Monday, October 29, 2012

That one may recover the sensation of life

This morning in the lecture for the course I tutor Russian literary critic Viktor Shklovsky was quoted. Being struck by the resonance and aptness of his words, I did some incisive research (aka I Googled him) and found the full-text from whence it came: 'Art as Technique', an article first published in 1917 in Russian and translated to English in 1965. 
It is an argument about art and poetry, about what art is and does, and Shklovsky moves to talking about how habitualization dims perception, so that we see not the object for what it is but a 'silhouette' of it. Habit makes our perceptions automatic: we forget if we have locked the front door having just walked through it, we grasp and use a pen without thinking about how it feels in the hand and the particular scrape and spread of the nib across a page. We do and do not remember. And so, writes Shklovsky, 

And so, life is reckoned as nothing. Habitualization devours work, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the fear of war. "If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they have never been." And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar', to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object: the object is not important. 

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