Tuesday, June 30, 2015

word of the day: ostranenie

Speaking with the poet Graham Foust, interviewer Bryce Thornburg of Berkeley Poetry Review says:
I was really interested in the strategies of estrangement that you use — and I don’t mean that in the ostranenie sense — but I mean that with in a sort of doubling of language via in repetition but with a difference — maybe with a change in word class, or words within words, or something that might sound familiar from a previous part of a poem, or even things that sound familiar from, you know, pop lyrics or song titles or things like that.

Ostranenie is a piece of literary theory jargon. It does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, my favorite definition source since the Berkeley Public Library decided to subscribe.

Dictionary.com gives a one-word definition: defamiliarization

More helpfully, dictionary.com will pronounce the word for you.

Oxford Reference is more expansive:
[T]he concept refers to the techniques writers use to transform ordinary language into poetic language, which for the Russian Formalists is language which induces a heightened state of perception. Habit, according to the Russian Formalists, is the enemy of art, therefore to produce art the writer has to force the reader outside of the usual patterns of perception by making the familiar appear strange or different. … [T]he deadened senses of the reader [are] awakened by clever writing … [T]his process suffers from the logic of diminishing returns—what was shocking yesterday is all too familiar today … (this, as many commentators have observed, is the problem contemporary non-representational art also faces).

The term seems to have been coined by the Russian literary theorist Victor Shklovsky.

The interviewer did a decent job defining “ostranenie,” while claiming the poet was doing something other than doing that very thing, that is, defamiliarizing “things that sound familiar.”

source: Berkeley Poetry Review issue 42. 2012.

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