What Is Literature?
In their efforts to indicate the distinguishing features of literature, the formalists did not stop at studying the use of language in poetry; they continued their inquiry with regard to prose. One of the most fundamental points of departure for the formalists was the question about the essence of literature. Indeed, they wanted to know what literature is and what makes literary works. The study of concrete prose works seemed like a valid approach in this essentialist search. It produced masterful textual analyses of narrative fiction, innovative studies in the morphology of the literary work, and new definitions of a work of literature, as well as groundbreaking inquiries into the problems of style. In such studies as "Kak sdelana Shinel Gogolya" (1919; How Gogol's The Overcoat is made) by Eikhenbaum and "Tristram Shendi"
Sterna i teoriya romana (1921; Sterne's Tristram Shandy and the theory of the novel) and "Kak sdelan Don Kikhot" (1921; How Don Quixote is made) by Shklovsky, the formalists showed the structure, mechanisms, and laws of narrative fiction. In studying the structural components of the concrete prose works, they addressed the problems of plot composition, organizing principles of narration, and dynamism of the internal structure of the literary work. By looking into these problems the formalists were able to define the literary work in such innovative and diverse terms as a sum total of devices (Shklovsky), a uniform structure, a whole closed in itself, an organic and stylistic unity of structural components (Wóycicki), an artfully made object (Kridl), an aesthetic system (Tynianov, Wóycicki), and a dynamic structure (Tynianov, Wóycicki).
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