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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Third Factory

Viktor Shklovsky

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Third Factory

Title: Third Factory
Author: Viktor Shklovsky
Genre: Novel
Written: 1926 (Eng. 1977)
Length: 133 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Third Factory - US
Third Factory - UK
Third Factory - Canada
Third Factory - India
La Troisième fabrique - France
Dritte Fabrik - Deutschland
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Richard Sheldon
  • With an Afterword by Lyn Hejinian

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Our Assessment:

B+ : intriguing approach, tone, and mix of subject matter

See our review for fuller assessment.

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

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Third Factory, Shklovsky attempts to decipher the deformations of his own destiny." - Elif Batuman, The Nation

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Third Factory is an autobiographical work -- arguably not fiction at all, though billed as a novel. In form and content it is very much a product of its times, shaped by a Russia violently shaken by revolution.
       The 'third factory' of the title is what Shklovsky sees as the third significant stage of his life. The first was his family and school, the second Opoyaz (an acronym for 'The Society for the Study of Poetic Language' as Lyn Hejinian explains in her Afterword), the Russian Formalist group he was an influential member of, -- "And the third -- is processing me at this very moment." In addition, Shklovsky at that time held a job: "at the third factory of Goskino", a film studio.
       The book proceeds through these 'factories', as Shklovsky describes the stations of his life to the present. The book is presented in short chapters, bursts of narrative and opinion, skipping forward (and occasionally dwelling on certain ideas). It even includes a variety of letters -- to Roman Jakobson, for example -- trying to settle feuds or explain certain things.
       As Shklovsky had warned at the beginning:

       I have no desire to be witty.
       I have no desire to construct a plot
       I am going to write about things and thoughts.
       To compile quotations.
       As it turns out, he does manage to be quite witty along the way -- and part of what the book demonstrates is his own idea of art being in some ways out of the artist's control, taking on wholly unexpected shapes, going in unexpected directions.
       Shklovsky describes some episodes from his life, but much of the book (certainly the loudest part of the book) has the feel of manifesto-writing. Shklovsky isn't describing or arguing as much as he is proclaiming -- though he also has his doubts, making for an interesting mix.
       Certainly, he's reached a stage in his life (and finds himself in a country and political system) where he's not quite sure what comes next. On the one hand, there's resignation; on the other, ambition (many, many ambitions -- especially since he sees so many people around him going about things the wrong way):
      Meanwhile, youth has been quaffed. Result ? A burned mouth. What do I do ? I work at the factory. I read screenplays. And I ponder my destiny, 75% defined. You get used to a life with no events.
       Third Factory is also a theoretical text, Shklovsky expounding specifically on his theories of art. In a revolutionary society where politics seeps through to everything, he's concerned about its effect on the arts -- which he believes must be separate. He argues, for example:
Art processes the ethics and world view of a writer and liberates itself from his original intention.
     Things change when they land in a book.
       (Obviously, this was not the kind of theory the Soviets would encourage.)
       Much is specifically of the times, including various Russian Formalist debates (which the uninitiated are unlikely to be able to follow precisely), but broader points and questions are more enduring -- such as his belief that:
One must write not about Tolstoy, but about War and Peace.
       (An idea that, again, appears to be out of fashion.)
       In fact, his vigorous and often aggressive tone make it a fairly easy and appealing read (though some of the theoretical points and references -- the short text comes with 107 endnotes -- might remain a blur). For both basic arguments about art and a description of the intellectual's life in revolutionary Russia, Third Factory is well worth a look.
       The Dalkey Archive Press edition comes with both Richard Sheldon's Introduction and an Afterword by Lyn Hejinian. At 30 pages, Sheldon's piece makes up a sizable chunk of the book, and offers a decent if occasionally (too) far-reaching introduction; perhaps a bit tighter focus on the book at hand would have been more useful for the non-specialist reader. Hejinian's piece offers an interesting look specifically at Shklovsky's influence on American authors -- but also doesn't do that much to help elucidate the text proper.

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Third Factory: 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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