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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction


Knight's Move

Viktor Shklovsky

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To purchase Knight's Move

Title: Knight's Move
Author: Viktor Shklovsky
Genre: Novel
Written: 1923 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 142 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Knight's Move - US
Knight's Move - UK
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  • Translated and with an Introduction by Richard Sheldon

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting, though many of them period-pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 24/10/2005 Elif Batuman

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The complete review's Review:

       Knight's Move is a collection of short pieces that Shklovsky first published in a small theatre-journal between 1919 and 1921, and then published in book form in 1923.
       The title refers to an idea that Shklovsky obviously really took to, the movement of the knight-piece in the game of chess:

       There are many reasons for the strangeness of the knight's move, the main one being the conventionality of art, about which I am writing.
       The second reason lies in the fact that the knight is not free -- it moves in an L-shaped manner because it is forbidden to take the straight road.
       Shklovsky begins with a powerful piece on Petersburg during the Blockade, a description of the incredible hardships that had to be dealt with -- incredible cold (freezing even the toilets) and no fuel except whatever was around that could be burnt -- books and even entire wood buildings (so that: "The city began slowly to transform itself into an engraving by Piranesi").
       Since these pieces were written for a theatre-journal, it's not surprising that many of them focus on the state of the theatre in the Russia of that time. Shklovsky is a strong advocate for the new: he wants playwrights to write new plays, theatres to produce them -- and the theatregoers to engage with them. Instead, of course, he finds all too often the same old repertoire -- which he has little use or patience for. With the spreading of the Bolshevist ideals, he also warns of the flawed attempt to produce art that will find Red Army-favour. He warns of an theatre-craze sweeping the nation -- but all the wrong sort of theatre:
       The hysterical obsession with acting is enveloping the entire Soviet Union like an adipose resurgence of tissues.
       As to where the guilt lies, it is easy to blame the temptation of cheap art.
       Much of Shklovsky's commentary focusses on the artists of the day, and while many remain familiar enough -- Tatlin, Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky -- these are still, for the most part, period pieces. They're short -- and sharp -- enough to still be readable today, but the time- and site-specific references bog things down quite a bit. Nevertheless, Shklovsky's philosophy of art -- not tied to any programme, free to do as it must and wants to, i.e. truly revolutionary -- shines through throughout.
       There's also a nice touch of wariness:
     Not true, no. Not the whole truth. Not even a fourth of the truth.
     I don't dare speak for fear of awakening the soul. I put it to sleep and covered it with a book so that it could hear nothing.
       A lot of interesting stuff; certainly worth engaging with.

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Knight's Move: Reviews: Viktor Shklovsky: Other books by Viktor Shklovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Viktor Shklovsky (Виктор Борисович Шкловский, Victor Chklovski, Viktor Sklovskij) (1893-1984) was a leading Russian Formalist.

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