Viktor Shklovsky began his career as a Futurist in 1913, only a few years before the cataclysmic events that he chronicles in A Sentimental Journey. Russian Futurism was an avant-garde movement designed to overcome the then-predominant Symbolist techniques and to renew Russian literature after the sense arose that its great triumphs in realism were over. Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Brik, and other Futurists welcomed the Revolution and, in fact, contributed richly to its literature, though most of them came to grief when the Party took charge of literary policy. In postwar Petrograd, especially during the civil war, Maxim Gorky protected artists and literary critics; he set up the House of Arts as a place to house and feed them and to let them work. Bringing the writers and theorists together created a kind of nuclear reaction, and the articles and artistic works emerging from Opoyaz (Society for the Study of Poetic Language), an organization formed before the war but renewed in the early 1920’s, generated Formalism, a major strain of twentieth century literary criticism in the West.
These groups emphasized breaking up the smooth surface of Symbolist prose, exploring linguistics for a more scientific grasp of language and the word, and responding more directly to reality (the Symbolists lived for the transcendental) while no longer striving to mirror reality.
A Sentimental Journey is a demonstration of the new devices and...
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