Permanent Evolution: Selected Essays on Literature, Theory and Film

Yuri Tynianov's important collection Permanent Evolution: Essays on Literature, Theory and Film, edited and translated by Ainsley Morse

A few excerpts:

It is now widely admitted that university departments of literature, whose enrollments have been plummeting for decades, no longer seem to play a meaningful role in the university. […] For what is there to learn about poetry or fiction in a climate where literature is largely understood as personal confession or complaint, clear on its face.

Every other week The Chronicle of Higher Education publishes an essay or two that try to defend the study of literature by making a case for its practical or affective functions: literature is the form of writing that enriches human life, it presents us with characters with whom we can identify, it expresses emotions we share, it is the language of the imagination rather than of mere exposition or argument, and so on. […] But no sooner is one such aspect foregrounded and considered the essence of the literary than someone calls that aspect into question. For — and this is [Tynianov's essay's] most remarkable sentence — "[t]he definitions of literature that proceed from its 'fundamental' features run up against living literary fact."

Perhaps the least known but also most provocative of the great Russian Formalist theorists, Tynianov takes as his premise that literary works are part of a larger and distinctive whole with its own laws and family resemblances. It is the critic's job to cut pathways through this rich and elaborate jungle.

Please go to the Los Angeles Review of Books