Viktor Shklovsky

Viktor Shklovsky (1893-1984) was a Russian literary theorist. He belonged to the class of Russian Formalism. He was also associated with the Russian army during the 1st world war. He founded OPOYAZ (Society for the study of poetic language) in the year 1916 which planted the seeds of Russian Formalism.

Viktor Shklovsky opposed Bolshevism, a far-left Marxist faction. As an outcome of his dissent against Bolshevism, he went into hiding but was pardoned in 1919. He also took part in the Russian civil war. 

Viktor Shklovsky coined the term “Defamiliarization” in the essay, “Art as Device” which was part of the Theory of Prose (1925). Defamiliarization is also known as estrangement.

Defamiliarization is the act of making common entities unfamiliar to the reader. It argues that poetic language is different from practical language. The aim of practical language is to make things easily comprehensible and convey things based on factual assertion.

Practical Language does not follow the method of defamiliarization. The idea of Defamiliarization is aligned with poetic language instead of practical language. It is a poetic language that conveys sense through implication rather than through direct expressions.

Poetic language or even subjective language is not totally based on factual assertion and the aim is to make things more difficult to understand. Thus poetic language follows the method of defamiliarization. It is based upon the idea that defamiliarization is aesthetic in nature and therefore the process of creating sense is more important than the outcome.

The rules of ordinary speech don’t apply in the act of defamiliarization. It is an idea of evoking a message which is based upon perceptibility rather than saying something through factual assertion. In other words, poetic language is an endeavor that is created for the sake of itself.

Defamiliarization argues that subjective language does not really have a concrete function of communicating facts. It argues that artistic language serves an artistic function rather than a scientific function.

Thus artistic form based upon aesthetic choice rather than practical purpose. And the aesthetic choice of defamiliarization argues that the act of making sense of language should be a difficult process for the reader.

The reader’s act of making sense of artistic form within language should be based on the poetic sensibility of the reader instead of common sense. The idea of defamiliarization breaks the rules of ordinary speech or writing by making the conveying messages indirectly through implicit sense.  

Viktor Shklovsky was also a film-theorist. He was a friend of filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein. Notable works of Viktor Shklovsky include Zoo or Letters Not About Love (1923), Literature and Cinematography (1923) Third Factory (1926) and Theory of Prose (1925).