History of Literature

Russian literature


Yury Tynyanov

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Yury Nikolaevich Tynyanov (Russian: Ю́рий Никола́евич Тыня́нов; October 18, 1894 - December 20, 1943) was a famous Soviet/Russian writer, literary critic, translator, scholar and screenwriter of Jewish origin. He was an authority on Pushkin and an important member of the Russian Formalist school.


Yury Tynyanov was born in Rezhitsa, present day Rēzekne, Latvia, Russian Empire. His brother-in-law was Veniamin Kaverin, another well-known Russian author. While attending the Petrograd University, Tynyanov frequented the Pushkin seminar held by a venerable literary academic, Semyon Vengerov. His first works made their appearance in print in 1921.

In 1928, together with the linguist Roman Jakobson, he published a famous work titled Theses on Language, a predecessor to structuralism, which could be summarised in the following manner:

1. Literary science had to have a firm theoretical basis and an accurate terminology.
2. The structural laws of a specific field of literature had to be established before it was related to other fields.
3. The evolution of literature must be studied as a system. All evidence, whether literary or non-literary must be analysed functionally.
4. The distinction between synchrony and diachrony was useful for the study of literature as for language, uncovering systems at each separate stage of development. But the history of systems is also a system; each synchronic system has its own past and future as part of its structure. Therefore the distinction should not be preserved beyond its usefulness.
5. A synchronic system is not a mere agglomerate of contemporaneous phenomena catalogued. 'Systems' mean hierarchical organisation.
6. The distinction between langue and parole, taken from linguistics, deserves to be developed for literature in order to reveal the principles underlying the relationship between the individual utterance and a prevailing complex of norms.
7. The analysis of the structural laws of literature should lead to the setting up of a limited number of structural types and evolutionary laws governing those types.
8.The discovery of the 'immanent laws' of a genre allows one to describe an evolutionary step, but not to explain why this step has been taken by literature and not another. Here the literary must be related to the relevant non-literary facts to find further laws, a 'system of systems'. But still the immanent laws of the individual work had to be enunciated first.

Tynyanov also wrote historical novels in which he applied his theories. His other works included popular biographies of Alexander Pushkin and Wilhelm Küchelbecker and notable translations of Heinrich Heine and other authors.

He died of multiple sclerosis in Moscow.



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