Tynyanov, Jakobson

Peter Steiner


My presentation addresses Franco Moretti’s provocative application of the Darwinian evolutionary model based on the divergence of biological species and their survival through the mechanism of natural selection to literary history. This approach I will juxtapose to the ideas of the two leading Russian Formalists—Jury Tynyanov and Roman Jakobson—whose explanation of linguistic/literary change was programmatically anti-Darwinian, making conversion (conceived, though, in a very specific way) the cornerstone of their respective historiographies. In doing so, they were reacting to the project of historical poetics advanced by the 19th century Russian Positivist philologist, Aleksandr Veselovsky (1838–1906), whose stated goal was to trace the morphological divergences of texts across time and space.

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