on seeing things anew

Is this the most influential paragraph in modern literary criticism? If Shklovsky wrote nothing else but this essay, he would still be remembered as one of the most important art theorists of the twentieth century. Shklovsky developed the concept of ostranenie or defamiliarization in literature as follows:


And so life is reckoned as nothing. Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war. "If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been." And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. 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.


 — Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique” (1917)



sartre’s take on joyce kilmer’s famous poem…


The passage in Sartre’s Nausea where Roquentin confronts the being of the tree-root must be one of the great instances of a negative epiphany, of a sudden apprehension of the negative sublime:
All at once the veil is torn away, I have understood, I have seen … The roots of the chestnut tree sank into the ground just beneath my bench. I couldn’t remember it was a root anymore. Words had vanished and with them the meaning of things, the way things are to be used, the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, stooping over, head bowed, alone in front of this black, knotty lump, entirely raw, frightening me. Then I had this vision.
It took my breath away. Never, up until these last few days, had I suspected the meaning of “existence.” I was like the others, like the ones walking along the seashore, wearing their spring clothes. I said, like them, “The sea is green; that white speck up there is a seagull,” but I didn’t feel that it existed or that the seagull was an “existing seagull”; usually existence conceals itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can’t say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea