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Defamiliarization in Tristram Shandy

As it is well-known nowadays, a special artistic technique is meant under the term “defamiliarization”. Its main meaning is that the audience is forced to perceive the suggested things and actions from a distance, in an unfamiliar way, as if they were strangers there. The technique is aimed at the rejection of the necessity or possibility of taking everything for granted, as Viktor Shklovsky, who was the first to introduce this term in critical writing, argues (Shklovsky 16).

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As far as Shklovsky’s analysis of Stern’s Tristram Shandy is concerned, one may indicate at once that the very first effect of defamiliarization is achieved through the author’s time correlations, when one day of the hero’s life can occupy about a hundred pages, as it is important for the reader to have an outer look at that particular case, or when a couple of years are described in two or three lines, as the events will never force the reader to consider the whole picture from aside (Crawford 210).

Besides, the structure of the book seemed to be in disorder (Shklovsky 32) though it is intentional and is a defamiliarization technique too. The dedication, the Preface can be found in unusual parts of the book, some chapters precede those that should come earlier. This technique is used to show that the characters are even more powerful than the author and independent from him.

Another peculiar feature of this technique is the fact of causes following the consequences (Shklovsky 33), which is quite unusual but effective as the reader first observes the results and then has to think about the reasons. This violation of all novelistic forms by Stern adds much to the readers’ unfamiliarity with what is happening or will take place, as all of them are used with some schemes and structures that are completely ignored by the prominent author. Here one can provide the example of Tristram’s birth, the description of which occupies about two hundred pages without any information concerning his birth, in fact. The author wants to show more, to attract attention to different points, and so he has to violate the literary norms.

The other case is the time spacing as it can be called, when some unimportant, but very typical action starts on page 34, for instance, and finishes after some other events were described on page 109, adding other accents to this particular action (smoking, for example). This adds much to the images of the main characters and to the whole style of their behavior, as it becomes clear that not all that the main characters are used in that sense. This technique seems to be an opposing one to the “economy of mental effort” the author mentions in “Art as Technique” (Shklovsky 278).

The postures’ description that is defamiliarizing as well is very typical of Stern’s style. This technique implying the contrasts and unexpectedness, strangeness can even shock the reader sometimes.

Besides, in order to disturb the readers, to distract their attention, the technique of the ”discovered manuscript” is applied, the technique that is as old as mankind itself, resulting in putting some insertions, other stories into the main plot, that can be something in between the plot of the story and its part and help to perceive it in the variety of different ways.

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Also, the author makes use of motives that become evident in different parts of the narration. Such is the motive of Jenny that appears on page 48 and then on page 337 that intrigues the reader and sustains his/her interest (Shklovsky 42).

Moreover, Stern simply plays with the reader’s curiosity starting by saying something and rapidly changing the topic that intrigues the reader. Besides, death and erotic defamiliarizations are possible, that address the natural instincts of the reader and play on the deep fibers of human perception. Thus, one of the methods of defamiliarization is the technique of decorous conversation as well as euphemistic material (Shklovsky 49).

To sum it up, it is necessary to say that Stern makes use of different types of defamiliarization so that to make his reader think and reflect on what is happening to the main characters in another, new way. This technique made Stern’s Tristram Shandy one of the best novels ever.

References

Crawford, Lawrence. “Victor Shklovskij: Différance in Defamiliarization.” Comparative Literature, 36 (1984): 209-219.

Shklovsky, Viktor. “Art as Technique.” Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003: 277-281.

Shklovsky, Viktor. ”Stern’s Tristram Shandy: Stylistic Commentary.” The Novel: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, 1900-2000. Ed. Dorothy J. Hale. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006: 31-52.

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