Victor Shklovsky, "Art as Technique"

Victor Shklovsky was one of the most influential and important of what is known as the Russian Formalist critics. In the essay, “Art as Technique,” he lays out his attack on the idea of art as “thinking in images” and questions the idea that art’s purpose is to represent the unknown. Rather, Shklovsky proposes that art is instead a way of representing things in a new way. His key contribution here is the notion of defamiliarization. Using examples from Tolstoy to explain it, Shklovsky argues: “Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.” Thus, poetic writing is defined as that which shapes our perception of the thing. “Artistry attributed to a given work results from the way we perceive it.” (8)

Shklovsky’s view was that a “formal” study of the poetic features of language comes not through a rigid systematizing of poetry, since once features of poetic language become unformed, they cease to be poetic. This explained the move toward an unadorned “realism” in 19th century Russian literature.