Ostranenie is a Russian word which signifies defamiliarization through art. It is a technique through which the audience is forced to see the common and familiar in a strange and unfamiliar light. In this context, ostranenie is used to mean “making strange” perceptions which are familiar. Ostranenie’s function in Art is an important one, for it allows us to see differently about things which we would otherwise have taken for granted- thus, this technique brings to light novelty and innovation by challenging the comfort provided by convention. It is evident throughout 20th century art.
Art as defamiliarization; making familiar perceptions seem strange.
On the cultural level, it is difficult to make progress in a world that is constantly being familiarized. Ostranenie is a vital function of art, for it breaks us out of our normal ways of seeing and thinking and creates the possibility of seeing and thinking in new ways.
(Russian): They Have a Word for It by Howard Rheingold, 1988.
“This Russian term of literary analysis refers to the experience of having the familiar and commonplace made strange or alien.”
We used this in Creative Writing class yesterday. And the way my professor used it, was like so:
Take the signified [signified being the icon, like an apple] and make it the signifier [signifier being Granny Smith, Golden Delicious].
You have to take cliches and anything that you’ve seen done 100 times over, and you have to make it strange before introducing it in a new way.
It’s something I honestly want to remind myself all the time as a writer.
- Take the reader out of their comfort zone.
- Make them pay attention instead of just reading through something they’ve read twenty times before.
- And introduce them to something familiar in a completely new way.
- Make them really pay attention to what you’re trying to say.