It is usually thought to be obvious that every artist wishes to express something, to recount something, and that this "something" is called the content of a work. And the means by which this "something" is expressed--words, images, meter in verse, color and line in a painting--are called the form of the work.
Nearly everybody distinguishes between these two aspects of every work of art. People who want art to be of direct benefit to humanity usually say that in art the most important thing is content, i.e., what is said in it.
The so-called aesthetes, lovers of the beautiful, say that for them the important thing in art is "not what, but how," i.e., the main thing is form. Now let us calmly attempt, without becoming involved in this dispute, to look detachedly upon the object of the dispute.
The problem concerns works of art.
Let us begin with an analysis of musical compositions.
A musical composition consists of a series of sounds of different pitch and different timbre, i.e., of sounds high and low following one after the other. These sounds are combined into groups; the groups bear a certain relationship to one another. Besides this, there is nothing in a musical composition. Now what have we found in it? We have found, not form and content, but rather material and form, i.e., sounds and the disposition of sounds. Of course there may be people who say that in music there is also content, namely a sad or a gay mood. But there are facts which show that there is contained in a musical composition neither sadness nor joy, that such feelings are not the essence of music, and that its creators set no store by them. Hanslick, a famous student of the theory of music, cites the example of how Bach wrote indecent couplets to music which he had composed for psalms; the music was just as suitable for the couplets. On the other hand, it is by no means rare for many sects to use dance tunes for their hymns. Moreover, to do this they had to overcome the traditional connection of these tunes with the normal circumstances of their performances.
This is why Kant defined music as pure form, i.e., denied the existence of so-called content in it.
Now let us look at the so-called graphic arts. This name is inaccurate and does not cover all phenomena involved. Decorative art obviously depicts nothing. But in European art at least the graphic arts usually depict the so-called external world, scenes of work, pictures of men and wild animals. Scarcely anyone will dispute this, and moreover, we know from the artists themselves that when they paint flowers or grass or a cow, they are not interested in whether these have any practical use, but only in how they appear, i.e., in color and line. For the artist the external world is not the content of a picture, but material for a picture. The famous Renaissance artist Giotto says: "A picture is--primarily--a conjunction of colored planes." The Impressionists painted things as though they saw them without understanding--only as spots of color. They perceived the world as if they had just suddenly awakened. This is how the Russian "Itinerant" artist Kramskoy defined the effect made on him by the Impressionists' pictures.
Another realistic painter, Surikov, used to say that the "idea" of his famous picture "The Boyar's Wife, Morozova" occurred to him when he saw a jackdaw on the snow. For him this picture was primarily "black on white." To anticipate a little, I will say that Surikov's picture is not merely the development of his impression of a color contrast; in this picture we encounter a great many heterogeneous elements, particularly in relation to meaning, but even meanings are used as material for artistic construction.
Thanks to such an attitude toward "representation," there is in art an inclination to transform depiction, so-called organic forms, e.g., the outlines of a flower, a wild animal, grass, a ram's horn (as in Buryat designs), into an ornament--a design which no longer represents anything. . . . All rug designs, in particular the designs on Persian rugs, are the result of just such a transformation of organic form into purely artistic form.
This transformation cannot be explained by religious prohibition (Islam avoids depiction out of "dread of idolatry"), since there exist, during all stages in the development of Persian tapestry, rugs depicting entire scenes involving people and animals. This shocks nobody. We have Persian miniatures which, it would seem, were influenced just as much by religious prohibitions as tapestry. On the other hand, we know that in Greece, where there were no religious prohibitions of this kind, a geometrical style developed (there is a vase in this style in the Petersburg Hermitage), and during this phase the way the human body was depicted vividly recalls the rendering of stylized deer in tapestry.
The entire history of written languages illustrates the struggle between the ornamental principle and the representative principle.
It is, moreover, curious to note that written languages at the first stages of their existence, and among many peoples, even to the present day (Turks, Persians), fulfilled decorative purposes.
The divorce of the letter or ideograph from its conventional function is a result not only of the technique, but also of the stylization of writing. . . . The letter is an ornament.
The artist clings to depiction, to the world, not in order to create a world, but rather to utilize complex and rewarding material in his art. This break with representation, this transformation of picture into calligraphy, occurs more than once in the history of art, but artists have always returned to representation.
But the artist needs the world for his picture. There is a Greek anecdote about an artist: people came up to him at an exhibition and asked him to remove the cloth from his painting. "I cannot do that," said the artist. "My painting depicts a painting covered with a cloth." In analyzing a painting, people who wish to go beyond its limits, who talk about demons in connection with Picasso, about war in connection with all of cubism, who wish to decipher paintings like a rebus, want to deprive a painting of its form in order to see it better.
Paintings are not at all windows onto another world--they are things.
It is in literature that the view of the separation between form and content seems most plausible.
And in fact, a great many people suppose that the poet possesses a specific thought, a thought about God, for example, and expounds this thought in words.
These words may be beautiful, and then we say that the work's form, sound-form or image-form, is beautiful. This is what most people think about form and content in literature.
But first of all it cannot be affirmed that there is content in every work of art, since we know that in the first stages of its development poetry possessed no precise content.
For instance, the songs of the Indians in British Guiana consist of the exclamation: "Heya, heya." The songs of the Patagonians, the Papuans, and certain North American tribes are also senseless. Poetry appeared before content.
The singer's task was not to render in words some thought or other, but to devise a series of sounds possessing a definite relationship one to another, which is called form. These sounds should not be confused with sounds in music. They have not only an acoustic but also an articulated form: they are produced by the singer's vocal organs. Perhaps in a primitive poem we are dealing not so much with an ejaculation as with an articulated gesture, a sort of ballet of the speech organs. Even in modern poetry, the act of speaking it may have, in varying degrees, the same sensuous effect on us "the sweetness of verses on the lips.". . .
A line of verse quite often appears in the poet's mind as a definite patch of sound not yet verbalized. . . .
Alexander Blok used to tell me about this phenomenon as he had observed it in himself.
Victor Hugo used to say that what was difficult was not finding a rhyme, but "filling the spaces between rhymes with poetry," i.e., fitting the "image" aspect to the already existing sound aspect.
In short, the deeper we go into the study of verse, the more complex become the phenomena of form which we discover within it.
But poems are formal throughout and it is unnecessary for us to change our methods of investigation. What is called the image aspect is also not intended to be depictive or explanatory.
Potebnya's notion that the image is always simpler than the concept it replaces is absolutely incorrect.
There is a line in one of Tyutchev's poems saying that flashes of heat lightning are "like deaf and dumb demons conversing with each other." Why is the image of the deaf and dumb demons simpler or more obvious than the lightning flashes?
In erotic poetry we generally find that erotic objects are designated by various "image" names. The "Song of Songs" is an extended series of such comparisons. Here we are dealing not so much with imagery as with what I call "estrangement," in the sense of making things strange.
We live in a poor and enclosed world. We no more feel the world in which we live than we feel the clothes we wear. We fly through the world like Jules Verne characters, "through outer space in a capsule." But in our capsule there are no windows.
The Pythagoreans used to say that we do not hear the music of the spheres because it goes on uninterruptedly. In the same way those who live by the sea do not hear the noise of the waves. We do not bear even the words we speak. We speak a pitiful language of incompletely uttered words. We look one another in the face but do not see one another.
The Renovation of Form
In his diary, Tolstoy wrote ". . . I dusted off the sofa and couldn't remember doing it. . . . So if I did dust it off, I did it unconsciously. . . . If someone had seen it consciously he could have reconstructed my action. . . . And our entire life, lived through unconsciously, is all as if it had never been."
Perhaps mankind began using reason too early. With its reason it jumped forward out of turn, like a soldier from the ranks, and began running amok.
We live as if coated with rubber. We must recover the world. Perhaps all the horror (which is little felt) of our days, the Entente, the war, Russia, can be explained by our lack of feeling for the world, by the absence of an extensive art. The purpose of the image is to call an object by a new name. To do this, to make the object an artistic fact, it must be abstracted from among the facts of life.
We must first of all "shake up" things. . . . We must rip things from their ordinary sequence of associations. Things must be turned over like logs in a fire. . . .
The poet removes the labels from things. . . . Things rebel, casting off their old names and taking on a new aspect together with their new names. The poet brings about a semantic dislocation, he snatches the concept out of the sequence in which it is usually found and transfers it with the aid of the word (the trope) to another meaning-sequence. And now we have a sense of novelty at finding the object in a fresh sequence.
This is one of the ways of making things tangible. In the image we have the object, the recollection of its former name, its new name, and the associations connected with the new name. . . .
One device in modern artistic prose is very curious. To create an unusual perception of things in modern prose there is a widely used device which has never been described and which I would define as the "recurrent image." In Russian literature it is represented by Dostoevsky, Rozanov, Andrei Bely, Zamyatin and also by the Serapion brothers. It consists in using a certain word (usually such a word is "orchestrated" by means of repetition or else an exotic word is chosen) and then equating all the other matter in the work of art to this word. . . .
Andrei Bely in his reminiscences of Blok (Epopeya, Book Two) notes that Merezhkovsky wore shoes with pompons on them. These "pompons" rapidly come to define Merezhkovsky's entire life. He speaks with pompons, he thinks with pompons, etc. In this case we seem to have a certain mechanization of the imagery device.
The word deprived of sense is constantly associated with a number of other words, which are thus removed from the way they are usually perceived. I cannot trace the history of this device outside Russian literature, but I think that perhaps Dostoevsky borrowed it from Dickens, who was a great devotee of it.
In Little Dorrit the governess Mrs. General advises the young ladies in her charge, to give a pretty shape to their lips, to constantly pronounce "prunes and prisms."
For Dickens these "prunes and prisms" soon become a distinct condition of the newly rich Dorrits' life.
Dickens writes of "the heaps of prunes and prisms" which had filled the Dorrits' life to overflowing. In Our Mutual Friend the same use is made of the conversations about lime, with which at first the detectives concealed their real intentions, but which later became for them a sort of game. . . .
It seems clear to me that for a writer words are not at all a sad necessity, not just a means by which something is said, but are rather the very material of the work. Literature is created from words and takes advantage of the laws by which they are governed.
It is true that in a work of literature we also have the expression of ideas, but it is not a question of ideas clothed in artistic form, but rather artistic form created from ideas as its material.
In verse, rhyme is opposed to rhyme, the sounds of one word are connected by repetitions with the sounds of another word and form the sound-aspect of the poem.
In parallelism, image is opposed to image and forms the image-aspect of the work.
In the novel, thought is opposed to thought, or one group of characters to another, and this constitutes the meaning-form of the work.
Thus in Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina the Karenin-Vronsky group is opposed to the Kitty-Levin group.It was this that entitled Tolstoy to say that he had no use for "those sweet and clever little fellows who fish out individual ideas from a work," and that "if I had wanted to say in one word everything that the novel was intended to express, then I should have had to write the novel all over again, and if my critics understand it and can put down in a review everything I meant, then I congratulate them and can say without hesitation that they are capable of much more than I."
In a work of literature it is not the idea that is important but the way ideas are combined. Again I quote from Tolstoy: "the combination itself is made not by means of thought (I think), but by something else, and it is impossible to express directly the basis for this combination. It can, however, be expressed indirectly by the description of images, actions, situations in words."
Consequently, the ideas in a literary work do not constitute its content but rather its material, and in their combination and interrelations with other aspects of the work they create its form.
Wednesday, 27 June 2007
It is usually thought to be obvious that every artist wishes to express something, to recount something, and that this "something" is called the content of a work. And the means by which this "something" is expressed--words, images, meter in verse, color and line in a painting--are called the form of the work.
"Art is thinking in images." This maxim, which even high school students parrot, is nevertheless the starting point for the erudite philologist who is beginning to put together some kind of systematic literary theory. The idea, originated in part by Potebnya [leading figure in the Russian Symbolist school of poets and critics], has spread. "Without imagery there is no art, and in particular no poetry," Potebnya writes [in 1905]. And elsewhere, "Poetry, as well as prose, is first and foremost a special way of thinking and knowing."
Poetry is a special way of thinking; it is, precisely, a way of thinking in images, a way which permits what is generally called 'economy of mental effort,' a way which makes for a 'sensation of the relative ease of the process.' Aesthetic feeling is the reaction to this economy. This is how the academician Ovsyaniko-Kulikovsky [a leading Russian scholar and literary conservative], who undoubtedly read the works of Potebnya attentively, almost certainly understood and faithfully summarized the ideas of his teacher. Potebnya and his numerous disciples consider poetry a special kind of thinking - thinking by means of images; they feel that the purpose of imagery is to help channel various objects and activities into groups and to clarify the unknown by means of the known. Or, as Potebnya wrote:
The relationship of the image to way is being clarified is that: (a) the image is the fixed predicate of that which undergoes change - the unchanging means of attracting what is perceived as changeable. . . . (b) the image is far clearer and simpler than what it clarifies. In other words:
Since the purpose of imagery is to remind us, by approximation, of those meanings for which the image stands, and since, apart from this, imagery is unnecessary for thought, we must be more familiar with the image than with what it clarifies.
It would be instructive to apply this principle to Tyutchev's comparison of summer lightning to deaf and dumb demons or to Gogol's comparison of the sky to the garment of God. [The reference is to 19th-c. Russian writers known for their bold use of imagery.]
"Without imagery there is no art" - "Art is thinking in images." These maxims have led to far-fetched interpretations of individual works of art. Attempts have been made to evaluate even music, architecture, and lyric poetry as imagistic thought. After a quarter of a century of such attempts Ovsyaniko-Kulikovsky finally had to assign lyric poetry, architecture, and music to a special category of imageless art and to define them as lyric arts appealing directly to the emotions. And thus he admitted an enormous area of art which is not a mode of thought. A part of this area, lyric poetry (narrowly considered), is quite like the visual arts; it is also verbal. But, much more important, visual art passes quite imperceptibly into nonvisual art; yet our perceptions of both are similar.
Nevertheless, the definition "Art is thinking in images," which means (I omit the usual middle terms of the argument) that art is the making of symbols, has survived the downfall of the theory which supported it. It survives chiefly in the wake of Symbolism, especially among the theorists of the Symbolist movement.
Many still believe, then, that thinking in images - thinking in specific scenes of "roads and landscape" and furrows and boundaries" [the reference is to a major work of Symbolist theory, by the critic V. Ivanov] - is the chief characteristic of poetry. Consequently, they should have expected the history of "imagistic art," as they call it, to consist of a history of changes in imagery. But we find that images change little; from century to century, from nation to nation, from poet to poet, they flow on without changing. Images belong to no one; they are "the Lord's." The more you understand an age, the more convinced you become that the images a given poet used and which you though his own were taken almost unchanged from another poet. The works of poets are classified or grouped according to the new techniques that poets discover and share, and according to their arrangement and development of the resources of language; poets are much more concerned with arranging images than with creating them. Images are given to poets; the ability to remember them is far more important than the ability to create them.
Imagistic thought does not, in any case, include all the aspects of art nor even all the aspects of verbal art. A change in imagery is not essential to the development of poetry. We know that frequently an expression is thought to be poetic, to be created for aesthetic pleasure, although actually it was created without such intent - e.g., Annensky's opinion that the Slavic languages are especially poetic and Andrey Bely's ecstasy over the technique of placing adjectives after nouns, a technique used by eighteenth-century poets [references are to critics in Potebnya's group]. Bely joyfully accepts the technique as something artistic, or more exactly as intended, if we consider intention as art. Actually, this reversal of the usual adjective-noun order is a peculiarity of the language (which had been influenced by Church Slavonic). Thus a work may be (1) intended as prosaic and accepted as poetic, or (2) intended as poetic and accepted as prosaic. This suggests that the artistry attributed to a given work results from the way we perceive it. By 'works of art,' in the narrow sense, we mean works created by special techniques designed to make the works as obviously artistic as possible.
Potebnya's conclusion, which can be formulated 'poetry equals imagery,' gave rise to the whole theory that 'imagery equals symbolism,' that the image may serve as the invariable predicate of various subjects. (This conclusion, because it expressed ideas similar to the theories of the Symbolists, intrigued some of their leading representatives - Andrey Bely, Merezhkovsky and his 'eternal companions' and, in fact, formed the basis of the theory of Symbolism. [Shklovsky's aside]) The conclusion stems partly from the fact that Potebnya did not distinguish between the language of poetry and the language of prose. Consequently, he ignored the fact that there are two aspects of imagery: imagery as a practical means of thinking, as a means of placing objects within categories; and imagery as poetic, as a means of reinforcing an impression. I shall clarify with an example. I want to attract the attention of a young child who is eating bread and butter and getting the butter on her fingers. I call, "Hey, butterfingers!" This is a figure of speech, a clearly prosaic trope. Now a different example. The child is playing with my glasses and drops them. I call, "Hey, butterfingers!" This figure of speech is a poetic trope. (In the first example, 'butterfingers' is metonymic; in the second, metaphoric - but this is not what I want to stress [Shklovsky's aside]. [Evidently, the Russian word for 'butterfingers' allows for word play involving a root that also means 'hat' and 'clumsy oaf'.]
Poetic imagery is a means of creating the strongest possible impression. As a method it is, depending upon its purpose, neither more nor less effective than other poetic techniques; it is neither more nor less effective than ordinary or negative parallelism, comparison, repetition, balanced structure, hyperbole, the commonly accepted rhetorical figures, and all those methods which emphasize the emotional effect of an expression (including words or even articulated sounds). But poetic imagery only externally resembles either the stock imagery of fables and ballads or thinking in images - e.g., the example in Ovsyaniko-Kulikovsky's Language and Art in which a little girl calls a ball a watermelon. Poetic imagery is but one of the devices of poetic language. Prose imagery is a means of abstraction: a little watermelon instead of a lampshade, or a little watermelon instead of a head, is only the abstraction of one of the object's characteristics, that of roundness. It is no different from saying that the head and the melon are both round. This is what is meant, but it has nothing to do with poetry.
* * *
The law of the economy of creative effort is also generally accepted. [The British philosopher Herbert] Spencer wrote:
On seeking for some clue to the law underlying these current maxims, we may see shadowed forth in many of them, the importance of economizing the reader'' or the hearer'' attention. To so present ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental effort, is the desideratum towards which most of the rules above quoted point. . . . Hence, carrying out the metaphor that language is the vehicle of thought, there seems reason to think that in all cases the friction and inertia of the vehicle deduct from its efficiency; and that in composition, the chief, if not the sole thing to be done, is to reduce this friction and inertia to the smallest possible amount.  And R[ichard] Avenarius:
If a soul possess inexhaustible strength, then, of course, it would be indifferent to how much might be spent from this inexhaustible source; only the necessarily expended time would be important. But since its forces are limited, one is led to expect that the soul hastens to carry out the apperceptive process as expediently as possible - that is, with comparatively the least expenditure of energy, and, hence, with comparatively the best result. Petrazhitsky, with only one reference to the general law of mental effort, rejects [William] James's theory of the physical basis of emotion, a theory which contradicts his own. Even Alexander Veselovsky acknowledged the principle of the economy of creative effort, a theory especially appealing in the study of rhythm, and agreed with Spencer: "A satisfactory style is precisely that style which delivers the greatest amount of thought in the fewest words." And Andrey Bely, despite the fact that in his better pages he gave numerous examples of 'roughened' rhythm and (particularly in the examples from Baratynsky) showed the difficulties inherent in poetic epithets, also thought it necessary to speak of the law of the economy of creative effort in his book - a heroic effort to create a theory of art based on unverified facts from antiquated sources, on his vast knowledge of the techniques of poetic creativity, and on Krayevich's high school physics text.
These ideas about the economy of energy, as well as about the law and aim of creativity, are perhaps true in their application to 'practical' language: they were, however, extended to poetic language. Hence they do not distinguish properly between the laws of practical language and the laws of poetic language. The fact that Japanese poetry has sounds not found in conversational Japanese was hardly the first factual indication of the differences between poetic and everyday language. Leo Jakubinsky has observed that the law of the dissimulation of liquid sounds does not apply to poetic language. This suggested to him that poetic language tolerated the admission of hard-to-pronounce conglomerations of similar sounds. In his article, one of the first examples of scientific criticism, he indicates inductively the contrast (I shall say more about his point later) between the laws of poetic language and the laws of practical language. [Jakubinsky, a Russian linguist, wrote the articles to which Shklovsky refers in 1916 and 1917.]
We must, then, speak about the laws of expenditure and economy in poetic language not on the basis of an analogy with prose, but on the basis of the laws of poetic language.
If we start to examine the general laws of perception, we see that as perception becomes habitual, it becomes automatic. Thus, for example, all of our habits retreat into the area of the unconsciously automatic; if one remembers the sensations of holding a pen or of speaking in a foreign language for the first time and compares that with his feeling at performing the action for the ten thousandth time, he will agree with us. Such habituation explains the principles by which, in ordinary speech, we leave phrases unfinished and words half expressed. In this process, ideally realized in algebra, things are replaced by symbols. Complex words are not expressed in rapid speech; their initial sounds are barely perceived. Alexander Pogodin [in a 1913 work] offers the example of a boy considering the sentence "The Swiss mountains are beautiful" in the form of a series of letters: T, S, m, a, b.
This characteristic of thought not only suggests the method of algebra, but even prompts the choice of symbols (letters, especially initial letters). By this 'algebraic' method of thought we apprehend objects only as shapes with imprecise extensions; we do not see them in their entirety but rather recognize them by their main characteristics. We see the object as though it were enveloped in a sack. We know what it is by its configuration, but we see only its silhouette. The object, perceived thus in the manner of prose perception, fades and does not leave even a first impression; ultimately even the essence of what it was is forgotten. Such perception explains why we fail to hear the prose word in its entirety (see Leo Jakubinsky's article) and, hence, why (along with other slips of the tongue) we fail to pronounce it. The process of 'algebrization,' the over-automatization of an object, permits the greatest economy of perceptive effort. Either objects are assigned only one proper feature - a number, for example - or else they function as though by formula and do not even appear in cognition.
I was cleaning a room and, meandering about, approached the divan and couldn't remember whether or not I had dusted it. Since these movements are habitual and unconscious, I could not remember and felt that it was impossible to remember - so that if I had dusted it and forgot - that is, had acted unconsciously, then it was the same as if I had not. If some conscious person had been watching, then the fact could be established. If, however, no one was looking, or looking on unconsciously, if the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been. [Leo Tolstoy's Diary, 1897]
And so life is reckoned as nothing. Habitualization devours works, 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 had 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. [This key statement has been translated different ways; Robert Scholes, for instance, renders it as: In art, it is our experience of the process of construction that counts, not the finished product.]
The range of poetic (artistic) work extends from the sensory to the cognitive, from poetry to prose, from the concrete to the abstract: from Cervantes' Con Quixote - scholastic and poor nobleman, half consciously bearing his humiliation in the court of the duke - to the broad but empty Don Quixote of Turgenev, from Charlemagne to the name 'king' [in Russian, 'Charles' and 'king' derive from the same root, korol]. The meaning of a work broadens to the extent that artfulness and artistry diminish; thus a fable symbolizes more than a poem, and a proverb more than a fable. Consequently, the least self-contradictory part of Potebnya's theory is his treatment of the fable, which, from his point of view, he investigated thoroughly. But since his theory did not provide for 'expressive' works of art, he could not finish his book. As we know, Notes on the Theory of Literature was published in 1905, thirteen years after Potebnya's death. Potebnya himself completed only the section on the fable.
After we see an object several times, we begin to recognize it. The object is in front of us and we know about it, but we do not see it - hence, we cannot say anything significant about it. Art removes objects from the automatism of perception in several ways. Here I want to illustrate a way used repeatedly by Leo Tolstoy, that writer who, for Merezhkovsky at least, seems to present things as if he himself say them, and saw them in their entirety, and did not alter them.
Tolstoy makes the familiar seem strange by not naming the familiar object. He describes an object as if he were seeing it for the first time, an event as if it were happening for the first time. In describing something he avoids the accepted names of its parts and instead names corresponding parts of other objects. For example, in "Shame" Tolstoy 'defamiliarizes' the idea of flogging in this way: "to strip people who have broken the law, to hurl them to the floor, and to rap on their bottoms with switches," and, after a few lines, "to lash about on the naked buttocks." Then he remarks:
Just why precisely this stupid, savage means of causing pain and not any other - why not prick the shoulders or any part of the body with needles, squeeze the hands or the feet in a vise, or anything like that? I apologize for this harsh example, but it is typical of Tolstoy's way of pricking the conscience. The familiar act of flogging is made unfamiliar both by the description and by the proposal to change its form without changing its nature. Tolstoy uses this technique of 'defamiliarization' constantly. The narrator of "Kholstomer," for example, is a horse, and it is the horse's point of view (rather than a person's) that makes the content of the story seem unfamiliar. Here is how the horse regards the institution of private property:
I understand well what they said about whipping and Christianity. But then I was absolutely in the dark. What's the meaning of 'his own,' 'his colt'? From these phrases I saw that people thought there was come sort of connection between me and the stable. At the time I simply could not understand the connection. Only much later, when they separated me from the other horses, did I begin to understand. But even then I simply could not see what it meant when they called me 'man's property.' The words 'my horse' referred to me, a living horse, and seemed as strange to me as the words 'may land,' 'my air,' 'my water.'
But the words made a strong impression on me. I thought about them constantly, and only after the most diverse experiences with people did I understand, finally, what they meant. They meant this: In life people are guided by words, not by deeds. It's not so much that they love the possibility of doing or not doing something as it is the possibility of speaking with words, agreed on among themselves, about various topics. Such are the words 'my' and 'mine,' which they apply to different things, creatures, objects, and even to land, people, and horses. They agree that only one may saw 'mine' about his, that, or the other thing. And the one who says 'mine' about the greatest number of things is, according to the game which they're agreed to among themselves, the one they consider the most happy. I don't know the point of all this, but it's true. For a long time I tried to explain it to myself in terms of some kind of real gain, but I had to reject that explanation because it was wrong.
Many of those, for instance, who called me their own never rode on me - although others did. And so with those who fed me. Then again, the coachman, the veterinarians, and the outsiders in general treated me kindly, yet those who called me their own did not. In due time, having widened the scope of my observations, I satisfied myself that the notion 'my,' not only in relation to horses, has no other basis than a narrow human instinct which is called a sense of or right to private property. A man says 'this house is mine' and never lives in it; he only worries about its construction and upkeep. A merchant says 'my shop,' 'my dry goods shop,' for instance, and does not even wear clothes made from the better cloth he keeps in his own shop.
There are people who call a tract of land their own, but they never set eyes on it and never take a stroll on it. There are people who call others their own, yet never see them. And the whole relationship between them is that the so-called 'owners' treat the others unjustly.
There are people who call women their own, or their 'wives,' but their women live with other men. And people strive not for the good in life, but for goods they can call their own.
I am now convinced that this is the essential difference between people and ourselves. And therefore, not even considering the other ways in which we are superior, but considering just this one virtue, we can bravely claim to stand higher than men on the ladder of living creatures. The actions of men, at least those with whom I have had dealings, are guided by words -- ours, by deeds.
The horse is killed before the end of the story, but the manner of the narrative, its technique, does not change:
Much later they put Serpukhovsky's body, which had experienced the world, which had eaten and drunk, into the ground. They could profitably send neither his hide, nor his flesh, nor his bones anywhere.
But since his dead body, which had gone about in the world for twenty years, was a great burden to everyone, its burial was only a superfluous embarrassment for the people. For a long time no one had needed him; for a long time he had been a burden on all. But nevertheless, the dead who buried the dead found it necessary to dress this bloated body, which immediately began to rot, in a good uniform and good boots; to lay it in a good new coffin with new tassels at the four corners, then to place this new coffin in another of lead and ship it to Moscow; there to exhume ancient bones and at just that spot, to hide this putrefying body, swarming with maggots, in its new uniform and clean boots, and to cover it over completely with dirt. Thus we see that at the end of the story Tolstoy continues to use the technique even though the motivation for it [the reason for its use] is gone.
In War and Peace Tolstoy uses the same technique in describing whole battles as if battles were something new. These descriptions are too long to quote; it would be necessary to extract a considerable part of the four-volume novel. but Tolstoy uses the same method in describing the drawing room and the theater:
The middle of the stage consisted of flat boards; by the sides stood painted pictures representing trees, and at the back a linen cloth was stretched down to the floor boards. Maidens in red bodices and white skirts sat on the middle of the stage. One, very fat, in a white silk dress, sat apart on a narrow bench to which a green pasteboard box was glued from behind. They were all singing something. When they had finished, the maiden in white approached the prompter's box. A man in silk with tight-fitting pants on his fat legs approached her with a plume and began to sing and spread his arms in dismay. The man in the tight pants finished his song alone; they the girl sang. After that both remained silent as the music resounded; and the man, obviously waiting to begin singing his part with her again, began to run his fingers over the hand of the girl in the white dress. They finished their song together, and everyone in the theater began to clap and shout. But the men and women on stage, who represented lovers, started to bow, smiling and raising their hands.
In the second act there were pictures representing monuments and openings in the linen cloth representing the moonlight, and they raised lamp shades on a frame. As the musicians started to play the bass horn and counter-bass, a large number of people in black mantles poured onto the stage from right and left. The people, with something like daggers in their hands, started to wave their arms. Then still more people came running out and began to drag away the maiden who had been wearing a white dress but who now wore one of sky blue. They did not drag her off immediately, but sang with her for a long time before dragging her away. Three times they struck on something metallic behind the scenes, and everyone got down on his knees and began to chant a prayer. Several times all of this activity was interrupted by enthusiastic shouts from the spectators. The third act is described:
But suddenly a storm blew up. Chromatic scales and chords of diminished sevenths were heard in the orchestra. Everyone ran about and again they dragged one of the bystanders behind the scenes as the curtain fell. In the fourth act, "There was some sort of devil who sang, waving his hands, until the boards were moved out from under him and he dropped down."
In Resurrection Tolstoy describes the city and the court in the same way; he uses a similar technique in "Kreutzer Sonata" when he describes marriage - "Why, if people have an affinity of souls, must they sleep together?" But he did not defamiliarize only those things he sneered at:
Pierre stood up from his new comrades and made is way between the campfires to the other side of the road where, it seemed, the captive soldiers were held. He wanted to talk with them. The French sentry stopped him on the road and ordered him to return. Pierre did so, but not to the campfire, not to his comrades, but to an abandoned, unharnessed carriage. On the ground, near the wheel of the carriage, he sat cross-legged in the Turkish fashion, and lowered his head. He sat motionless for a long time, thinking. More than an hour passed. No one disturbed him. Suddenly he burst out laughing with his robust, good natured laugh - so loudly that the men near him looked around, surprised at his conspicuously strange laughter.
"Ha, ha, ha," laughed Pierre. And he began to talk to himself. "The soldier didn't allow me to pass. They caught me, barred me. Me - me - my immortal soul. Ha, ha, ha," he laughed with tears starting in his eyes.
Pierre glanced at the sky, into the depths of the departing, playing stars. "And all this is mine, all this is in me, and all this is I," thought Pierre. "And all this they caught and put in a planked enclosure." He smiled and went off to his comrades to lie down to sleep.
Anyone who knows Tolstoy can find several hundred such passages in his work. His method of seeing things out of their normal context is also apparent in his last works. Tolstoy described the dogmas and rituals he attacked as if they were unfamiliar, substituting everyday meanings for the customarily religious meanings of the words common in church ritual. Many persons were painfully wounded; they considered it blasphemy to present as strange and monstrous what they accepted as sacred. Their reaction was due chiefly to the technique through which Tolstoy perceived and reported his environment. And after turning to what he had long avoided, Tolstoy found that his perceptions had unsettled his faith.
* * *
The technique of defamiliarization is not Tolstoy's alone. I cited Tolstoy because his work is generally known.
Now, having explained the nature of this technique, let us try to determine the approximate limits of its application. I personally feel that defamiliarization is found almost everywhere form is found. In other words, the difference between Potebnya's point of view and ours is this: An image is not a permanent referent for those mutable complexities of life which are revealed through it; its purpose is not to make us perceive meaning, but to create a special perception of the object -- it creates a 'vision' of the object instead of serving as a means for knowing it.
The purpose of imagery in erotic art can be studied even more accurately; an erotic object is usually presented as if it were seen for the first time. Gogol, in "Christmas Eve," provides the following example:
Here he approached her more closely, coughed, smiled at her, touched her plump, bare arm with his fingers, and expressed himself in a way that showed both his cunning and his conceit.
"And what is this you have, magnificent Solokha?" and having said this, he jumped back a little.
"What? An arm, Osip Nikiforovich!" she answered.
"Hmmm, an arm! He, he, he!" said the secretary cordially, satisfied with his beginning. He wandered about the room.
"And what is this you have, dearest Solokha?" he said in the same way, having approached her again and grasped her lightly by the neck, and in the very same way he jumped back.
"As if you don't see, Osip Nikiforovich!" answered Solokha, "a neck, and on my neck a necklace!"
"Hmm! On the neck a necklace! He, he, he!" and the secretary again wandered about the room, rubbing his hands.
"And what is this you have, incomparable Solokha?" . . . It is not known to what the secretary would stretch his long fingers now. And Knut Hamsun has the following in "Hunger": "Two white prodigies appeared from beneath her blouse."
Erotic subjects may also be presented figuratively with the obvious purpose of leading us away from their 'recognition.' Hence sexual organs are referred to in terms of lock and key or quilting tools or bow and arrow, or rings and marlinspikes, as in the legend of Stavyor, in which a married man does not recognize his wife, who is disguised as a warrior. She proposes a riddle:
"Remember, Stavyor, do you recallHow we little ones walked to and fro in the street?You and I together sometimes played with a marlinspike --You had a silver marlinspike,But I had a gilded ring?I found myself at it just now and then,But you fell in with it ever and always."Says Stavyor, son of Godinovich,"What! I didn't play with you at marlinspikes!"Then Vasilisa Mikulichna: "So he says.Do you remember, Stavyor, do you recall,Now must you know, you and I together learned to read and write;Mine was an ink-well of silver,And yours a pen of gold?But I just moistened it a little now and then,And I just moistened it ever and always." In a different version of the legend we find a key to the riddle:
Here the formidable enjoy VasilyushkaRaised her skirts to the very navel,And then the young Stavyor, son of Godinovich,Recognized her gilded ring . . .
But defamiliarization is not only the technique of the erotic riddle - a technique of euphemism - it is also the basis and point of all riddles. Every riddle pretends to show its subject either by words which specify or describe it but which, during the telling, do not seem applicable (the type "black and white and 'red' - read - all over") or by means of odd but imitative sounds ("Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe") [these examples are translators' substitutions for Shklovsky's Russian wordplay].
Even erotic images not intended as riddles are defamiliarized ("Boobies," "tarts," "piece," etc.). In popular imagery there is generally something equivalent to "trampling the grass" and "breaking the guelder-rose." The technique of defamiliarization is absolutely clear in the widespread image - a motif of erotic affectation - in which a bear and other wild beasts (or a devil, with a different reason for nonrecognition) do not recognize a man.
The lack of recognition in the following tale is quite typical:
A peasant was plowing a field with a piebald mare. A bear approached him and asked, "Uncle, what's made this mare piebald for you?"
"I did the piebalding myself."
"Let me, and I'll do the same for you."
The bear agreed. The peasant tied his feet together with a rope, took the ploughshare from the two-wheeled plough, heated it on the fire, and applied it to his flanks. He made the bear piebald by scorching his fur down to the hide with the hot ploughshare. The man untied the bear, which went off and lay down under a tree.
A magpie flew at the peasant to pick at the meat on his shirt. He caught her and broke one of her legs. The magpie flew off to perch in the same tree under which the bear was lying. Then, after the magpie, a horsefly landed on the mare, sat down, and began to bite. The peasant caught the fly, took a stick, shoved it up its rear, and let it go. The fly went to the tree where the bear and the magpie were. There all three sat.
The peasant's wife came to bring his dinner to the field. The man and his wife finished their dinner in the fresh air, and he began to wrestle with her on the ground.
The bear saw this and said to the magpie and the fly, "Holy priests! The peasant wants to piebald someone again."
The magpie said, "No, he wants to break someone's legs."
The fly said, "No, he wants to shove a stick up someone's rump." The similarity of technique here and in Tolstoy's "Kholstomer" [the horse narrator story] is, I think, obvious.
Quite often in literature the sexual act itself is defamiliarized: for example, the Decameron refers to "scraping out a barrel," "catching nightingales," "gay wool-beating work," (the last is not developed in the plot). Defamiliarization is often used in describing the sexual organs.
A whole series of plots is based on such a lack of recognition; for example, in Afanasyev's Intimate Tales the entire story of "The Shy Mistress" is based on the fact that an object is not called by its proper name - or, in other words, on a game of nonrecognition. So too in Onchukov's "Spotted Petticoats," tale no. 525, and also in "The Bear and the Hare" from Intimate Tales, in which the bear and the hare make a 'wound.'
Such constructions as "the pestle and the mortar," or "Old Nick and the infernal regions" (Decameron) are also examples of the technique of defamiliarization in psychological parallelism. Here, then, I repeat that the perception of disharmony in a harmonious context is important in parallelism. The purpose of parallelism, like the general purpose of imagery, is to transfer the usual perception of an object into the sphere of a new perception - that is, to make a unique semantic modification.
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. As a result of this lingering, the object is perceived not in its extension in space, but, so to speak, in its continuity. Thus "poetic language" gives satisfaction. According to Aristotle, poetic language must appear strange and wonderful; and, in fact, it is often called foreign: the Sumerian used by the Assyrians, the Latin of Europe during the Middle Ages, the Arabisms of the Persians, the Old Bulgarian of Russian literature, or the elevated, almost literary language of folk songs. The common archaisms of poetic language, the intricacy of the sweet new style [reference here is to Dante's dolce stil nuovo], the obscure style of the language of Arnaut Daniel with the "roughened" forms which make pronunciation difficult -- these are used in much the same way. Leo Jakubinsky has demonstrated the principle of phonetic 'roughening' of poetic language in the particular case of the repetition of identical sounds. The language of poetry is, then, a difficult, roughened, impeded language. In a few special instances the language of poetry approximates the language of prose, but this does not violate the principle of 'roughened' form.
Her sister was called Tatyana.For the first time we shallWillfully brighten the delicatePages of a novel with such a name. wrote Pushkin. The unusual poetic language for Pushkin's contemporaries was the elegant style of Dershavin [Russian writer with a more 'traditional' approach]; but Pushkin's style, because it seemed trivial then, was unexpectedly difficult for them. We should remember the consternation of Pushkin's contemporaries over the vulgarity of his expressions. He used the popular language as a special device for prolonging attention, just as his contemporaries generally used Russian words in their usually French speech (see Tolstoy's examples in War and Peace).
Just now a still more characteristic phenomenon is under way. Russian literary language, which was originally foreign to Russia, has so permeated the language of the people that it has blended with their conversation. On the other hand, literature has not begun to show a tendency towards the use of dialects (Remizov, Klyuyev, Essenin [the first is a satiric novelist, the last two are peasant poets], and others, so unequal in talent and so alike in language, are intentionally provincial) and of barbarisms (which gave rise to the Severyanin group [noted for opulent, sensuous style]). And currently Maxim Gorky is changing his diction from the old literary language to the new literary colloquialism of Leskov [who popularized the dialect-heavy skaz, 'sketch' or tale]. Ordinary speech and literary language have thereby changed places (see the work of Vyacheslav Ivanov and many others). And finally, a strong tendency, led by Khlebnikov, to create a new and properly poetic language has emerged. In the light of these developments we can define poetry as attenuated, tortuous speech. Poetic speech is formed speech. Prose is ordinary speech - economical, easy, proper, the goddess of prose is a goddess of the accurate, facile type, of the 'direct' expression of a child. I shall discuss roughened form and retardation as the general law of art at greater length in an article on plot construction.
Nevertheless, the position of those who urge the idea of the economy of artistic energy as something which exists in and even distinguishes poetic language seems, at first glance, tenable for the problem of rhythm. Spencer's description of rhythm would seem to be absolutely incontestable:
Just as the body in receiving a series of varying concussions, must keep the muscles ready to meet the most violent of them, as not knowing when such may come: so, the mind in receiving unarranged articulations, must keep its perspectives active enough to recognize the least easily caught sounds. And as, if the concussions recur in definite order, the body may husband its forces by adjusting the resistance needful for each concussion; so, if the syllables by rhythmically arranged, the mind may economize its energies by anticipating the attention required for each syllable. This apparently conclusive observation suffers from the common fallacy, the confusion of the laws of poetic and prosaic language. In The philosophy of Style Spencer failed utterly to distinguish between them. But rhythm may have two functions. The rhythm of prose, or of a work song like "Dubinushka," permits the members of the work crew to do their necessary "groaning together" and also eases the work by making it automatic. And, in fact, it is easier to march with music than without it, and to march during an animated conversation is even easier, for the walking is done unconsciously. Thus the rhythm of prose is an important automatizing element: the rhythm of poetry is not. There is 'order' in art, yet not a single column of a Greek temple stands exactly in its proper order; poetic rhythm is similarly disordered rhythm. Attempts to systematize the irregularities have been made, and such attempts are part of the current problem in the theory of rhythm. It is obvious that the systematization will not work, for unreality the problem is not of complicating the rhythm but of disordering the rhythm - a disordering which cannot be predicted. Should the disordering of rhythm become a convention, it would be ineffective as a device for the roughening of language. But I will not discuss rhythm in more detail since I intend to write a book about it. [Evidently, this intention was never fulfilled.]