Defamiliarisation

Writers sharpen our sense of the world by making us hear and see with intensified clarity at times when otherwise we might just take things for granted. The Golden Gate Bridge probably doesn't need de-familiarising, while other, more common, experiences, will. The poet Peter Sansom, for example, instead of saying 'drove off at speed', writes of a 'floored accelerator waking the whole street'. Rather than 'looking a mess' D.B.C.Pierre writes: 'Ella's just skinny, with some freckles, and this big ole head of tangly blond hair that's always blown to hell, like a Barbie doll your dog's been chewing on for a month' (Pierre, 2003:126).

Why do writers build worlds, struggle to make them real to readers? One reason might be to intensify the sensation of being alive, as the Russian formalist critic Victor Shklovsky explains in his essay 'Art as Technique': 'to increase the difficulty of length and perception, because the process of perception. must be prolonged' (Shklovsky, 1917). To find new ways of being in spaces that are otherwise familiar, putting readers in touch with a reality we might easily ignore, as in Gary Geddes's poem. Another might be sheer pleasure as in 'The Bridge'. Building a world is a means of welcoming readers, enabling them to inhabit the scene of a poem, novel or play, and writers do this by opening doors, letting readers in, rather than just by telling them what this or that place signifies. The word 'excitement' doesn't appear in 'The Bridge'. In Gary Geddes's poem no one is being instructed what to think. The setting, the unique presence of Sandra Lee Scheuer, is realised without any attached authorial commentary. Words that sum up a feeling-response—anger, injustice, waste of life—don't get a look in. The business is to make things real, to surprise us. The doors that are opened don't have signs on them: excitement, pleasure, outrage or evasion, or the name of the writer. No matter how public or private these worlds seem, they are made open to everyone through the art of looking and listening more closely, and turning the sensation into words.

0 0

Post a comment