Defamiliarization refers to a writer's taking an everyday object that we all recognize and, with a wave of his or her authorial magic wand, rendering that same object weirdly unfamiliar to us—strange even. Presto change-o, our perspective shifts and we see the object in a new way. A pretty neat magic trick, if you ask us.
The term "defamiliarization" was first coined in 1917 by Russian formalist Viktor Shklovskyin his essay "Art as Device" (alternate translation: "Art as Technique").Shklovsky invented the term as a means to "distinguish poetic from practical language on the basis of the former's perceptibility.":Essentially, he is stating that poetic languageis fundamentally different than the language that we use every day because it is more difficult to understand: "Poetic speech is formed speech. Prose is ordinary speech – economical, easy, proper, the goddess of prose [dea prosae] is a goddess of the accurate, facile type, of the "direct" expression of a child."This difference is the key to the creation of art and the prevention of "over-automatization", which causes an individual to "function as though by formula."
This distinction between artistic language and everyday language, for Shklovsky, applies to all artistic forms:
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.
Thus, defamiliarization serves as a means to force individuals to recognize artistic language:
In studying poetic speech in its phonetic and lexical structure as well as in its characteristic distribution of words and in the characteristic thought structures compounded from the words, we find everywhere the artistic trademark – that is, we find material obviously created to remove the automatism of perception; the author's purpose is to create the vision which results from that deautomatized perception. A work is created "artistically" so that its perception is impeded and the greatest possible effect is produced through the slowness of the perception.
The word defamiliarization was coined by the early 20th-century Russian literary critic Viktor Shklovsky in his essay "Art as Technique." He argued that defamiliarization is, more or less, the point of all art. Art makes language strange, as well as the world that the language presents.
Instances of defamiliarization are rampant in genres like science fictionand travel narratives. For example, we see the effects of defamiliarization in Jonathan Swift's satiric travel story Gulliver's Travels when Gulliver visits the land of the giant Brobdingnabian people and gets a glimpse of the women's skin pores up close:
This made me reflect upon the fair skins of our English ladies, who appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own size, and their defects not to be seen through a magnifying glass, where we find by experiment that the smoothest and whitest skins look rough and course, and ill colored. (Part 2, Chapter 1)
Notice how Gulliver's size makes the women look just plain ugly? Something once beautiful, fair, and familiar is now totally strange.