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In his essay "Art as Technique," Viktor Shklovsky tries to highlight the concept of...

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shiveshjnu | (Level 2) Honors

Posted March 24, 2013 at 6:03 PM via web

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In his essay "Art as Technique," Viktor Shklovsky tries to highlight the concept of Defamiliarization. Explain with examples and also try to give the example from literature.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 24, 2013 at 7:45 PM (Answer #1)

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In "Art as Technique," Shlovksy addresses the ways in which people do things habitually to the point of doing them automatically or unconsciously. He uses the example that holding a pen for the first time is, of course, much different from holding it for the ten thousandth time. By the ten thousandth time, it is so automatic, we don't think about doing it; and to the extreme extent that we don't consciously think about holding the pen, it is as if we are not doing it. Clearly, we do this for the economy of it, to focus on other things. But this is a habit of passive thinking and action. 

Shklovsky notes that we perceive objects in this passive, or half-attentive way. Using Pogodin's example of the sentence "The Swiss mountains are beautiful", Shlovksy gives his algebraic formulation of it as "T, S, m, a, b." He suggests that, in our habitual inattentiveness, we perceive objects in this condensed way as well. We only pay attention to a small or surface aspect of the object. 

In general, this is a problem in our individual lives. Being habitually unaware of everything that is going on locally and in the world is a lack of individual and social awareness. In being passive, we become familiar with objects in this algebraic, condensed form. The technique of art is to make these things "unfamiliar" and to make us more active, less passive, to make us exert more effort in perceiving things and thinking about them. 

This is why Shklovsky, and others after him, believed that poetry fills this criteria  of making the familiar unfamiliar (more so than prose). Poetry is condensed but with odd juxtapositions of words and "roughened" rhythm and language, the reader is forced to slow down and think more about each word and its associations with the other words and the poem as a whole. This is the effect of defamiliarization. By making the familiar unfamiliar, the author or artist creates a work in which the reader can not simply perceive it automatically; he/she has to give more effort, think more actively and creatively. 

Shklovsky uses an example from Tolstoy's "Kholstomer." This section is narrated by a horse; this is the first instrument of defamiliarization. The reader must be consciously aware that he/she is reading from the perspective of a horse. To read automatically, he/she might forget this important technique. In attempting to understand the notion of "private property," the horse contemplates how and why private property exists, concluding that it seems wrong:

There are people who call a tract of land their own, but they never set eyes on it and never take a stroll on it. There are people who call others their own, yet never see them. And the whole relationship between them is that the so-called "owners" treat the others unjustly. 

The horse describes a familiar thing "private property" in an unfamiliar way. Thereby, the reader must consider this familiar thing in an unfamiliar way from an unfamiliar narrator/source. The effect is that the reader actively, not passively, considers private property and possibly will see it in a new way. To the horse, the significant relationship between people who own other people is not the idea of ownership; rather, the horse understands this relationship by the actual interactions therein (by the deeds or actions). And this is that the owners treat those they own poorly. 

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