In the first post in this series, I outlined Viktor Shklovsky’s fundamental concepts of device (priem) and defamiliarization (ostranenie) as presented in the first chapter of Theory of Prose, “Art as Device.” This time around, I’d like to look at the start of Chapter 2 and try applying it to contemporary writing (specifically to the New Sincerity). As before, I’m proposing that one can actually use the principles of Russian Formalism to become a better writer and a better critic.
I was really thrilled to read all the responses my last post generated; thanks to everyone who chimed in! And I wanted to post something that clarifies some of the things I wrote there, since it’s apparent I caused no small amount of confusion…
Whether by fate, chance, contingency, purposelessness, irrelevance, or best
of all, uncertainty, we are thrown around, sometimes
at each other, and no matter whether the narrative is plot-based
or character-based, we are thrown from each other
in the end, carrying borrowed being, turning round
and round. “I’m going to color outside
the lines of reggae,” A proclaims; scenery makes a difference
and with it a new personality, but what about the dog
gazing rapturously into A’s face? It’s clear that he or she is alert
to small phrasings as well as to the water level
in the creek. But, in the end, he or she will drown
in the type of creek it seems to be, a flow of sympathy
over rocks, silt, the bones of a mule, past
laurel trees and sunbathers, under suds
and water-skeeters, to Mexico and the Pacific
and to xerox — as if that would keep things
in print. To pull experience out from under
the floating oak leaves would be an act of ingratitude
and betrayal. But to meet K and M would be an honor
and a pleasure as long as no one expects me to speak.
– The Fatalist, pp. 71-72
A while ago I received the first issue of Rooms Outlast Us, a small poetry journal run by Ethan Edwards, J.E. Kielsgard, and Danika Stegeman (I worked Ethan and Danika on Phoebe over a year ago). Anyhow, I wanted to give you a quick look at their project. This first issue is very simply designed. Here’s the cover:
The issue is thirty six pages long and contains poetry by Julie Doxsee, Eric Pankey, Jack Collom & Lyn Hejinian, Matthew Savoca, and Laura Sims. The issue also has a collaborative essay titled “The Function of Criticism” by a group of Berkeley writers: Mia You, Brooke Belisle, Javier Huerta, Megan Pugh, Eleanor Johnson, Marques Redd, Liz Young, Colin Dingler, Jasper Bernes, Swati Rana, and Lyn Hejinian.
It might be hard to discuss this essay without posting it in full (you’ll have to buy the issue in order to read it, or contact the authors or editors at roomsoutlastus [at] gmail [dot] com); however, I’d like to give you a sense of the authors’ argument with some excerpts I’ve picked out. So keep in mind, I guess, that this isn’t the complete essay?
Anyhow, if this is something you’re interested in, have a go.
Summary/excerpts after the break.