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In his "Art as Technique," Viktor Schlovsky writes that people's perceptions of things, if repeated, become automatic and even unconscious. Therefore, it is the artist's duty to return the beauty, the feeling and the emotion that has been lost. Schlovsky writes of the purpose of art:
The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar," to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object: the object is not important...
One African-American poem that makes a familiar object unfamiliar, that creates the "artfulness of the object," and that evokes the emotion that has been lost regarding this object is Arna Bontemps's "Southern Mansion."
In 1931, Bontemps, who was born in Louisiana and grew up in California, moved to rural Alabama after having graduated from Pacific Union College and begun his literary career as a poet. There in Alabama, he and his family lived in a decaying plantation house. Bontemps writes of this house in an "unfamiliar" way [see the link below]. For, he does not describe the old mansion, but instead revives the ghosts of those who have died, the music and other sounds that are also dead. In the third stanza, for example, Bontemps writes,
The years go back with an iron clank,
A hand is on the gate,
A dry leaf trembles on the wall
Ghosts are walking....
These ghosts are those of slaves, but they are not described. They are merely alluded to as in the last line of the second stanza:
Another sound tinkling in the cotton:
Chains of bondmen dragging on the ground.
This new experience of the old, familiar one is haunting and effective.
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