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  Philologica russica et speculativa I  
Maksim Shapir. Photo by Il'ia Dolgopol'skij. 1998       

Shapir M. I., Universum versus: Iazyk — stix — smysl v russkoj poezii XVIII—XX vekov [= Universum versus: Language — Verse — Meaning in Russian Poetry of the Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries], Moscow: “Iazyki russkoj kul’tury”, 2000, book 1, VIII + 536 p. (Philologica russica et speculativa; T. I).


The articles in this book are united by a single, overarching theoretical and methodological concept. First and foremost, Shapir proceeds from the idea that material, form and content are autonomous categories which exist in a tight symbiosis; the same is true of the universal, unique and specific; of fact, law and principle; of history, theory and methodology. Hence the title, simultaneously ‘The World of Verse’ and ‘Towards the Universe’. Poetic speech, like any other phenomenon, reflects the general principles which govern our world.

The “protagonist” of Universum Versus is is Russian prosody, which Shapir considers in terms of broader issues of the language and the function of poetry, poetry being one of the global fields of human endeavour. The author introduces a new approach to a fundamental issue of poetic theory: the border between poetry and prose. The extension and intension of almost all poetological concepts hinge to some degree on this issue. The theoretical objective here is to demonstrate that prosody is semantically-loaded and closely linked to other phenomena of artistic form. In terms of literary history, the primary aim is to study the formation and later development of classical Russian prosodic culture from its foundation by Lomonosov to its apogee in Pushkin. Pushkin’s poetic legacy is examined in the context of his predecessors, contemporaries and followers: from Trediakovskij, Lomonosov and Sumarokov to D. A. Prigov, L. Rubinshtejn and T. Kibirov. This narrative takes into account not only the canon of Russian poetry, but also the works of minor and even unknown poets. At the same time, Shapir addresses not only the immanent factors of the evolution of prosody (its nomogenesis, if you will), but also the genetic mechanisms of poetry’s interaction with the “real world”, which seem extraneous and arbitrary from “within” poetry as such.

Verse and genre, verse and theme, verse and narrative, verse and composition, verse and style, verse and author, verse and character, to name just a few of the issues addressed, are discussed a number of times throughout this cycle of articles: at first, in purely theoretical terms; then in terms of the lyric, epic and dramatic poetry of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and, finally, from the vantage point of the history of these ideas in Russian philological scholarship.

 Full text (in Russian) 

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Part I. Theory

Poetry Among Other Languages of Spiritual Culture

“Versus” vs “prosa”: the Space-Time of the Poetic Text

Towards a General Theory of Verse (Basic Methods and Concepts)

Metrum et rhythmus sub specie semioticae

Part II. History (the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries)

At the Dawn of the Russian Iambic Tetrameter: the Genesis and Evolution of Rhythm (The Sociolinguistics of Lomonosov’s Early Versification)

The Rhythm and Syntax of Lomonosov’s Ode (On the Historical Grammar of Russian Verse)

A Calculus of the Syllabotonic Paradigm: The Case of Sumarokov (Cephalus and Procris)

On the Semantics of the “Parodic Ballad Verse” (The Shade of Barkov in the Context of the Polemics Surrounding the Old and New Styles)

Concerning the Textology of Eugene Onegin: Orthography, Poetics and Semantics

“It May Be Late, but It’s a Start...” (Eugene Onegin and the Poetics of the Burlesque)

Woe from Wit: the Semantics of Poetic Form (An Attempt at a Concrete Dialectics of Verse)

The Hexameter and Pentameter in the Poetry of Katenin (The Old Soldier Gorev Against the Background of the Formal and Semantic Derivation of Versification Metres)

The Phenomenon of Baten’kov and the Problem of Mystification (The Linguistic and Versification Aspect)



Index of Proper Names


“The ‘scholarly fragments’ collected in this book are united by ‘a single, overarching literary-historical and theoretical-methodological concept’, but each fragment is autonomous. Despite their generic diversity, Shapir’s work has an undeniable stylistic unity. Complex logic, an aim to maximize the scope (both ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’) of material, aphoristic language, and sharp tendentiousness: these are features of all Shapir’s works, and are so pronounced in this book that, in of themselves, they force the reader to apprehend the individual articles as a single text”.

“In his works Shapir seeks answers to nearly all the ‘accursed questions’ of European aesthetics: the essence of art and its distinction from science and religion; material, form, and content; the unity of the work of art, etc. <...> One might say that his ultimate goal is to construct a complete theory of literature”.

“We think that Shapir’s book touches the central nerve of the study of Russian prosody and Russian poetic language. We also think that it should be counted among the most distinguished accomplishments of contemporary Russian philology. And though there remains much to done, Shapir without a doubt achieves one of his goals. He managed (albeit quietly) to create a watershed moment in the humanities. It is now impossible to work on the level that was acceptable in the past. The release of this book has raised the bar for scholarship”.

Novaia Russkaia Kniga, 2001, no. 6

“Sovershenno neobosnovannym vygliadit utverzhdenie...Raznoobraznyj i ochen’ interesnyj material...Eto chrezvychajno cennoe nabliudenie......vo vseoruzhii nauchnogo instrumentariia.... On ne slyshit...ne slyshit...Esli by Shapir slyshal to, chto vidit v tekste...Zdes’ takzhe dan obshirnyj i lubopytnyj material, podrobno i tolkovo prokommentirovannyj.... nedoumenie voznikaet pri vide xitroumnyx manipuliatsij...”

“Nu, paradigma, nu, prinuditel’naia. No ved’ — stixi, stopy? K chemu eto pereimenovanie, etot maskarad?”

“...principial’no ne vosprinimaet zvuchashchij smysl stixov...neminuemo viaznet v grubejshix oshibkax.... V interesnoj i soderzhatel’noj stat’e...podrobno opisany i momenty obshchnosti i tonkosti razlichiia......dostoinstva — shirokij oxvat materiala i nauchnoj literatury, celostnost’ istoriko-literaturnogo i teoretiko-metodologicheskogo podxoda — ochevidny......skloniaias’ s pochteniem pered ob”emom prodelannoj raboty i zavidnoj eruditsiej avtora......vypolnennyj s bleskom lingvostixovedcheskij analiz...Ego metodika ne tol’ko ne vyzyvaet vozrazhenij, no naoborot, — uverennost’, chto bolee vernogo podxoda i bolee osnovatel’nogo analiza nel’zya predstavit’.... slishkom absoliutiziruet......i sovsem naivnym vygliadit...vyvod...Uvy, eto vse, chto mozhno vynesti iz dobytyx slozhnymi podschetami diagramm.... ne predstavliaet bol’shogo interesa......stixovedcheskie zadachi Shapir reshaet s dostojnoj vosxishchennogo udivleniia obstoiatel’nost’iu, no popytka...ne udalas’”.

“...V etom otnoshenii nichego ne dobavleno k tomu, chto uzhe izvestno”.

Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2001, no. 47

“This is the first volume of a two-volume monograph by M. I. Shapir, the foremost Russian poetician of his generation. There are two parts: ‘Theory’ and ‘History’ <...> The ‘History’ section is nearly three times larger than the ‘Theory’ section, but they are equally significant. The ratio of theoretical generalizations to empirical analysis in the study of prosody today is, of course, disproportionate. <...> Russian scholars <...> prefer historical research: they make detailed studies of metrics, rhythm, rhyme, strophic structure, the connection between rhyme and grammar, meter and semantic, etc. But theory lags behind, and some even view it as unnecessary. M. L. Gasparov recently proclaimed that there will be no new discoveries in our discipline, that a methodology has been developed, and that it is only a matter of time and talented graduate students”.

“Shapir’s book, which Western scholars would also do well to read, proves that we very much need theory in order to conceptualize the results of historical research. The author presents a new take on issues which were considered resolved: the correlation between poetic speech and non-poetic speech, verse and prose, meter and rhythm, theory and empirical analysis”.

“The second, empirical part of the book is very interesting: the analysis is brilliant, the hypotheses bold but convincing”. “We have here a marvellous work, in which the author raises the ‘eternal questions’ of the study of prosody and proposes smart, creative answers. The methodology is tied to the theoretical issues addressed, and the historical chapters bedazzle the reader with a depth of analysis and support the book’s theoretical positions <...> The general philological level of the book, its unity of the linguistic and prosodic, theory and history, deductive ideas and intricate analysis, the exploration of the connections between the form and semantics of verse, the attribution methods — all this makes M. I. Shapir’s book a bona-fide event in our discipline”.

Izvestiia Rossijskoj akademii nauk. Seriia literatury i iazyka
[Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Literature and Language Series],
2001, vol. 60, no. 3


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