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)


on entering rilke’s necropolis

Whenever I come to a new city I always hear echos of the famous opening lines of Rainer Maria Rilke’s only novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge:  

So, then people do come here in order to live; I would sooner have thought one died here. I have been out. I saw: hospitals. I saw a man who swayed and sank to the ground. People gathered round him, so I was spared the rest. I saw a pregnant woman. She was pushing herself cumbrously along a high, warm wall, groping for it now and again as if to convince herself it was still there. Yes, it was still there.
I find these lines of Rilke’s — in Stephen Mitchell’s fluid and poetic translation — capture the disorientating force of the sense impressions we’d receive if we could learn to see our cityscapes anew, as if for the first time…

Seeing the familiar things anew: that is one of the goals of this blog.