Juliet at Eclogues (who seems to have recovered from her spam-induced silence, hurray!) posts on a theme that has been much on my mind of late (thanks to a book Jonathon sent me, about which I hope to post before hell freezes over).

Shklovsky, from Art and Device (1917): “A work of art is the sum total of all s[t]ylistic devices employed in it.”

Trotsky, from Literature and Revolution, published 7 years later in 1924: “The Formalists show a fast ripening religiousness. They are followers of St. John. They believe that ‘In the Beginning was the Word’. But we believe that in the beginning was the deed. The word followed, its phonetic shadow.”

Which comes first, the deed or the word? Which is the shadow? And can art dominate reality? See her entry for more thought-provoking quotes.

Addendum. This stanza from a Les Murray poem (“The Edgeless”) found at Ramage seems to fit here:

Where does talk come from? The two ask each other
over teacups. – From the same place as the world.
We have got the word and we don’t understand it.
It is like too much. – So we made up a word of our own
as much like nothing else as possible
and gave it to the machines. It made them grow –
And now we can’t see the limits of that word either.


  1. “From “literature as a system of systems”, and art as dynamic integration, to Soviet Realism in seventeen years.” So what’s the problem? What was Socialist Realism if not an attempt to dominate reality by literary means; “it’s that eternal human fantasy of controlling the real,” exactly as Juliet says. Trotsky got it wrong; formalists prevailed (not personally, though). Blame Shklovsky no less than Stalin for Soviet literature.

  2. “Words vs. Reality” — This tension/question/balance seems to make itself known in every interesting discipline of study I take up.
    There is the (obvious?) Biblical reference to the divine fiat in Genesis, by which the Word makes the world. Aside from the internal meaning and power this beholds within the Biblical narrative, that God created the world with speech, on a more modern slant, it is quite amazing that the Bible, a book made up of Words, has done so much to create our civilization’s Reality (read this in any which way you will, from the monotheistic ethic onwards…)
    Taking the Bible’s que, political theorists such as Thomas Hobbes assigned speech and the general power of the Word revolutionary power in his/their envisioned political world(s). Using Hobbes as well as other theorists, the Federalists and others developed a theory of Constitutionalism in which man has the ability, through the powers of the spoken and written Word, to create reality through the Constitution– Hello, and we’re back to the Bible.

  3. “Sylistic” is quite a nice word, by the way; any etymologies? 🙂

  4. Good catch! I’ll insert the necessary tee.

  5. Oh dear, did I claim that it was spam induced? I think it was more a drifting out to the edges of a particular kind of social disconnect and staying up all night reading and eating in front of the computer and not going out for days at a time because I love being alone in my apartment so much, and, uh, occasionally rousing myself to skulk out and buy groceries and magazines, then scuttling back ala Gregor Samsa to the warm little womb of my flat with a view… all of which sounds terribly neurotic in retrospect, but is actually my working/writing style. Honest. I emerge, blinking, looking around, and hey! There’s people out here! Playing and running about! It takes a bit, because everything is creaky and rusty, so I stumble a little at first, but then movement comes back, and I skip off with all the others.
    Which is one way of saying how much I appreciate you linking/noticing/bloggishly saying hello. Cheers.

  6. Well, I’m just glad you’re out here again. Cheers backatcha!

  7. Removed “Eclogues” link, which has been appropriated by an entirely different site, and substituted a Wayback Machine link for the post link (thanks, Internet Archive!).

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