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Against the background of the ubiquity of ‘interdisciplinarity’ and now endemic concerns about ‘the profession’, this paper seeks, first, to retrace the history of the professionalization of Literary Studies in the twentieth century, proceeding from the rise of so-called Russian Formalism in the Soviet 1920s. The broad purpose of this brief retrospective is to isolate ...certain particular ways in which institutional factors have influenced the evolution of discipline and to highlight the sense in which, for the humanities at least, the cloak of interdisciplinarity has concealed a state of ‘war’. The second part of the paper involves a return to the selected point of origin – ‘Russian Formalism’ – in order to suggest a corrective reconceptualisation of the ways in which humanities disciplines in general might be viewed. This will entail a revisionist view not only of Formalism itself, but also of the ways in which genre has been conceived in Literary Studies. In an echo of the ways in which a Bakhtinian (Barthesian) conception of the ‘war of languages’ implies a re-conceptualisation of literary genre, the objective is to examine how genre can be deployed in order to understand – and defuse – the ‘war of disciplines’.
Alastair Renfrew taught at the universities of Strathclyde and Exeter before coming to Durham as Reader and Head of Russian in 2007. He is Director of Research in the School of Modern Languages & Cultures and has recently become Editor of the journal Slavonica. His main area of research specialization is critical and literary theory, with particular emphasis on the Soviet 1920s. He has published widely on Mikhail Bakhtin and the so-called Russian Formalists, including the monograph Towards a New Material Aesthetics (Legenda, 2006) and the recent collection Critical Theory in Russia and the West (Routledge 2010). He is currently completing an introduction to Bakhtin for Routledge Critical Thinkers. He has also taught and published on Russian and Soviet Cinema, Russian and Scottish Literature and is currently developing a project on the history of political violence in Russian literature and culture.