Third Factory Summary
by Viktor Shklovsky

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Third Factory Summary

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Third Factory is a short, plotless novel made of autobiographical fragments representing discontinuous memories, unsent letters to friends, anecdotes, dreams, and theoretical discussions. These fragments create an artistic work with a contradictory but unified theme, like fiction. The narrator is the author himself; the memories and apostrophes and stories are composed around the theme of the life of a Formalist literary critic in the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. The result is a critique of the literary experience and responses of this unique individual. This critique is not the only point of the book; the implicit critique of former novels, in the form of innovations in this one, opens lines of development for new work. At a deeper level yet, the narrator’s interest is to understand the time in which he lives and to explore the correct role of the writer and the nature of verbal art. These latter issues have special significance for the Soviet state and Soviet writers, as the state begins to define the artist’s task.

The novel is arranged chronologically in three parts, one for each “factory.” A factory is the life experience that turns the narrator into the “product” that he has become. The first factory is his home and school life (this part takes place before the Revolution). The second is the intense experience of his professional life as a literary theorist in Petrograd in the early 1920’s, the period of the emergence of Formalism as a literary school and of the group of writers known as the Serapion Brothers as its innovative practitioners. This second factory includes apostrophes to Osip Brik, encouraging him to continue his theoretical work, and to Roman Jakobson, who Viktor Shklovsky believes has deserted his comrades and their work.

The third factory, and the longest section of the novel, is set in the Soviet film industry, where Shklovsky’s work is to revise films. He brings the values of the second factory to bear on this new work, while a variety of pressures on the film compete in its shaping. The focus, however, is on the defense and further definition of Formalism; literary theory is the hero of this section and of the novel. Shklovsky includes a story-within-a-story in the third factory, “Envy Bay”; the tale is full of implications for the time even as it practices a major Formalist device, the self-conscious baring of the technique, as well as shifts in point of view and special attention to the role of the narrator. Several of Shklovsky’s innovations have been adopted by later twentieth century writers in the U.S.S.R. and the West.

He also addresses letters to several of the early Formalists: to Boris Eikhenbaum about skaz, a specifically Russian narrative technique; to Lev Yakubinsky about Marxism and about puns and language. He tells Yury Tynyanov about the way literature changes by expanding into nonliterature: “Art converts the particularity of things into perceptible form.” A preoccupation in all these letters is Shklovsky’s effort to explore the connection between objective reality, the...

(The entire section is 771 words.)