Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky
Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky (VIHK-tohr boh-RIH-soh-vihch SHKLOV-skee), the author, narrator, and subject of this work. Shklovsky sets forth memories and ideas in an autobiographical sketch that was meant also to present his conception of prose fiction and his assessment of other writers who were prominent at the time. Instead of a conventional self-portrait, Shklovsky provides a series of anecdotes that illustrate the development of his own views and feelings, which in their turn are arranged according to his own notions of the Formalist novel. The author’s conception of himself is refracted by the technical devices he has chosen to employ, and underlying creative concerns may be found alongside some outwardly offhand notes and observations. According to the author, his existence has been lived in a succession of factories. The first was his home and school; the second was Opoyaz, a literary society of innovative predilections. His employment in the Soviet film industry—the “third factory”—provides a backdrop for his reflections and reminiscences. During passages dealing with the author’s early manhood, names and images of writers and theorists flash by along with some blunt and unvarnished recollections of war and revolution. Among many noted figures, Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, a professor of philology and one of Shklovsky’s mentors, is mentioned with some respect. Elsewhere, important theorists of the author’s own generation, including Roman Osipovich Jakobson, Yury Nikolayevich Tynayanov, and Boris Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum, are the recipients of some reflections on life and language in the guise of open letters. His writing features Tatars and sailors, as well as travel notes and hints of homebound affection for the author’s native land. Odd, abrupt changes of subject and wildly humorous interjections occur amid musings on the possibilities and shortcomings of modern literary figures. Through it all, it can hardly be said that the author is prone to taking himself too seriously: He calls attention to his prominently bald, shining head, and, at times, he recoils from a surfeit of his own wit.