Viktor Shklovsky Remixed: “everything in the world can be montaged”


by Joel Katelnikoff

Don’t think that the writer is free. Old literature inhabits new literature as if without permission. I reflect, write, piece things together, then keep rearranging them. Every literary work is a brand-new montage of the world, a new unpredictability, a new occurrence. Art can be montaged. And so can the world.

The world is montagable, it’s linked. It’s a labyrinth of linkages that has a purpose. We walk in this world without any guidance, and very seldom do we ourselves become the guides. And even the forest, the old familiar forest that you enter, becomes brand-new when the light illuminates it in a new way. A crooked road, a road in which one feels acutely the stones beneath it, a road that turns back on itself—this is the road of art.

It’s impossible to write anything without montaging, without juxtaposing; at the very least—it’s impossible to write well. A poet removes all signs from their places. It is the multitude of methods of correlation that reveals the purpose of life.

A man is walking alone across the ice; fog is all around him. He believes that he is walking in a straight line. Wind disperses the fog: the man sees his goal, sees his tracks.

“don’t think that the writer is free”

Poetic speech is a car with an electric engine. I can describe strange and variegated vehicles: an automobile goes slowly, peaceful but dead. I would love to write as if literature forced the piston. But most of all I remember the streetcars.

We should mention, in passing, the hardness of iron. The rivets are grinding in my graceful head. The rivets are grinding in my real life. I’m going beyond calculation and measure. Don’t be surprised that a new machine is invented. I’m searching for meaning, working hard the whole time. Night lags behind like a grey day among wet trees, hearts lagging slightly behind the movement of life. Night has already extended to the fullest.

One should know how to slow down like the heart in a descending elevator—but we are critics who think mechanically, the way a man planes boards. Have you ever noticed the way a man planes boards? One can flatten one story within another. Half-articulated words force the piston into nothingness. Automatization eats an automobile. Automatization eats a piece of cloud, the sea, and our fear of war. Crowds walk with a heavy tread; we all live in the valves of its shell. 

“what struck me in Moscow was the abundance of crows”

Work is to be found in the shops—all those shops have been invented a long time ago. Later they invented the city I live in. I watch unhappy people, the knife-sharpening unhappy people, men with shovels who didn’t know such grief. They picked up pieces— we discard it like a husk of rice. Spring is coming, and suddenly a chasm of inequality opens. New form gives birth to the weather. This spring, however, seems a defeat.

I shall now say a few words concerning the world. We live in a poor and enclosed world, enthusiastic about the clothes we wear. A clown runs through the same apartment all of his life. The world is something we watch. Our dark apartments glittered constantly with the colour. You shout from a window. Things have reshaped man—especially his surroundings. An attempt to go outside the framework is unfathomable. The real world impinges upon unhappy people. Weakly and ineptly the leaves have been falling.

We left our dark apartments laughing. We wanted to try various categories of the chaos that’s called life. But everything you feel is through the pipe—the world fades into nothingness. I’m searching for the meaning of the city, and, at the same time I’ll try to have an objective existence. We started piecing together a filmstrip by mistake: at the end of the show, youth and friends are gone. Poetry is timeless or flowing. In fact, we are seeing the hearts lagging slightly behind. We walk in this world, awake at six A.M. In Russia, people are dying on the street in aesthetic contemplation. 

“we are being fused together by corrosion”

Alien people gather at the theatres, lit by electricity and resembling human thought. Everything is as bare and as open as a revolutionary text. We looked at the institute, but we cannot escape it. Things have reshaped man—especially theorists, crowds yelling about the phenomena of art, the content of the meaning of things, expressing one’s thought for the ten thousandth time. There are many who believe the poet has the stars and the moon and puts that thought into a hypothetical place in the sky. Stars are more lucid in the context of the institute—discussing light illuminates it in a new way.

Writers wrote, scholars worked, the stupid pattern repeated on the stove. Professors, two by two, clutching umbrellas with an unexpected and precise defeat. They floated without emotion—each writer draws on strange things. We discovered separate events that make up history; we discovered this with a red pencil. We worked not by the head but by “the word.” Then they invented the being and the human brain, undisturbed by the fact that the traces of this montage get swept away. But I am one of those people who learn unconsciously. But I am one of those people who can fly away.

I would love to write as if literature had everyone listening. I’ve talked for practically two weeks, dishing out lectures neglected by everyone, lectures at which I cannot sleep. A dark, invisible crowd which was connected—now I see people’s lips dishing out lectures, stupefying dear friends. The whole room is unreal, everyone listening to nothingness. I will not prevent people from leaving. I’m cutting away at my elements. 

“love is like the nails used to pierce hands”

Things have reshaped man—especially strange things. There were the months of unsuccessful love affairs. The air glittered constantly with the flowers. Urged by some inner swaying on the waves, we wanted to be considered art. But our love is nothing but books. At the very least, it’s impossible to make a work of art about love.

You told me once that spring is like every relationship. You told me once that spring makes your name. You invented a woman and love a literary work. You are pure form. You get irritated at the sound of your own body. You love me because the sun stands over my head. The woman in question flirts with the sunset.

Afterwards we smell of flowers—flowers reconstructed in many different ways. The smell of love and some tenderness are different in an automobile. Behind fences, we will take a single shape. Love affairs began to intersect; women slept with men on artificial grass. Later they invented each other. They run and run in order to express a new content, and, like any relationship, this one, too, is pierced together.

Love affairs began to be found in the shops. We worked not by the head but by the smell of flowers. I would love to write as if literature had the smell of flowers. How hard it is to think that people are turning into reality. The most difficult thing is to grasp a woman—nowadays man only knows how to sleep better at night.

“nothing is lost, everything is reinvented”

All are equal in the eyes into which they might have fallen. All your sensations reconstructed in many different ways, leftover pieces placed next to other words. The truth is, yesterday existed long before. Besides, the idea itself is quite unimportant.

Get the idea that I’m speaking about a log in a fire. A work of art is scraps. Books burn suddenly. Books burn, but I hear nothing. A flickering light is visible from a fire—the city is melting as if of its own volition. In search of content, think through rearrangement and methods of correlation beyond calculation and measure.

I’m searching for books which I can read and don’t read, books to be experienced through the senses. I’m cutting away at the house, confronting that which collapses. I would like to add that I’m still living. Complex works of art are at the window—but what are we to do with perspective? 

“the book I’m writing is still moving in front of me, swaying on the waves”

I watch fragmentary phrases and half-articulated words, a man whose insides have been hopelessly jumbled. We see with our own two eyes more wine. We drank without anxiety. We drank without getting replaced by words. The river flowed into the sea, attempting to create a language. I probably should have never seen an ocean—everyone’s hands were currents of waves. The waves break the spinal cord.

The sun may be harming us but we cannot escape it—the sun whose insides have been torn out. Few knew that they were held together only by light. They had thrown away their arms and legs, some of the pieces swaying on the waves.

Music is playing in the chaos that’s called life. You choke on your own lyricism like soap in water.

Muscles warm and living flowed into the sea. The waves break the order of the months.

Experienced through the senses, you fall like a stone.

“moving diagonally like a knight, I have intersected your life”

A man should worry less about raindrops, clouds, the sea. He his cursing his own sensation, reconstituting its own repeating mistakes. A man in an unlikely situation pretends to break into pieces and scatter; it’s as though he is cursing his own structure. He is confronting the possibilities of his time, moving diagonally like new codes. He is walking in substance, in some sort of mania, a man in search of content.

He took no notice whatsoever of theorists, paying no heed to blasphemy. He takes no notice whatsoever of machines, the revolution, and war. Someone who is created from threads, stones, memories, he takes no notice whatsoever of all living things. Rather, he plays with the future. Imagine a man who does not call a thing by its name, a person who is full of possibilities like everything that he read in books.

Complex works of art are usually impossible to create. He was confronting that creation of artistic things. We might wish to correspond to the figures of chess, where the result of combinations and interactions takes place on a field of battle. But the waves break upon the game of chess. A knight can love and understand it.

“a crooked road, a road in which one feels acutely the stones beneath it”

Now let’s imagine a labyrinth of linkages that has a purpose. I do not have in mind a literal path. Things have reshaped man: the branches in autumn, merely bending parallel lines. I would like to stumble onto a poetic something that I do not have in mind. Violating our pact illuminates it in a new way, the sun rising and interrupted. I’ve chewed three aspirins, I’ve left the old paths—right now I’m lying firmly in the air.

I took the road that everyone had been on; it was very quiet, quiet as the smell of flowers. The place ordained for my death has flowers. Indeed, how thoroughly alien is the road into the unknown. I’m cutting away at old routes. I’m cutting away at that hard reality. We have emancipated art from a paved road—the waves break down some narrow streets.

I have walked a long time on new codes not immediately accessible through old routes. I’m deliberately repeating mistakes. Our torturous road weaves lacey patterns in the air with a needle. I love it and understand it; it must be the content of art. I’ve strolled barefoot around the hypothetical place in the sky.

We look at the path that’s almost impossible to find. You claim to know this isn’t an easy road. I will not attempt to trample the wild grass—art has always been free of the weight of our lives. It is really nice, the path that’s almost impossible to find.

“art can be montaged. and so can the world”

Art is the result of combinations and interactions, an unexpected and precise local meaning of signs. The mathematical writer, the great writer, is working with matter. He plays with literature as if without permission. Words are not merely a means to make us feel objects (crooked, labourious, necessary words)—we create for ourselves the author of the given system of signs. Art cannot change the world, we do.

Piece things together, then keep rearranging. Piece things together, then keep rearranging from the top. A work of art is determined outside its borders. We create, for ourselves, the will of the material. You are wind in the field—but everything you feel is montaged.

Maybe the whole world is created—the juxtaposition of a world to everything. A montage running through me, the brand-new montage of everything I’ve written. Everything is tied together as if it were happening for the first time. Piece things together, then keep rearranging perceptions, undisturbed by the fact that fog is all around. The device of art disperses the fog. You are wind in the field—here is a world.


Image by Solier

This essay is a cut-up / remix / montage of the work of Viktor Shklovsky. It recombines materials from A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922, (1923), Zoo, or Letters Not About Love (1923), Knight’s Move (1923), Literature and Cinematography (1923), Theory of Prose (1925), Third Factory (1926), A Hunt for Optimism (1931), Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar (1970), and Energy of Delusion: A Book on Plot (1981). The section headers are all direct quotations from these books, as are all of the individual sentences in the essay’s first section. All other sentences are splicings-together of syntactic fragments from these books. The goal of this essay is to place Shklovsky’s materials in new arrangements, thereby producing new narrative and theoretical extensions of his work. This essay is part of Inhabitations: A Recombinant Theory Project. Micro-reports from this project are regularly published on Twitter: @remixtheory.

About the Author:

Joel Katelnikoff is a Professor at the Global Center for Advanced Studies. His areas of research include media studies, textuality, and avant-garde poetry and poetics. His writing is a hybrid of theory, poetry, and narrative, combining image, aphorism, and syntactic texture in order to produce the sensation of a simultaneous all-presence and all-absence.