Defamiliarization

viktor-shklovsky.jpgThe Russian Formalists’ concept of “Defamiliarization”, proposed by Viktor Shklovsky in his Art as Technique, refers to the literary device whereby language is used in such a way that ordinary and familiar objects are made to look different. It is a process of transformation where language asserts its power to affect our perception. It is that aspect which differentiates between ordinary usage and poetic usage of language, and imparts a uniqueness to a literary work. While Roman Jakobson described the object of study in literary science as the “literariness” of a work, Jan Mukarovsky emphasized that literariness consists in foregrounding of the linguistic medium, as Viktor Shklovsky described, is to estrange or defamiliarize, by medium. The primary aim of literature, in thus foregrounding its linguistics disrupting the modes of ordinary linguistic discourse, literature strange” the world of everyday perception, and renews the readers’ lost capacity for fresh sensation. A similar technique deployed in drama was “alienation effect” introduced by Bertolt Brecht in his Epic Theatre, to disrupt the passive complacency of the audience and force them into a critical analysis of art as well as the world.

Although the concept of defamiliarization was earlier advocated by the Romantic critic Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria (1817), it was conceived in terms of subject matter and in novelty of expression. The formalists, however, endorse defamiliarization effected by novelty in the usage of formal linguistic devices in poetry, such as rhyme, metre, metaphor, image and symbol. Thus literary language is ordinary language deformed and made strange. Literature, by forcing us into a dramatic awareness of language, refreshes our habitual perceptions and renders objects more perceptible.

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