Friday, October 2, 2009

Defamiliarization and Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine

Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading has an interesting post about the purpose of art. First, Scott cites Viktor Shklovsky (from Structuralism in Literature):
Habitualization devours objects, clothes, furniture, one's wife and the fear of war. "If all the complex lives of many go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been."

Art exists to help us recover the sensation of life; it exists to make us feel things, to make the stone stony. The end of art is to give a sensation of the object as seen, not as recognized.

The technique of art is to make things "unfamiliar," to make forms obscure, so as to increase the difficulty and the duration of perception. The act of perception in art is an end in itself and must be prolonged. In art, it is our experience of the process of construction that counts, not the finished product.

Scott then applies Shklovsky's concept of defamiliarization to Nicholson Baker's novel The Mezzanine, praising Baker's "great ability to defamiliarize those things that most of us probably have lost any ability to take any pleasure whatsoever in," like broken shoe laces and cardboard milk cartons. Scott's full post is well worth reading.

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