I began the serious study of language and literature some fifty years ago. In retrospect, I now realize that my early choice of Slavic linguistics as a home field equipped me with a special outlook which has determined the curve of my research ever since.
First, I am the beneficiary of a long and stable tradition of Slavic philological scholarship which regards the study of literature to be inseparable from the study of language. In the case of poetry, this orientation necessarily entails seeing verse as a structure, of which the building blocks are primarily linguistic; and taking the form of these building blocks to be part of the content. In the case of prose, it means paying close attention to levels of discourse, semantic stratification, and matters of style. Analysis of verse and analysis of prose fiction, while taking account of the differences in approach necessitated by differences in form and genre, join hands in the broader context of humanistic research because each must ultimately give its due to language as the only sure repository of meaning.
Second, as a practitioner of scholarship with Slavic as its focus, I have followed in the tradition of involving oneself immediately in research with a theoretical and universalizing significance while being simultaneously immersed in linguistic and literary analysis at its most practical microcosmic level. This kind of work routinely assumes a viable reconciliation between 1) languages and texts as general human phenomena to be studied without regard to time or place; and (2) the attitude that every language and every text are the unique product of human creativity, inseparable from its temporal and cultural locus. Criticism rises above its ancillary role when its object presents difficulties—linguistic, conceptual, cultural, ideological.
Because art belongs squarely to the aesthetic realm it is only partially amenable to rational analysis. A fundamental asymmetry obtains between aesthetic objects as they are experienced and our ability to talk about them intelligibly. There is (then) no automatic gain in understanding from analysis, quite irrespective of its quality. If interpretation wishes to be of service, it must acknowledge that its epistemological locus is somewhere in the void between art and knowledge, in a mental no-man’s-land where indeterminacy is the order of the day. Under these circumstances, the best a literary analysis aware of its inherent limitations can hope to achieve is to see texts in the round, using bits and pieces as evidence to form a representation of the work of verbal art that does justice to how the form shapes the content—and thereby our experience of it.