Form and Effect

The project “Form and Effect: On the Relation between Psychological and Poetological Research on Rhythm”, led by Georg Witte, explores conjunctions between psychological and early formalist research into rhythm around 1900. In the first place, the project aims to reconstruct how poetological conceptions of verse were influenced by the establishment of rhythm as a category within the psychology of “time-representation” (Wundt), and the hypothesis of physiological correlates to the sensation of rhythm (Fechner, Meumann, et al.). Second, it will elaborate the significance of psychological and formalistic rhythm theories for the aesthetic-theoretical problem of a specifically aesthetic emotion – a question that is again coming under intense discussion. Third, the project aims to show demonstrate how the encounter between perceptual psychology and linguistics precipitated the understanding of the verse text as a perpetually dynamized, self-renewing and psychically readjusting process of rhythmically organized speech.

The project stresses the under-recognized efforts within Russian literary scholarship in the 1910s and ‘20s to combine formalistic and psychological approaches. In declamation studies at the “Institute of the Living Word” (Sergej Bernshtein) and in the versical and rhythmical research of Andrei Bely, “dynamic” emotional values (e.g. of tension/release) were correlated with the movement-ideas released by versical rhythm. Studies on the poem’s “movement-image” and its motoric associations were founded on physiological conceptions of an acoustic-motoric neuronal resonance system. These described a reciprocal interaction between motoric muscle-innervations and the rhythmical impulses in verse (Sofia Vysheslavtseva). At the same time, the project digs deeper into rhythm’s close ties to research in the psychology of music and the psychological study of narrative (Lev Vygotsky on the connections between the rhythm of respiration and the rhythm of plot). Finally, the project deals extensively with rhythm research at the “State Academy of Artistic Sciences” (GAKhN). GAKhN was an advanced forum for dialogue between the formalist, phenomenological and empirical-psychological art criticism. Each of these strands sought in their own way to establish rhythm’s automatizing and “suggestive” effects together with its formally dynamizing and reflexive effects.