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A literary term originally defined as "orientation toward oral speech" in prose fiction, can also indicate a type of oral folk narrative.

Boris Eikhenbaum first described skaz, derived from the verb skazat ("to tell"), in a pair of 1918 articles as a kind of "oral" narration that included unmediated or improvisational aspects. Formalists and other critics developed this analytical tool during the 1920s, including Yuri Tynianov (1921), Viktor Vinogradov (1926), and Mikhail Bakhtin (1929). Tynianov analyzed the effect of skaz, arguing that it enabled the reader to enter the text, but did not really clarify the mechanism through which it worked.

Vinogradov and Bakhtin helped refine the concept of skaz as a stylistic device. Vinogradov developed the idea that skaz comprised a series of signals that aroused in the reader a sense of speech produced by utterance, not writing. Bakhtin placed skaz within his own larger theory of narration, defining it as one kind of "double-voiced utterance" (the others being stylization and parody) in which two distinct voicesthe author's speech and another's speechwere oriented toward one another within the same level of conceptual authority. The effect of oral speech is, therefore, not the primary characteristic of skaz for Bakhtin.

Since the 1920s skaz has been identified both as a distinctive characteristic of Russian literature (in the work of Gogol, Zamiatin, Zoshchenko, and others) and as a narrative device present in most world literatures. Since the beginning of the 1980s and the rediscovery of Bakhtin's work, his concept of skaz has served as a starting point for further debate: for instance, over whether the relationship between author and narrator is mutual and interactive.

See also: bylina; leskov, nikolai semenovich; bakhtin, mikhail mikhailovich; gogol, nikolai vasilievich


Hodgson, Peter. (1983). "More on the Matter of Skaz: The Formalist Model." In From Los Angeles to Kiev: Papers on the Occasion of the Ninth International Congress of Slavists, Kiev, September, 1983, ed. Vladimir Markov and Dean S. Worth. Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers.

Terras, Victor, ed. (1985). Handbook of Russian Literature. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Titunik, I. R. (1977). "The Problem of Skaz (Critique and Theory)." In Papers in Slavic Philology, ed. Benjamin A. Stolz. Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic Publications.

Elizabeth Jones Hemenway

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