Defamiliarization, also known as estrangement or alienation effect, is a concept in art and narrative that was first introduced by the Russian formalist literary critic Viktor Shklovsky in the early 20th century. It refers to a technique used by artists and writers to present familiar objects, settings, or experiences in a way that defies conventional perception and challenges the audience’s preconceived notions. The aim is to disrupt the automatic or habitual ways of seeing and interpreting the world, leading to a renewed sense of awareness and engagement.

In art, defamiliarization can be achieved through various methods, such as:

  1. Distortion: Artists may deliberately distort the proportions, shapes, or colors of familiar objects, making them appear strange or unfamiliar.
  2. Fragmentation: Breaking down an object or scene into fragmented parts can create a sense of dissonance and challenge the viewer’s perception.
  3. Juxtaposition: Placing unrelated or contrasting elements together in a composition can generate new meanings and provoke thought.
  4. Abstraction: Representing objects or subjects in a simplified or abstract manner can prompt viewers to actively interpret the artwork.
  5. Surrealism: Creating dream-like or bizarre scenarios can evoke feelings of disorientation and encourage deeper contemplation.

In narrative, defamiliarization is achieved through literary techniques and storytelling devices, including:

  1. Unconventional Perspectives: Presenting the story from an unconventional point of view, such as that of an inanimate object or an animal, can offer fresh insights into human experiences.
  2. Non-linear Narratives: Departing from a chronological or linear structure can challenge readers’ expectations and encourage active engagement in piecing together the plot.
  3. Experimental Language: Authors may use innovative language, wordplay, or neologisms to disrupt ordinary linguistic patterns and create a unique reading experience.
  4. Symbolism and Metaphor: Utilizing symbols and metaphors can imbue familiar objects or events with deeper, symbolic meaning, prompting readers to contemplate underlying themes.
  5. Stream of Consciousness: Presenting a character’s thoughts and emotions in an unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness style can provide a raw and intimate portrayal of their inner world.

The purpose of defamiliarization in both art and narrative is to challenge the audience’s perceptions, provoke thought, and encourage a deeper engagement with the work. By making the familiar unfamiliar, artists and writers invite viewers and readers to approach the subject matter with renewed curiosity and openness, fostering a richer and more meaningful experience of the artwork or story. Additionally, defamiliarization can be used to highlight social, political, or cultural issues, as it prompts individuals to question their assumptions and consider alternative perspectives.

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