Repudiations of Realism II: Formalism and Genetic Structuralism

  • John Orr
Part of the Edinburgh Studies in Sociology book series (ESIS)


It might seem that any movement concerned with establishing a pure literary science would be at the furthest remove from the sociological study of literature and socisety. However, the Russian Formalists have produced methods of criticism which cannot be ignored.1 Developing out of the Opojaz movement of 1914, they were in revolt against two opposing trends of literary thought—the positivists who veered towards a posture of sociological determinism and the idealists who saw literature in terms of religious or mystical symbolism. In addition, no greater contrast can be found than between the formalists and the Russian radical critics of the 1860s who tried, through the yardstick of social utility, to subordinate literature to life. The formalists stressed the Literaturnost, or literariness, of all fictional texts, and the scientific autonomy of literary criticism. At its worst, this emphasis degenerates into an introverted analysis of literary techniques. At best, however, it illustrates the literary text as the dominant element in literary-sociological criticism. On nearly all occasions, however, the formalists officially repudiated literary realism. We therefore have to ask the question: How was this repudiation justified, and does it mean a total incompatibility between the formal method and the concept of mimesis?


Genetic Structuralism Literary Evolution Social Consciousness Literary Text Advanced Capitalism 
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© John Orr 1977

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  • John Orr

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