Rєтrофоrмалиzм Conference

Conference Proposal Конференция Tagungskonzept

From: http://retroformalism.net/en/start

The Methodology of the Error Методика ошибки Methodik des Fehlers

Conference concept

Why is the error significant? According to Jan Levchenko’s criticism of the formalist methodology of the error, in his book “The Other Science” (“Drugaya nauka”, 2012), an error becomes significant because it attracts our attention. The indication that our perception of a phenomenon might contain an error automatically converts this phenomenon into a part of our awareness.

One must take account of the fact that an error is never deliberate and hence cannot be part of a method but rather only becomes relevant at the meta level of methodology. According to Popper’s epistemology, the method of falsification is valid because every scientific system identifies errors. The exception proves the rule because no scientific system can be proved other than by a process of refuting the hypotheses originally postulated. The methodology of the error increases the epistemological value of the formalist theory because it does not fall into the trap of assuming either a logic of identity or an equivalence between theory and object. We are dealing with a theory whose character is not abstract but critical. The formalist theory is the most important contribution to poetics since Kant’s critiques over two hundred years ago. In Russian Formalism poetic thought becomes criticism. This decisively changes the relationship between poetics and philosophy, not least by removing the necessity for aesthetics. One of the goals of a speculative poetics is the ‘exposure of the devices’ (obnazhenie priemov) of aesthetics and the creation instead of a poetics to perform these functions; the Retro-Formalism project is committed to this.

The methodology of the error, in as far as it can be transformed from a logic of identity to a logic of differentiation, changes the error into an object with which to ascertain the historicity of meaning. History, as Yuri Tynianov said, knows no dead ends, but only intervals (promezhutki). The error is one of the most distinctive examples of such a group of historical epistemological forms. Inasmuch as the study of formalistic concepts implies a turn towards the past, such a historicization can be called “retro-formalism”.

In the centre of the conference on “The Methodology of the Error” will be a text from 1930 by Viktor Shklovsky that was surrounded by scandal: “Monument to a Scientific Error“, and which in the history of Russian Formalism is viewed as its gravestone. Shklovsky used the methodology of the error to transform the device of estrangement into a specific technique that targeted the deficiencies in formalist concepts. Here the poetics of the error assumes a political dimension where it refers to the ritual of self-incrimination. In “Monument to a Scientific Error” Viktor Shklovsky uses this ritual self-criticism, which became systematic for the political culture of the Soviet Union, as a device of estranging self-historicization. Here the elaborated art of autometagraphie could express itself, thanks to which, beginning with Boris Eichenbaum’s text published in 1925 on the methodology of formalism, an autobiography of the formalist method could be written. Viktor Shklovsky erected an idiosyncratic monument to formalism by declaring it to be a scientific error – an Exegi Monumentum.

Further still, according to the testimony of Aleksandr Galushkin, Viktor Shklovsky had his “Monument to a Scientific Error” in mind as his programmatic article for the renewal of OPOJAZ (the association for the research of poetic language). From today’s historiographical perspective, the apoliticity acknowledged by early formalism, and of which Viktor Shklovsky accused himself in Monument, was a déjà vu of later formalism. This illustrated little more than that the genesis of literary history is nothing other than a fallacious memory, as proclaimed by Yuri Tynianov.

What remains for us to comprehend is that Shklovsky’s programmatic article – i.e., we will repeat it: “Monument to a Scientific Error” – was on no account intended to be understood as a real apologia, lacking any attempt at self-analysis. Viktor Shklovsky developed the deficiencies of formalism politically – in the form of self-criticism – and historically in the subversive style of déjà vu. According to this text, the erroneous nature of formalism – and this on differing levels – is a methodological axiom.


10:00 Uhr Opening

Close Reading

“Monument to a Scientific Error”

11:00 Uhr Historical Errors – Revisions of Formalism


Alexander Dmitriev: Worse than a Mistake? Epigonism and Routinisation in Russian Formalism


Jan Levchenko: Disappearing Formalism: Figures of Compensation in Victor Shklovsky’s Prose of the Early 1930s


Igor Chubarov: Limits of the Formalist Method in Understanding Portraiture: The Russian Avant-Garde and The Art of the Portrait.

13:00 Uhr Lunch

15:00 Uhr Artist Feature

Film Screening

Bernhard Sallmann „Zoo, or letters not about love“, 2006

16:30 Uhr Tea

17:00 Uhr The Error as such – Epistemology, Politics and Poetics of Retroformalism


Anke Hennig: Erroneously speculating on chance


Anthony Iles: Viktor Shklovsky’s Critique of a Political Economy of Art


Ilya Kliger: Shklovsky’s “Monument to a Scientific Error” as a Speculative Image

19:00 Uhr Dinner


Merve Verlag
Crellestraße 22
D-10827 Berlin



About anti

Anthony Iles is currently a doctoral candidate at the School of Art & Design, Middlesex University. A founder member of the Full Unemployment Cinema. A contributing editor with Mute / Metamute since 2005. He is the author, with Josephine Berry-Slater, of the book, No Room to Move: Art and the Regenerate City (Mute Books, London 2011), contributing editor to the recent publications, Anguish Language: writing and crisis (Archive Books, Berlin, 2015), and Look at Hazards, Look at Losses (Mute/Kuda, 2017) and a contributor to Brave New Work: A Reader on Harun Farocki’s Film A New Product. Recent essays have been published in Mute, Radical Philosophy, Rab-Rab: Journal for Political and Formal Inquiries in Art and Logos.
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