely's orientation in "The Magic of Words" is toward issues like ontology and theory of knowledge has the effect of knocking the wind out of his visionary rhetoric. In fact, one can easily come around to the view that the magic Bely talks about and the myths he evokes are meant in a figurative sense. Words have the power to generate being by a process analogous to that by which a magician would generate being, if there were such things as magicians. The analogy, of course, is limited to the idea of generating being and does not suggest that the being that is generated is material, as it is in magic.

Why, then, does Bely write in the style he does, and why does he insist on invoking the same old myths of origin as Potebnia? Something strange is certainly happening, and it all looks even stranger in the light of what Bely says about Potebnia in his critique of Thought and Language . There Bely accuses Potebnia of practicing a form of mysticism. He refers to the distinction between geneticist theories of language like Humboldt's, according to which language is always being created in the present, and nativist theories, according to which language was already handed down in perfect form at some point in a mythic past. Because of his regressive reinterpretation of inner form, Potebnia was not the Humboldtian geneticist he considered himself to be, Bely says, but had returned to a mystical, nativist conception of language.

But Bely offers an explanation for this shortcoming on Potebnia's part, and it confirms the view that Bely is using Potebnia's rhetoric in "The Magic of Words" for some other purpose than to propose a mysticism of his own. What Potebnia is really presenting in disguise, according to Bely, is a theory of the value of the word in which the word is considered "from the point of view of its irrational content." The problem for Potebnia was that he allowed himself to become entangled in all kinds of contemporary psychological theories, thus losing sight of what he was really doing. He lacked an understanding of values as an epistemological problem; but then that was not his fault, Bely says, because the problem had not been articulated at the time Potebnia wrote.[22]

Bely doesn't articulate it here either, but he had made it the basis for


his most extensive statements on the theory of symbolism in "The Emblematics of Meaning." That essay too, like "The Magic of Words," is filled with mystico-mythical rhetoric, but in the end it proposes a formalistic theory of meaning. What are values, and why is their presence in a theory of meaning an indication that that theory is formalistic rather than mystical?

In "The Magic of Words" the emphasis is on the creation of meaning. In "The Emblematics of Meaning" the emphasis is on epistemology, which is to say the reception of meaning. I will speak at length of "The Emblematics of Meaning" in chapter 5. For now, all that needs to be said is that Bely uses the analogy between objects of meaning (a generic category that includes words) and religious icons. Religious icons in the Russian theological tradition are seen as embodying an essence that we might refer to as divine grace. What Bely does is to replace the theological conception of the icon with a secularized conception by substituting "value" for the essence that is embodied in an icon. Value is a term that had gained currency in the recent writings of neo-Kantian philosophers like Heinrich Rickert (1863–1936). In a book called Der Gegenstand der Erkenntnis (The object of cognition) Rickert had sought to redefine Kantian epistemology by asserting that every act of ordinary cognition, instead of merely proceeding according to rules prescribed by the structure of the mind (Kant's Categories, or Pure Concepts of Understanding), contains an element of will, a kind of positive, ethical affirmation of truth.[23] The object of this affirmation is a value, and a value is simply something that the human subject, again by will, esteems. Rickert's system thus provides a means for eliminating the strict separation that Kant had made between practical reason, which has to do with morals, and ordinary scientific understanding, which has to do with the way we organize experience in the physical world.

Rickert's philosophy served Bely particularly well because even though it blurs the boundaries between scientific understanding and something as nasty and metaphysical as morals, Rickert proposed his own system as entirely free of any metaphysical implications. The valuebased theory of knowledge is a purely formal system, both because values are not metaphysical objects (according to Rickert) and because the focus is on the process of cognizing. Thus when Bely adopts the Rickertian notion of value and integrates it into an otherwise theological structure where it takes the place of divine grace, he too is adopting a formal system.[24]

Bely's assertion that Potebnia was proposing a theory of the value of


the word and at the same time was considering the word "from the point of view of its irrational content" should now be clear. The problem in Potebnia is the "irrational content." Had Potebnia had the benefit of neo-Kantian value-based epistemology, he could have elaborated a theory that was free from the irrational elements that in fact contaminate what he wrote. And if we now consider Bely's theories in this light, then his own quasi-mystical and religious rhetoric appears all the more either to be the result of some sort of schizoid confusion or, more likely, to serve as an analogy in a structural description of something that resembles, but isn't quite, mysticism and religion.

Bely described the key notion of his theory of symbolism years later in a passage striking for its concreteness. The passage comes from a work with the ungainly title Why I Became a Symbolist and Why I Never Ceased Being One in All the Phases of My Intellectual and Artistic Development, and if ever there was evidence to support the assertion that Bely's theory of symbolism was attempting to be formalistic, it is here. The account Bely gives is credible both because it has the advantage of distance from the symbolist period (Why I Became a Symbolist was written in 1928) and because it was written at a moment when Bely had a spiritual commitment different from the one he professed to have during his earlier period. The purpose of this memoir is to show that the central idea of symbolism, what he calls here "symbolization," was a constant in his career that saw him through such ideologically diverse periods as the symbolist period and the current period, when he claimed allegiance to a system of thought known as anthroposophy.

Symbolization is the process by which a symbol comes into being. To demonstrate the universality of the process and its lifelong presence in his own life, Bely evokes a childhood experience. The whole thing begins with a state of consciousness, in this case fear. Here is how a symbol comes to be:

Wishing to reflect the essence of a state of consciousness (fear), I would take a crimson-colored cardboard box top, hide it in the shadows, so that I would see not the object but the color, and then walk by the crimson spot and exclaim to myself, "SOMETHING PURPLE." This "SOMETHING" was the experience. The purple spot was the form of expression. The two, taken together, constituted the symbol (in the process of symbolization). The "SOMETHING" was unidentified. The cardboard box top was an external object bearing no relation to the "SOMETHING." But this object, having been transformed by the shadows (the purple spot), was the end result of the merging of that (imageless) and this (objective) into something that is neither


THIS nor THAT, but a THIRD. The symbol is this THIRD. In constructing it I surmount two worlds (the chaotic state of fear and the object given from the external world). Neither of these worlds is real. But the THIRD world exists.[25]

Bely does not use the vocabulary of value philosophy here, but the process is unquestionably the same as the one he outlines in "The Emblematics of Meaning." A vague state is embodied in a physical object, with the result that the physical object becomes a symbol, thus generating a "third" state of being that is independent from both the vague state and the physical object. This is symbolization, and Bely would have us believe that it fits all the different systems of belief (and there were many) that he adopted in his career.

Future generations of critics and poets would ridicule Bely for espousing an aesthetics, and a worldview underlying that aesthetics, that always pointed towards the otherworldly. The poets known as Acmeists, whose most famous representatives were Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelshtam, prided themselves on their rejection of the symbolist commitment to mystical ideals. As early as 1913 the Acmeist Sergei Gorodetsky, in his manifesto titled "Some Currents in Contemporary Russian Poetry," describes the "battle" between Acmeism and symbolism as a "battle for this world."[26] The characteristic attitude of antiaestheticism that so many members of the Russian avant-garde adopted in Bely's day allowed little sympathy for the supposedly mystical orientation of symbolist poets. And, of course, it was part of the polemical posture of Formalist critics like Viktor Shklovsky to reject symbolist notions of mystical and allegorical content in favor of a "scientific" pursuit of functions and techniques in language.

But to call Bely a mystic is entirely unfair because it ignores the most basic characteristic of his thought and his personality. Bely was a man of conflicting temptations, and his favorite thing seems to have been to place himself in various systems of thought, explore all their twistings and turnings, but remain at a distance from the center, where the unwary wanderer might find himself trapped into actually believing something. This is why Bely fits so neatly into our story. His spiritual diffidence, his tendency toward formalism, and his ironist's pose in his "adoption" of different religious and mystical systems of thought all indicate the struggle with myth characteristic of this age. Yet the perpetuation of these systems, even if they present themselves only as temptations, is evidence that Bely's escape is not complete. As far as theory of language


goes, we can see Bely caught in the same conflict as everyone else I've mentioned. In "The Emblematics of Meaning" his theory of meaning is formalistic (this is his "fracture"), but the entire formal edifice of his thought is borrowed from Russian Orthodox theology. And when he comes to talk about poetry in "The Magic of Words," we find him succumbing to the alluring power of the poetry-prose myth just as Potebnia and everyone else before him had.

The Zaumniks

The word zaum' was coined in 1913 by Aleksei Kruchenykh (1886–1969). It is a difficult word to translate—for two reasons. The less important is that there is no English word that renders clearly what it means. "Transrational language" is often used, since za - corresponds to trans - and -um ' has to do with mind or reason. But "transrational" has a technical, philosophical ring to it that is entirely missing in zaum', and since no one has come up with a more plausible English equivalent, many writers simply use the Russian word. The more important reason is that zaum' was used to mean more than one thing.

The principal exponents of zaum' language theory are Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov, both commonly classified as members of the avant-garde Cubo-Futurist group. Kruchenykh and Khlebnikov show the transitional stage of thinking that is typical of the era. They are at home in an Edenic world of mysticism—much more than Bely is—yet we see in them a pull toward the modernist "fracture."

Their pronouncements on language can be divided into two broad categories. In both versions of zaum' theory the constant factor is that zaum' language is distinct from any existing language and is ideally referential, which is to say that it shows an ideal correlation with the things it designates. The difference between the two versions is one of orientation.

The first version of zaum' theory is an old-fashioned nativist theory of language. Poetic language is seen as being motivated directly by the objects it designates. There is thus an intrinsic connection between any object and a set of sounds that will express that object. In his first zaum' manifesto, "Declaration of the Word as Such" (1913), where the word zaum' was introduced, Kruchenykh invented a word for "lily" composed entirely of vowels since he felt that in this sequence of sounds the object's


"original purity" was restored.[27] In an essay called "The Simple Names of Language" (1916) Khlebnikov listed words beginning with the consonants m, v, k, and s, hoping to demonstrate that the words in each group have an idea in common and that this idea is expressed by the intrinsic quality of the initial sound. Thus words beginning with m often signify "the smallest members of certain varieties," an initial v often denotes the "action of subtraction," words starting with k often have to do with death, and so forth.[28] If one envisions the sign-signified problem as a polarity between word and world, then in this version the point of inception is the world since objects in the world motivate the formation of words appropriate to them.

In the other version, things are reversed, and the point of inception is the word. In a manifesto called "New Ways of the Word" Kruchenykh points out that in the archaic conception of language, thought takes precedence over words. He feels this view is wrong and has undertaken to correct the error. "Until now," he says, "it has always been asserted that 'thought dictates laws to the word, and not vice versa.' We have pointed out this error and come up with a free language that is both transrational (zaumnyj ) and universal. Previous artists have proceeded from thought to the word, but we proceed by means of the word to direct comprehension."[29]

If words precede thought and comprehension, it is because they create meaning, indeed even surpass it. As the theory comes to be elaborated in the writings of Khlebnikov, language creates its own worlds through the same necessary sign-signified correspondence that exists in a nativist conception of language, but with the obvious difference that the signified comes into being only at the moment it is named. This is where Khlebnikov's version of the poetry-prose distinction comes in. In more than one place Khlebnikov distinguishes between the function of a word when it serves reason and its function when it serves poetry. "The word lives a double life," he says in an essay titled "About Contemporary Poetry." "Either it simply grows like a plant, putting forth a cluster of neighboring sound stones, and then the principle of sound lives a self-spun life, while the portion of reason named by the word remains in shadow; or else the word goes over into the service of reason, and sound ceases to be almighty and autocratic; the sound then becomes a 'name' and obediently fulfills the commands of reason."[30] In another essay, titled simply "About Verses," Khlebnikov likens poetic language to magical invocations, saying that in the case of invocations "the demand


may not be made on the word, 'Be easy to understand like a billboard.' "[31] The poetic word thus shows a certain density, whereas the ordinary word is transparent.

The creative power of poetic language is not exactly the same thing for Khlebnikov as it is for Bely in "The Magic of Words." Language certainly created its own worlds for Bely, but those it created were recognizable worlds marked by the subjectivity of the speaker. Bely's chief concern in asserting the creativity of language was to emphasize the existential autonomy of meaning. Khlebnikov has in mind the creation of a realm of existence that has nothing to do with the one we are familiar with. In his notion language generates objects and worlds that not only never existed before but were never even conceived of. Bely's magic is thus a form of ontogenesis, whereas Khlebnikov's zaum' is a form of mythopoiesis.[32]

Needless to say, when Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh put their ideas into practice and actually create transrational words, the results are predictably unrecognizable and look like little more than gibberish. But this is not really a problem for us, even if they took all their zaum' poetry seriously. The theory simply has to be seen as idealist, like Bely's, and not designed to produce practical results.

Why view zaum' theory as anything but madness or, at best, regressiveness? In both versions it is clearly mystical, as Kruchenykh himself was not ashamed to point out. In "New Ways of the Word" he characterizes the poetic word in general as transrational (zaumnoe ) and then, by way of explaining the term, adds "mystical" in parentheses, along with other adjectives.[33] But there is something modern and even philosophically interesting about zaum' . The mystical leap from signifying word to signified object (an object that is actual in the first version and mythical in the second) leads to the assertion that poetic language is objective and autonomous. The phrase that the Futurists used to speak of the autonomy of language was similar to the one Bely used in his critique of Potebnia. The Futurists talked of "the word as such" (slovo kak takovoe ); Bely had used the phrase "mysticism of the word itself (mistika samogo slova ).[34] The word "as such" has an existence all its own in both versions of zaum' theory. In the first, nativist version, word and object exist in a relation of solidarity, owing to the perfect, intrinsically motivated referentiality of the word. The word thus shares in the existential autonomy of the object. In the second version it is autonomous because it is the existential point of departure for the mythic "concrete" reality it creates, this reality itself being seen as separate and


independent. This is where the modernist fracture modestly appears in zaum' theory.

The Early Shklovsky, or How It All Becomes Official in the Work of an Actual Critic

What does language theory of this sort look like when it turns up in the work of a critic of the same era? Viktor Shklovsky (1893–1984) is a perfect example because he shows just how intimate the relations were between poets and critics in this age. In fact, when you place Shklovsky next to writers like Bely and Khlebnikov, you begin to wonder whether the distinction between poet and critic (or, for that matter, between symbolist, Futurist, and Formalist) is all that meaningful. Shklovsky was not a poet, but he was not exclusively a critic either (he wrote novels).

Like so many others, Shklovsky saw himself as a demystifier and a demythifier. Among his earliest writings are an article on Potebnia and one on transrational language, both published for the first time in 1916. They are probably more interesting for what they say about Shklovsky than for what they say about their subject because they both show Shklovsky implicitly defining himself in relation to the recent past and the present. The past and the present for him are exactly the intellectual context I have just been talking about.

The article "On Poetry and Transrational Language" is usually seen as Shklovsky's defense of the theories of the zaumniki . If defending the zaumniki is what Shklovsky thought he was doing, then he certainly went about his task in a strange way. More than half the article is devoted to listing examples of transrational language from traditional literature, where, Shklovsky shows, the authors in question had no intention of writing in anything like transrational language. The point is that transrational language exists (here he apparently is lending support to the Futurists' theories), but not only in its pure form. For the most part, in fact, it exists "in a hidden state, as rhyme existed in ancient verse—alive, but something one was not aware of."[35] Where it does appear in pure form is in the language of mystical sects and in glossolalia. Perhaps this assertion can be construed as validating the Futurists' idea of zaum' by demonstrating that it existed before the term had been invented. At the same time, however, it has the effect of devaluing their discovery. After all, the zaumniki were not claiming to have found something that was already in plain sight; they were claiming to have either


invented or discovered something that no one else had ever known about. When Shklovsky says it was there all the time, but not necessarily in its pure form, he shows that the zaumniki were doing nothing more than supplying a name for an existing phenomenon.

Besides, the whole thrust of the article seems to be toward a theoretical point independent of what the zaumniki were doing. Shklovsky's notion is that language and poetry are mutually determining things, that one can no more say poetry is a phenomenon of language than one can say language is a phenomenon of poetry. Transrational language in its pure state demonstrates this because of the way in which its unrecognizable speech "wants to be language."[36] Shklovsky's thinking goes well beyond anything the zaumniki had done. In its emphasis on the perceptual aspect of language—that is, the tendency of the listener to take sound combinations that do not exist in his or her own lexicon and assimilate them into a structure that is somehow on the verge of meaningfulness—Shklovsky's article looks ahead to the psychoperceptual orientation his work will start to assume in the article "Art as Device."

The article on Potebnia is more aggressive. The curious thing about it is that Shklovsky's critique of Potebnia is based on a misunderstanding and is used to assert a position that is not much different from Potebnia's. Shklovsky outlines his predecessor's theory of the poetic word, referring to the tripartite structure of outer form, image (or inner form), and meaning. He then points out, rightly, that for Potebnia the imaginality (obraznost' ) of a word means its symbolism, which is directly proportional to its poeticality. Shklovsky disagrees. In his opinion what distinguishes poetic language from prosaic language is not images but something he calls the palpability (oscutimost')[o&!;&!;utimost'] of its construction." The poetic image is only one of several means for rendering the construction of language palpable: language can be made palpable as well in its acoustical, pronunciative, or semasiological aspects.[37]

In fact, as Shklovsky saw it, Potebnia was so concerned with images that he committed a cardinal error, which was to argue away the importance of external form. "From the position that 'the clarity of a representation or its absence (that is, the imaginality of a word) cannot be made out in its sounds' and that 'imaginality equals poeticality,'" says Shklovsky, "Potebnia draws the conclusion that the poeticality of a word cannot be made out in the sounds of that word, that external form (sound, rhythm) may be left entirely out of account in a definition of the essence of poetry."[38] Victor Erlich thinks that Shklovsky may have learned about Potebnia from secondhand sources.[39] The suggestion ap-


pears to make sense, for it is difficult to recognize Potebnia in Shklovsky's critique: no one who has read Thought and Language can possibly think that Potebnia ignores outer form since he devotes many pages to the subject of the relation between the outer form and the inner form of a word. Still, Erlich's statement is puzzling since in the critique of Potebnia Shklovsky cites page numbers from Notes on the Theory of Literature . In addition, there is evidence to show that Shklovsky in one of his earliest articles appropriated words and phrases from Potebnia (without citing his source). There is no question, then, that Shklovsky knew Potebnia firsthand; the only question is whether he knew more than a few pages of his work.

Let's return for a moment to the article on Potebnia. Shklovsky's first reproach, that Potebnia was concerned only with images and not with the palpability of language, is just as unfounded as the second, although it is much easier to see why Shklovsky thought this. In fact, it is a flaw in Potebnia's system that makes Shklovsky's statement inaccurate. For what Shklovsky really wishes to see is a doctrine of the self-valued word or word "as such," a doctrine by which poetic language distinguishes itself from prosaic because it calls attention to itself as language . But isn't that exactly the doctrine Potebnia has unwittingly subscribed to, as Bely pointed out in his shrewd critique? Isn't Potebnia's "mysticism of the word itself," as Bely calls it, the very thing Shklovsky would like to see, though he certainly would not like to see it called mysticism?

He also would not have liked to see it be mysticism. But here is where Shklovsky's critique of Potebnia is most interesting. One commentator has suggested that the most important concept of Shklovsky's early career, the concept of ostranenie, arose as a direct result of his misunderstanding of Potebnia.[40] The term is introduced in the 1917 article "Art as Device," where Shklovsky again brings up Potebnia, referring to his theory slightingly as one according to which art is "thinking in images," and then goes on to give a more complete account than previously of the distinction between poetic and prosaic language. Since it is the business of art to give us a perception of things that allows us to see them, not just recognize them, an must use the technique of "making strange" (ostranenie ), showing things in a new and different way, so that the perceiver "sees" them as if for the first time. Poetic language, which is the medium of verbal art, has the responsibility of promoting this type of vision, and it does so above all if words themselves are used in surprising and different ways, so that they call attention to themselves. Thus poetic language differs from prosaic in that prosaic language has become


automatized; its constituent words are not noticed in and for themselves but simply exist to point to their objects and then disappear.[41]

In "Art as Device" Shklovsky has dressed up his ideas in the garb of scientific respectability by discussing language in the context of something that sounds like perceptual psychology. But what he is presenting is not fundamentally different from what he had said three years earlier, even before the Potebnia study, in an article titled "The Resurrection of the Word." There Shklovsky had made the same distinction between recognizing and seeing as modes of perception associated, respectively, with prose and poetry. The same appeal is made to restore the word to a position of value by using words that call attention to themselves as words. Hence the "resurrection" promised in the title. What is striking about the article, however, is how much Shklovsky's style resembles that of Potebnia and Potebnia's successors. Yet this is not surprising, because Shklovsky, without telling us, has borrowed a great deal of material for his article from Potebnia and other sources close to Potebnia.

The basic ideas are the same as in Potebnia. Potebnia had seen the process by which poetic language becomes prosaic as one of increasing abstraction. So does Shklovsky. Potebnia had talked about the objectivity of poetic language, meaning its nearness to sensual perception. Shklovsky speaks of the disappearance from consciousness of everything that is habitual, including prosaic language. And, most important of all, Potebnia had based the whole thing on a myth. Again, so does Shklovsky. Here is how Shklovsky begins his article:

The creation of words is man's most ancient [drevnejsim[*] form of poetic creation. Today, words are dead, and language resembles a cemetery, whereas the word that had just come into being was imaginal and full of life [zivo[*] - obrazno ]. Every word in its basis [osnova ] is a trope. For example, the word "moon" [mesjac ]: the original [pervonacal'noe][pervona&!;al'noe] meaning of this word was "measurer." . . . And often, when one succeeds in reaching the image that had formed the basis of a word but that has been lost, obliterated, one is amazed at its beauty, a beauty that once was but is no more.[42]

Sound familiar? It should, because it is the same myth of original purity that Potebnia had found himself irresistibly drawn to. The same words and themes are there. There is talk of origins and tremendous separation in time. Shklovsky even uses the favored adjective to describe the linguistic Eden, pervonacal'nyj[*] (from pervyj, "first," and nacalo[*] , "beginning"), Potebnia had used this word repeatedly in his own evocations of the myth of origins (as had Bely).


A great deal of the material Shklovsky uses in "The Resurrection of the Word" is borrowed, and an examination of his sources shows how dependent he was on the Potebnian myth. In one instance he borrows from exactly the same page of Potebnia's Notes on the Theory of Literature as Bely had done in the second part of "The Magic of Words": the introductory section to Potebnia's lengthy discussion of literary tropes. Shklovsky casually mentions the commonly used metaphor "foot of a mountain" (podosva[*] gory ),[43] but he does not tell us that this is the very same example that Potebnia had used to illustrate the notion of metaphor.[44] Bely's adaptation of that page from Potebnia had included an analysis of an expression containing the word mesjac (moon) (S, pp. 443–46; SE, pp. 106–8); mesjac is the first example Shklovsky gives of a word whose original (Potebnia would say etymological) meaning is more poetic than its current one. Perhaps Shklovsky was borrowing from Bely, too.

Most of Shklovsky's borrowings, however, are from another nineteenth-century linguist, a contemporary of Potebnia named Aleksandr Nikolaevich Veselovsky (1838–1906). In 1895, four years after the death of Potebnia, Veselovsky had published an article titled "From the History of the Epithet."[45] This is where Shklovsky gets a great many of the examples he uses to illustrate his point about poetic language.[46] For instance, in a discussion of poetic figures that through continued use have lost their vividness, Shklovsky mentions the epithets in the common Russian expressions solnce jasnoe (bright sun), belyj svet (white world), and grjazi topucie[*] (mucky mud), all of which appear in Veselovsky's article as examples of what Veselovsky calls tautological epithets.[47] When Shklovsky then talks about epithets that have become so habitual that they are used even in contexts where they don't make sense, he uses the following examples: the "white hands" (belye ruki ) belonging to a Moor in a Serbian epic; "my true love," used in English ballads of both faithful and unfaithful lovers; the "starry sky" to which Nestor, in the Iliad, extends his hands in broad daylight; and a fragment of folk poetry, which Shklovsky misquotes.[48] All examples come directly from Veselovsky.[49] This second group of examples in Veselovsky occurs in a discussion of what Veselovsky terms the oblivion of the real sense (zabvenie real'nogo smysla) of the epithet. Oblivion results in petrification (okamenenie), the phenomenon where an expression has become so hardened through habitual use that it survives in the most contradictory of contexts for the simple reason that it is no longer noticed by speaker or


listener. These are really the same concepts Shklovsky is using in "The Resurrection of the Word," except that Shklovsky prefers terms like renewal and rebirth .

But there is more to this story, and it shows that something strange is going on. Most accounts of nineteenth-century Russian linguistics and philology make a great deal of the difference between Potebnia and Veselovsky. Veselovsky is usually cited as the less psychologically inclined of the two, the more inductive, the more concerned with depersonalized facts of literary production. Since he sought to deny the importance of individual creativity in literary production, viewing it as a vast, historical process definable in terms of "formulas," he is seen as the precursor to the "antipsychological" tendencies of the early Formalists.[50] And since Shklovsky has borrowed most heavily from Veselovsky, we might be tempted to think that his theoretical inclination would be toward the more sober and inductive methodology of Veselovsky rather than toward Potebnia's image-based, psychological system.

The odd thing, however, is that Veselovsky has apparently done some borrowing of his own, for in the pages Shklovsky has drawn from, virtually every example Veselovsky cites in support of his discussion appears also in precisely the same few pages of Potebnia we have been talking about. Some examples thus appear in all three writers: the passage from the Iliad describing Nestor, the "white hands" from the Serbian epic, and "mucky mud," to cite only three.[51]

If Veselovsky's examples are the same as Potebnia's, it seems to be because in this essay his concepts are the same, too. Potebnia, on one of the pages from which Veselovsky has borrowed examples, speaks of certain epithets that are tautological, then mentions the oblivion (zabvenie ) of the representation (predstavlenie ) and its renewal.[52] The next page contains Potebnia's list of permanent (postojannye) epithets. Veselovsky, too, refers to the permanence (postojanstvo) of certain epithets. The point is that the subject is the same in all three writers. All three are speaking of a central, vivid element that a word loses as it is subjected to continued use. In the pages in question Potebnia calls the element the representation (predstavlenie ) and links it up with the word's etymological root; Veselovsky calls it the word's real sense; and Shklovsky, unabashedly using the terminology of Potebnia, calls it the word's inner form.

Thus three years after "The Resurrection of the Word," when Shklovsky comes to talk of ostranenie as a technique (priem ) for restoring the


vitality of language, his point of departure is the same as in the earlier essay, namely, the feeling that ordinary language has suffered the loss of a vital element. The solution is really the same too, namely, the proposal of a means for restoring the capacity of the poetic word to make things concrete and visible instead of just recognizable.

Does all this mean that Shklovsky has nothing new to say and is merely a helpless victim of an age-old mythical tradition? By no means. As for Bely and the avant-garde theorists, what is new is largely a question of emphasis. Shklovsky's insistence on the distinction between seeing and recognizing suggests a move away from grounding the old poetry-prose distinction in language itself. The Formalist critic in 1917 is distinctly uncomfortable with a theory of language that unhesitatingly ascribes the difference between an everyday form of language and an aesthetically valued one to something contained in language. Much more solid is the notion that the difference is located in the mechanisms by which the subject perceives language.

After Shklovsky the field will open up to all kinds of new methodologies purporting to help define poetic language in the most objective and nonmystical of terms. Other Formalist critics will wrestle with the problem of defining verse language. Above all, there will be Jakobson's definition of poetic language in terms of the distinction between figures of speech: metaphor, where concepts are substituted for each other along the "vertical" axis of selection, and metonymy, where the substitution takes place along the "horizontal" axis of combination.[53] The later theories are surely not free from the charge of mysticism that can be leveled at the Russian tradition inaugurated by Potebnia. But there is no doubt that for all his tendencies to move the emphasis from language itself to perceptual phenomena in the listener, Shklovsky is still very much in the grips of the old tradition. The tendencies are just that—tendencies. And Shklovsky is perfectly at home in the milieu I've been describing, just as Jakobson will be a few years later, having partially broken with the past but still perpetuating the myth about himself that there is no myth.


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