Let’s continue reading Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose (1925/9), seeing what lessons it contains for those of us writing and reading today. To quickly recap the previous installments: Shklovsky posits that all art is built from devices (priem), which get put together in patterns. Those patterns can adhere to normative conventions, or they can be somehow disrupted; Shklovsky calls that disruption “defamiliarization” (ostranenie). We, the audience, can perceive those disruptions because we have some expectation of the conventional ways in which artworks are patterned; for more on this, see my discussion of “differential perception”.
One type of defamiliarization is deceleration: the artist uses one or more devices to delay a pattern’s familiar (and therefore anticipated) resolution. I’ve already discussed how artists can use repetition and tautologies to do that. Today I’d like to look at one more example of deceleration, a very pure example that I call “atomization.” I will demonstrate it using an example from Yuriy Tarnawsky’s novel Three Blondes and Death (FC2, 1993), which also happens to be one of my favorite books of the past 20 years.
What follows is the entirety of Chapter 3 of that novel’s first part: “Hwbrgdtse Makes a Portrait of Alphabette.” I think you’ll quickly understand why I’m quoting it in full; remember, we’re looking for how Tarnawsky delays the resolution of the very simple plot that structures the chapter. All you need to know at this point is that the novel’s protagonist, Hwbrgdtse, has just met and become enamored with the first of three blond women, Alphabette: