Stepping out of your comfort zone isn't an easy thing to do. In fact, it can often be terrifying, which explains why not many of us can boast about jumping out of a plane, backpacking Europe, or surfing the Australian coral reefs. But, if you know someone who has done some of these things, then let them boast! Allow them to tell you their stories of courage, confidence, and craziness, because they took a step towards the unknown that many will never dare to do. Ultimately, it is they who have been through the terror to see where real learning of the self takes place - and that is forever rewarding.
If you're still a little unsure about going on a big adventure, than why not start with something easy: reading a new piece of literature with an open mind. Believe it or not, this isn't an easy task, either. Personally, I find opening a new book daunting; I compare it to the last book I read, to my favorite book, or I make pre-conceived notions based on the cover. But these are completely irrational judgments! The truth is, you never know what lies behind the cover of a book or on the next page. So instead of jumping to conclusions or out of a plane, why not sit back and allow some defamiliarization to carry you into your next read.
Defamiliariaztion is a literary concept defined by Russian theorist Viktor Shklovsky as the process of making things “unfamiliar” (18). The process of defamiliarization, put simply, is used to "make forms difficult" and to "increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged” (18).
Critics Henderson and Brown, who have their own extensive considerations on Shklovsky's concept, use his definition to consider how art (thus, poetry) has the ability to "counter the deadening effect of habit and convention by investing the familiar with strangeness and thereby deautomatizing perception" (Henderson and Brown). Essentially, each of these men explore how taking a familiar text (or what we assume will be familiar) and purposefully making it unfamiliar will change how we view it. When we get rid of our automatic perceptions to let in the new, otherwise ignored meanings, we as readers will learn.
The concept of defamiliarization remains a little unsettling until you actually apply it to literature. One of my favorite defamiliarization poems is Tonja Gunvaldsen-Klaassen's poem "Gravity." There are various other authors who consider defamiliarization in their poetry, such as Sylvia Hamilton's "Excavation," Shoshanna Wingate's "AIDS Ward," RM Vaughan's 96 tears (in my jeans), or Sue Goyette's "A New Form." But Klaassen's poem is unique in that it immediately defamiliarizes readers as they transition from the title to text, as they will find a completely different poetic meaning than the title may have suggested. "Gravity" also serves as a practical explanation of defamiliarization, for as the reader is carried through the unknown towards a better understanding on life, the narrator experiences the process for herself by learning to cope with her agoraphobia. Truthfully, Klaassen's ability to defamiliarize is eponymous. For that reason, I urge you to hold tight, consider what you now know about defamiliarization, and anticipate a good read from Klaassen's soon-to-be published critical analysis (which will be found here)!
In its entirety, defamiliarization takes readers on a journey of perception in order to make them see what they had previously overlooked. It carries its adventurers through the unknown towards a brighter understanding on life, literature, and themselves.
So, what are you waiting for?
I would like to consider this blog entry as a call to action for all readers; therefore, don't simply read this entry and think of the possibilities defamiliarzation might bring to your next read, but choose to experience it! Grab a book, short story, poem, or essay and read it with a new perspective. Or, pick a poem from our site which is purposefully made to make you think and reconsider what you know. (For a list of possibilities, check out the last blog post ("The Diverse Adventure") and browse the categories provided). If you are feeling inspired after a great read, then read another! Or take your new found courage and jump out of a plane! (I did it once - terrifying, but completely worth it!).
Be defamiliarized today! You won't regret it.
Henderson, Greig E., and Christopher Brown. “defamiliarization.” Glossary of Literary Theory. Eds. Henderson, Greig E., & Christopher Brown. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1997. n.p. Print.
Shklovsky, Viktor. “Art as Technique.” Literary theory, an anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell, 1998. 17-23. Print.
*For more information on defamiliarization's many categories and applications, check out the document below: