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Offline illiterati

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Statements of Poetics
« on: May 15, 2012, 01:34 PM »

a place to post prose or poems written about the craft of poetry -- how to do it, what it is, what it does.


Offline illiterati

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Charles Olsen, "Projective Verse"
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2012, 01:37 PM »

This document is pretty central, arguably the most influential statement of avant-garde poetics written in the 20th century.

PROJECTIVE                                                                           VERSE[1]



                                       (projectile          (percussive          (prospective


                                      The NON-Projective


(or what a French critic[2] calls “closed” verse, that verse which print bred and which is pretty much what we have had, in English & American, and have still got, despite the work of Pound & Williams:

it led Keats, already a hundred years ago, to see it (Wordsworth’s, Milton’s) in the light of “the Egotistical Sublime”;[3] and it persists, at this latter day, as what you might call the private-soul-at-any-public-wall)

Verse now, 1950, if it is to go ahead, if it is to be of essential use, must, I take it, catch up and put into itself certain laws and possibilities of the breath, of the breathing of the man who writes as well as of his listenings. (The revolution of the ear, 1910,[4] the trochee’s heave,[5] asks it of the younger poets.)

I want to do two things: first, try to show what projective or OPEN verse is, what it involves, in its act of composition, how, in distinction from the non-projective, it is accomplished; and II, suggest a few ideas about what stance toward reality brings such verse into being, what the stance does, both to the poet and to his reader. (The stance involves, for example, a change beyond, and larger than, the technical, and may, the way things look, lead to a new poetics and to new concepts from which some sort of drama, say, or of epic, perhaps, may emerge.)


First, some simplicities that a man learns, if he works in OPEN, or what can also be called COMPOSITION BY FIELD, as opposed to inherited line, stanza, over-all form, what is the “old” base of the non-projective.

(1) the kinetics of the thing.[6] A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Okay. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high-energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge. So: how is the poet to accomplish same energy, how is he, what is the process by which a poet gets in, at all points energy at least the equivalent of the energy which propelled him in the first place, yet an energy which is peculiar to verse alone and which will be, obviously, also different from the energy which the reader, because he is the third term, will take away?

This is the problem which any poet who departs from closed form is specially confronted by. And it involves a whole series of new recognitions. From the moment he ventures into FIELD COMPOSITION—puts himself in the open—he can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself. Thus he has to behave, and be, instant by instant, aware of some several forces just now beginning to be examined. (It is much more, for example, this push, than simply such a one as Pound put, so wisely, to get us started: “the musical phrase,”[7] go by it, boys, rather than by, the metronome.)

(2) is the principle, the law which presides conspicuously over such composition, and, when obeyed, is the reason why a projective poem can come into being. It is this: FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT. (Or so it got phrased by one, R. Creeley,[8] and it makes absolute sense to me, with this possible corollary, that right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under hand.) There it is, brothers, sitting there, for USE. 

Now (3) the process of the thing, how the principle can be made so to shape the energies that the form is accomplished. And I think it can be boiled down to one statement (first pounded into my head by Edward Dahlberg[9]): ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION. It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all points (even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work) get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen. And if you also set up as a poet, USE USE USE the process at all points, in any given poem always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER!

So there we are, fast, there’s the dogma. And its excuse, its usableness, in practice. Which gets us, it ought to get us, inside the machinery, now, 1950, of how projective verse is made.

If I hammer, if I recall in, and keep calling in, the breath, the breathing as distinguished from the hearing, it is for cause, it is to insist upon a part that breath plays in verse which has not (due, I think, to the smothering of the power of the line by too set a concept of foot) has not been sufficiently observed or practiced, but which has to be if verse is to advance to its proper force and place in the day, now, and ahead. I take it that PROJECTIVE VERSE teaches, is, this lesson, that that verse will only do in which a poet manages to register both the acquisitions of his ear and the pressure of his breath.
Let’s start from the smallest particle of all, the syllable. It is the king and pin of versification, what rules and holds together the lines, the larger forms, of a poem. I would suggest that verse here and in England dropped this secret from the late Elizabethans to Ezra Pound, lost it, in the sweetness of meter and rime, in a honey-head. (The syllable is one way to distinguish the original success of blank verse, and its falling off, with Milton.)

It is by their syllables that words juxtapose in beauty, by these particles of sound as clearly as by the sense of the words which they compose. In any given instance, because there is a choice of words, the choice, if a man is in there, will be, spontaneously, the obedience of his ear to the syllables. The fineness, and the practice, lie here, at the minimum and source of speech.

O western wynd, when wilt thou blow[10]
And the small rain down shall rain
O Christ that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again

It would do no harm, as an act of correction to both prose and verse as now written, if both rime and meter, and, in the quantity words, both sense and sound, were less in the forefront of the mind than the syllable, if the syllable, that fine creature, were more allowed to lead the harmony on. With this warning, to those who would try: to step back here to this place of the elements and minims of language, is to engage speech where it is least careless—and least logical. Listening for the syllables must be so constant and so scrupulous, the exaction must be so complete, that the assurance of the ear is purchased at the highest—40 hours a day—price. For from the root out, from all over the place, the syllable comes, the figures of, the dance:

“Is” comes from the Aryan root,[11] as, to breathe. The English “not” equals the Sanscrit na, which may come from the root na, to be lost, to perish. “Be” is from bhu, to grow.

I say the syllable, king, and that it is spontaneous, this way: the ear, the ear which has collected, which has listened, the ear, which is so close to the mind that it is the mind’s, that it has the mind’s speed . . .

it is close, another way: the mind is brother to this sister and is, because it is so close, is the drying force, the incest, the sharpener . . .

it is from the union of the mind and the ear that the syllable is born.

But the syllable is only the first child of the incest of verse (always, that Egyptian thing, it produces twins!). The other child is the LINE. And together, these two, the syllable and the line, they make a poem, they make that thing, the—what shall we call it, the Boss of all, the “Single Intelligence.” And the line comes (I swear it) from the breath, from the breathing of the man who writes, at the moment that he writes, and thus is, it is here that, the daily work, the WORK, gets in, for only he, the man who writes, can declare, at every moment, the line its metric and its ending—where its breathing, shall come to, termination.

The trouble with most work, to my taking, since the breaking away from traditional lines and stanzas, and from such wholes as, say, Chaucer’s Troilus or S’s Lear, is: contemporary workers go lazy RIGHT HERE WHERE THE LINE IS BORN.

Let me put it baldly. The two halves are:

the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE
the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE

And the joker? that it is in the 1st half of the proposition that, in composing, one lets-it-rip; and that it is in the 2nd half, surprise, it is the LINE that’s the baby that gets, as the poem is getting made, the attention, the control, that it is right here, in the line, that the shaping takes place, each moment of the going.


I am dogmatic, that the head shows in the syllable. The dance of the intellect is there, among them, prose or verse. Consider the best minds you know in this here business: where does the head show, is it not, precise, here, in the swift currents of the syllable? can’t you tell a brain when you see what it does, just there? It is true, what the master says he picked up from Confusion: all the thots men are capable of can be entered on the back of a postage stamp. So, is it not the PLAY of a mind we are after, is not that that shows whether a mind is there at all?

And the threshing floor for the dance? Is it anything but the LINE? And when the line has, is, a deadness, is it not a heart which has gone lazy, is it not, suddenly, slow things, similes, say, adjectives, or such, that we are bored by?
For there is a whole flock of rhetorical devices which have now to be brought under a new bead, now that we sight within the line. Simile is only one bird who comes down, too easily. The descriptive functions generally have to be watched, every second, in projective verse, because of their easiness, and thus their drain on the energy which composition by field allows into a poem. Any slackness takes off attention, that crucial thing, from the job in hand, from the push of the line under hand at the moment, under the reader’s eye, in his moment. Observation of any kind is, like argument in prose, properly previous to the act of the poem, and, if allowed in, must be so juxtaposed, apposed, set in, that it does not, for an instant, sap the going energy of the content toward its form.
It comes to this, this whole aspect of the newer problems. (We now enter, actually, the large area of the whole poem, into the FIELD, if you like, where all the syllables and all the lines must be managed in their relations to each other.) It is a matter, finally of OBJECTS, what they are, what they are inside a poem, how they got there, and, once there, how they are to be used. This is something I want to get to in another way in Part II, but, for the moment, let me indicate this, that every element in an open poem (the syllable, the line, as well as the image, the sound, the sense) must be taken up as participants in the kinetic of the poem just as solidly as we are accustomed to take what we call the objects of reality; and that these elements are to be seen as creating the tensions of a poem just as totally as do those other objects create what we know as the world.

The objects which occur at every given moment of composition (of recognition, we can call it) are, can be, must be treated exactly as they do occur therein and not by any ideas or preconceptions from outside the poem, must be handled as a series of objects in field in such a way that a series of tensions (which they also are) are made to hold, and to hold exactly inside the content and the context of the poem which has forced itself, through the poet and them, into being.

Because breath allows all the speech-force of language back in (speech is the “solid” of verse, is the secret of a poem’s energy), because, now, a poem has, by speech, solidity, everything in it can now be treated as solids, objects, things; and, though insisting upon the absolute difference of the reality of verse from that other dispersed and distributed thing, yet each of these elements of a poem can be allowed to have the play of their separate energies and can be allowed, once the poem is well composed, to keep, as those other objects do, their proper confusions.

Which brings us up, immediately, bang, against tenses, in fact against syntax, in fact against grammar generally, that is, as we have inherited it. Do not tenses, must they not also be kicked around anew, in order that time, that other governing absolute may be kept, as must the space-tensions of a poem, immediate, contemporary to the acting-on-you of the poem? I would argue that here, too, the LAW OF THE LINE, which projective verse creates, must be hewn to, obeyed, and that the conventions which logic has forced on syntax must be broken open as quietly as must the too set feet of the old line. But an analysis of how far a new poet can stretch the very conventions on which communication by language rests, is too big for these notes, which are meant, I hope it is obvious, merely to get things started.

Let me just throw in this. It is my impression that all parts of speech suddenly, in composition by field, are fresh for both sound and percussive use, spring up like unknown, unnamed vegetables in the patch, when you work it, come spring. Now take Hart Crane. What strikes me in him is the singleness of the push to the nominative, his push along that one arc of freshness, the attempt to get back to word as handle. (If logos is word as thought, what is word as noun, as, pass me that, as Newman Shea[12] used to ask, at the galley table, put a jib on the blood, will ya.) But there is a loss in Crane of what Fenollosa is so right about, in syntax,[13] the sentence as first act of nature, as lightning, as passage of force from subject to object, quick, in this case, from Hart to me, in every case, from me to you, the VERB, between two nouns. Does not Hart miss the advantages, by such an isolated push, miss the point of the whole front of syllable, line, field, and what happened to all language, and the poem, as a result?

I return you now to London, to beginnings, to the syllable, for the pleasures of it, to intermit;

If music be the food of love, play on,
give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
the appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again. It had a dying fall,
o, it came over my ear like the sweet sound
that breathes upon a bank of violets,
stealing and giving odour.[14]

What we have suffered from, is manuscript, press, the removal of verse from its producer and its reproducer, the voice, a removal by one, by two removes from its place of origin and its destination. For the breath has a double meaning which latin had not yet lost.[15]

The irony is, from the machine has come one gain not yet sufficiently observed or used, but which leads directly on toward projective verse and its consequences. It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends. For the first time the poet has the stave and the bar a musician has had. For the first time he can, without the convention of rime and meter, record the listening he has done to his own speech and by that one act indicate how he would want any reader, silently or otherwise, to voice his work.
It is time we picked the fruits of the experiments of Cummings, Pound, Williams, each of whom has, after his way, already used the machine as a scoring to his composing, as a script to its vocalization. It is now only a matter of the recognition of the conventions of composition by field for us to bring into being an open verse as formal as the closed, with all its traditional advantages.
If a contemporary poet leaves a space as long as the phrase before it, he means that space to be held, by the breath, an equal length of time. If he suspends a word or syllable at the end of a line (this was most Cummings’ addition) he means that time to pass that it takes the eye—that hair of time suspended—to pick up the next line. If he wishes a pause so light it hardly separates the words, yet does not want a comma—which is an interruption of the meaning rather than the sounding of the line—follow him when he uses a symbol the typewriter has ready to hand:

What does not change / is the will to change[16]

Observe him, when he takes advantage of the machine’s multiple margins, to juxtapose:

            Sd he:

                to dream takes no effort
                     to think is easy
                          to act is more difficult
                      but for a man to act after he has taken thought, this!
            is the most difficult of all[17]

Each of these lines is a progressing of both the meaning and the breathing forward, and then a backing up, without a progress or any kind of movement outside the unit of time local to the idea.

There is more to be said in order that is convention be recognized, especially in order that the revolution out of which it came may be so forwarded that work will get published to offset the reaction now afoot to return verse to inherited forms of cadence and rime. But what I want to emphasize here, by this emphasis on the typewriter as the personal and instantaneous recorder of the poet’s work, is the already projective nature of verse as the sons of Pound and Williams are practicing it. Already they are composing as though verse was to have the reading its writing involved, as though not the eye but the ear was to be its measurer, as though the intervals of its composition could be so carefully put down as to be precisely the intervals of its registration. For the ear, which once had the burden of memory to quicken it (rime & regular cadence were its aids and have merely lived on in print after the oral necessities were ended) can now again, that the poet has his means, be the threshold of projective verse.


Which gets us to what I promised, the degree to which the projective involves a stance toward reality outside a poem as well as a new stance towards the reality of a poem itself. It is a matter of content, the content of Homer or of Euripides or of Seami[18] as distinct from that which I might call the more “literary” masters. From the moment the projective purpose of the act of verse is recognized, the content does—it will—change. If the beginning and the end is breath, voice in its largest sense, then the material of verse shifts. It has to. It starts with the composer. The dimension of his line itself changes, not to speak of the change in his conceiving, of the matter he will turn to, of the scale in which he imagines that matter’s use. I myself would pose the difference by a physical image. It is no accident that Pound and Williams both were involved variously in a movement which got called “objectivism.”[19] But that word was then used in some sort of a necessary quarrel, I take it, with “subjectivism.” It is now too late to be bothered with the latter. It has excellently done itself to death, even though we are all caught in its dying. What seems to me a more valid formulation for present use is “objectism,” a word to be taken to stand for the kind of relation of man to experience which a poet might state as the necessity of a line or a work to be as wood is, to be as clean as wood is as it issues from the hand of nature, to be as shaped as wood can be when a man has had his hand to it. Objectism is the getting ride of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the “subject” and his soul, that peculiar presumption by which western man has interposed himself between what he is as a creature of nature (with certain instructions to carry out) and those other creations of nature which we may, with no derogation, call objects. For a man is himself an object, whatever he may take to be his advantages, the more likely to recognize himself as such the greater his advantages, particularly at that moment that he achieves an humilitas sufficient to make him of use.

It comes to this: the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he conceives his relation to nature, that force to which he owes his somewhat small existence. If he sprawl, he shall find little to sing but himself, and shall sing, nature has such paradoxical ways, by way of artificial forms outside himself. But if he stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share. And by an inverse law his shapes will make their own way. It is in this sense that the projective act, which is the artist’s act in the larger field of objects, leads to dimensions larger than the man. For a man’s problem, the moment he takes speed up in all its fullness, is to give his work his seriousness, a seriousness sufficient to cause the thing he makes to try to take its place alongside the things of nature. This is not easy. Nature works from reverence, even in her destruction (species go down with a crash). But breath is man’s special qualification as animal. Sound is a dimension he has extended. Language is one of his proudest acts. And when a poet rests in these as they are in himself (in his physiology, if you like, but the life in him, for all that) then he, if he chooses to speak from these roots, works in that area where nature has given him size, projective size.
It is projective size that the play, The Trojan Women,[20] possesses, for it is able to stand, is it not, as its people do, beside the Aegean—and neither Andromache or the sea suffer diminution. In a less “heroic” but equally “natural” dimension Seami causes the Fisherman and the Angel to stand clear in Hagoromo.[21] And Homer, who is such an unexamined cliché that I do not think I need to press home in what scale Nausicaa’s girls wash their clothes.
Such works, I should argue—and I use them simply because their equivalents are yet to be done—could not issue from men who conceived verse without the full relevance of human voice, without reference to where lines come from, in the individual who writes. Nor do I think it accident at that, at this end point of the argument, I should use, for examples, two dramatists and an epic poet. For I would hazard the guess that, if projective verse is practiced long enough, is drive ahead hard enough along the course I think it dictates, verse again can carry much larger material than it has carried in our language since the Elizabethans. But it can’t be jumped. We are only at hits beginnings, and if I think that the Cantos make more “dramatic” sense than do the plays of Mr. Eliot, it is not because I think they have solved the problem but because the methodology of the verse in them points a way by which, one day, the problem of larger content and of larger forms may be solved. Eliot is, in fact, a proof of a present danger, of “too easy” a going on the practice of verse as it has been, rather than as it must be, practiced. There is no question, for example, that Eliot’s line, from “Prufrock”[22] on down, has speech-force, is “dramatic,” is, in fact, one of the most notable lines since Dryden. I suppose it stemmed immediately to him from Browning, as did so many of Pound’s early things. In any case Eliot’s line has obvious relations backward to the Elizabethans, especially to the soliloquy. Yet O. M. Eliot is not projective. It could even be argued (and I say this carefully, as I have said all things about the non-projective, having considered how each of us must save himself after his own fashion and how much, for that matter, each of us owes to the non-projective, and will continue to owe, as both go alongside each other) but it could be argued that it is because Eliot has stayed inside the non-projective that he fails as a dramatist—that his root is the mind alone, and a scholastic mind at that (no high intelletto despite his apparent clarities)—and that, in his listenings he has stayed there where the ear and the mind are, has only gone from his fine ear outward rather than, as I say a projective poet will, down through the workings of his own throat to that place where breath comes from, where breath has its beginnings, where drama, has to come from, where, the coincidence is, all acts spring.

Offline Kay

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Re: Statements of Poetics
« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2012, 02:20 PM »
....and, a place??? What are you referring to?  :rose

I need another road trip. I'm not getting anything I'm reading
today. Probably some kind of withdrawal!

a place to post prose or poems written about the craft of poetry -- how to do it, what it is, what it does.


Offline illiterati

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Re: Statements of Poetics
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2012, 09:09 PM »

hi kay - i meant, if you'd like to post a selection from something written about the craft of poetry,

post it here

or if you yourself would like to post a statement or manifesto or rambling or short little blurb about the practice and craft of poetry,

post it here.

Offline illiterati

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bob kaufman, "abomunist manifesto"
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2012, 09:29 PM »



          OR OTHER SAME.

           AND FRINK.



          IT HURTS.



          IN DEBTS ON THEM.







Offline illiterati

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horace, "ars poetica"
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2012, 09:49 AM »
Ars Poetica

Translated by Leon Golden

in Horace for Students of Literature: The 'Ars Poetica' and Its Tradition, (1995).

If a painter were willing to join a horse's neck to a human head and spread on multicolored feathers, with different parts of the body brought in from anywhere and everywhere, so that what starts out above as a beautiful woman ends up horribly as a black fish, could you my friends, if you had been admitted to the spectacle, hold back your laughter? Believe me, dear Pisos, that very similar to such a painting would be a literary work in which meaningless images are fashioned, like the dreams of someone who is mentally ill, so that neither the foot nor the head can be attributed to a single form. "Painters and poets," someone objects, "have always had an equal right to dare to do whatever they wanted." We know it and we both seek this indulgence and grant it in turn. But not to the degree that the savage mate with the gentle, nor that snakes be paired with birds, nor lambs with tigers.

Often, one or two purple patches are stitched onto works that have begun in high seriousness, and that profess important themes, so that they sparkle far and wide; as when the grove and altar of Diana and the circling of swiftly flowing waters through the pleasant fields or the Rhine river or the rainbow are described. But this was not the place for such embellishments. And perhaps you know how to draw a cypress tree. What does that matter if you have been paid to paint a desperate sailor swimming away from a shipwreck? You started out to make a wine-jar. Why, as the wheel turns, does it end up as a pitcher? In short, let the work be anything you like, but let it at least be one, single thing.

Most of us poets, o father and sons who are worthy of that father, deceive ourselves by an illusion of correct procedure. I work at achieving brevity; instead I become obscure. Striving for smoothness, vigor and spirit escape me. One poet, promising the sublime, delivers pomposity. Another creeps along the ground, overly cautious and too much frightened of the gale. Whoever wishes to vary a single subject in some strange and wonderful way, paints a dolphin into a forest and a boar onto the high seas. The avoidance of blame leads to error if there is an absence of art.

Near the gladiatorial school of Aemilius, a most incompetent craftsman will mold toenails and imitate soft hair in bronze but he is unsuccessful with his complete work because he does not know how to represent a whole figure. If I wished to compose something, I would no more wish to be him than to live with a crooked nose although highly regarded for my black eyes and black hair.

Pick a subject, writers, equal to your strength and take some time to consider what your shoulders should refuse and what they can bear. Neither eloquence nor clear organization will forsake one who has chosen a subject within his capabilities. Unless I am mistaken this will be the special excellence and delight of good organization‚that the author of the promised poem, enamored of one subject and scornful of another, says now what ought to be said now and both postpones and omits a great deal for the present.

Also in linking words you will speak with exceptional subtlety and care if a skillful connection renders a well-known term with a new twist. If, by chance, it is necessary to explain obscure matters by means of new images it will turn out that you must devise words never heard by the kilted Cethegi, and license for this will be given if claimed with modesty.

Words that are new and recently coined will be received in good faith if they are sparingly diverted from a Greek source. Why then will the Roman grant to Caecilius and Plautus what is denied to Virgil and Varius? If I am capable of doing it, why am I grudged the acquisition of some few words when the tongue of Cato and Ennius enriched our ancestral language and revealed new names for things? It has always been permitted, and it always will be permitted to bring to light a name stamped with the mark of the present day.

Just as forests change their leaves year by year and the first drop to the ground, so the old generation of words perishes, and new ones, like the rising tide of the young, flourish and grow strong. We, and everything that is ours, are destined to die; whether Neptune, hospitably received on land, keeps our fleets safe from the north winds, a task worthy of a king, or a marsh, barren for a long time, and suitable for oars, nourishes nearby cities and feels the heavy plough, or a river has changed its course that was hostile to crops and has discovered a better route to follow, all things mortal will perish; much less will the glory and grace of language remain alive. Many terms will be born again that by now have sunk into oblivion, and many that are now held in respect will die out if that is what use should dictate in whose power is the judgment and the law and the rule of speech.

Homer has demonstrated in what meter we should describe the deeds of kings and leaders as well as gloomy wars. Lament, first, was enclosed in unequally paired verses and later also our grateful thoughts for answered prayer. Scholars disagree about who originally published these brief elegiac verses, and it still is before the court as a matter of dispute. Fury armed Archilochus with his own iambus: both the comic sock and the grand tragic boot took possession of this foot, suited as it was for alternating dialogue and able to conquer the raucous shouts of the audience as well as naturally suited to action. The muse granted the lyre the task of reporting about the gods, the children of the gods, the victorious boxer, and the horse who was first in the race, as well as to record youthful anguish and wine's liberating influence. Why am I greeted as a poet if I have neither the ability nor the knowledge to preserve the variations and shades of the literary works that I have described? Why, perversely modest, do I prefer to be ignorant than to learn?

The subject matter of comedy does not wish to find expression in tragic verses. In the same way the feast of Thyestes is indignant at being represented through informal verses that are very nearly worthy of the comic sock. Let each genre keep to the appropriate place allotted to it. Sometimes, however, even comedy raises its voice and an angered Chremes declaims furiously in swollen utterances; and often the tragic figures of Telephus and Peleus grieve in pedestrian language when, as a pauper or exile, each of them, if he should care to touch the heart of the spectator with his complaint, abandons bombast and a sesquipedalian vocabulary.

It is not enough for poems to be "beautiful"; they must also yield delight and guide the listener's spirit wherever they wish. As human faces laugh with those who are laughing, so they weep with those who are weeping. If you wish me to cry, you must first feel grief yourself, then your misfortunes, O Telephus or Peleus, will injure me. If you speak ineptly assigned words, I shall either sleep or laugh. Sad words are fitting for the gloomy face, words full of threats for the angry one, playful words for the amused face, serious words for the stern one. For Nature first forms us within so as to respond to every kind of fortune. She delights us or impels us to anger or knocks us to the ground and torments us with oppressive grief. Afterward she expresses the emotions of the spirit with language as their interpreter. If, however, there is discord between the words spoken and the fortune of the speaker, Romans, whether cavalry or infantry, will raise their voices in a raucous belly laugh.

It will make a great difference whether a god is speaking or a hero, a mature old man or someone passionate and still in the full flower of youth, a powerful matron or a diligent nurse, an itinerant merchant or the cultivator of a prosperous field, a Colchian or an Assyrian, one raised in Thebes or in Argos.

119 - 152
Either follow tradition or devise harmonious actions. O writer, if you by chance describe once again honored Achilles, let him be weariless, quick to anger, stubborn, violent; let him deny that laws were made for him, let him claim everything by arms. Let Medea be wild and unconquerable, Ino doleful, Ixion treacherous, Io a wanderer in mind and body, Orestes filled with sorrow. If you commit anything untested to the stage and you dare to fashion a novel character, let it be maintained to the end just as it emerged at the beginning and let it be consistent with itself. It is difficult to speak uniquely of common themes; and yet you will more properly spin the song of Troy into acts than if you are the first to bring to light what has not been known or recorded in literature. Material in the public domain will come under private jurisdiction if you do not loiter around the broad, common poetic cycle, and do not strive, as a literal translator, to render texts word for word, and if you will not, as an imitator, leap down into a narrow space from where shame or the rules applying to the work forbid you to extricate your foot; nor should you begin your work as the cyclic poet once did: "Of Priam's fate and renowned war I shall sing." What might someone who makes this pledge bring forth that will be worthy of his big mouth? Mountains will go into labor, but an absurd mouse will be born. How much more skillful is the one who does not toil foolishly: "Tell me, O Muse, of the man, who, after the capture of Troy, viewed the customs and cities of many different peoples." He does not aim to extract smoke from the flaming light but rather light from the smoke, so that he might then describe spectacular marvels‚Antiphates and the Scylla and Charybdis along with the Cyclops. Nor does he begin the return of Diomedes from the death of Meleager nor the Trojan War from the twin eggs. He always moves swiftly to the issue at hand and rushes his listener into the middle of the action just as if it were already known, and he abandons those subjects he does not think can glitter after he has treated them. Thus does he invent, thus does he mingle the false with the true that the middle is not inconsistent with the beginning, nor the end with the middle.

153 - 178
Listen to what I and the general public along with me desire, if indeed you wish applauding listeners to wait for the final curtain and to remain seated until the singer says "Give us a hand now"; you must note the characteristics of each stage of life and you must grant what is appropriate to changing natures and ages. A child who just now has learned to repeat words and to stamp the ground with a firm footstep takes great pleasure in playing with other children and heedlessly conceives and abandons anger as well as changes moods hour by hour. The beardless youth, with his guardian finally removed, rejoices in horses and dogs and in the grass of the sunny Campus; supple as wax to be fashioned into vice, he is rude to those who give him advice, slow at providing for what is useful, extravagant with money, filled with lofty ideas and passionate, but also swift to abandon the objects of his affection. When one has reached manhood in age and spirit, the objects of his enthusiasm are altered, and he seeks wealth and connections, becomes a slave to the trappings of honor, is hesitant to have set into motion what he will soon struggle to change. Many troubles assail an old man, whether because he seeks gain, and then wretchedly abstains from what he possesses and is afraid to use it, or because he attends to all his affairs feebly and timidly; a procrastinator, he is apathetic in his hopes and expectations, sluggish and fearful of the future, obstinate, always complaining; he devotes himself to praising times past, when he was a boy, and to being the castigator and moral censor of the young. The years, as they approach, bring many advantages with them; as they recede, they take many away. To ensure that, by chance, roles appropriate for old men are not assigned to the young and those designed for mature men are not given to children, you shall always spend time on the traits that belong and are suitable to the age of a character.

179 - 188
Either a scene is acted out on the stage or someone reports the events that have occurred. Actions that have been admitted to our consciousness through our having heard them have less of an impact on our minds than those that have been brought to our attention by our trusty vision and for which the spectator himself is an eyewitness. You will not, however, produce onstage actions that ought to be done offstage; and you will remove many incidents from our eyes so that someone who was present might report those incidents; Medea should not slaughter her children in the presence of the people, nor abominable Atreus cook human organs publicly, nor Procne be turned into a bird, Cadmus into a snake. Whatever you show me like this, I detest and refuse to believe.

A play should not be shorter or longer than five acts if, once it has been seen, it wishes to remain in demand and be brought back for return engagements. Nor should any god intervene unless a knot show up that is worthy of such a liberator; nor should a fourth actor strive to speak.

Let the chorus sustain the role of an actor and the function of a man, and let it not sing anything between the acts that does not purposefully and aptly serve and unite with the action. It should favor the good and provide friendly counsel; it should control the wrathful and show its approval of those who fear to sin; it should praise modest meals, wholesome justice and laws, and peace with its open gates; it should conceal secrets and entreat and beg the gods that fortune return to the downtrodden and depart from the arrogant.

The double pipe not, as now, bound with brass and a rival of the trumpet, but thin and simple, with few holes, was sufficient to assist and support the chorus and to fill still uncrowded benches with its breath; where, indeed, the populace, easy to count since it was small in number, honest, pious, and modest came together. After a conquering nation began to extend its lands and a more extensive wall began to embrace the city, we started to appease our guardian spirit freely with daylight drinking on holidays, and then greater license arrived on the scene for rhythms and tunes. For what level of taste might an uneducated audience have, freed of toil and composed of a mixture of rustic and urban elements, of low life and aristocrats? Thus the flute player added bodily movement and excessive extravagance to the venerable art of past times and trailed a robe behind him as he wandered around the stage. So also the tonal range of the austere lyre increased, and a reckless fluency brought with it a strange eloquence whose thought, wise in matters of practical wisdom and prophetic of the future, was not out of tune with that of oracular Delphi.

The poet who contended in tragic song for the sake of an insignificant goat soon also stripped wild Satyrs of their clothes and in a rough manner, with his dignity unharmed, attempted jokes because it was only by enticements and pleasing novelty that the spectator, having performed the sacred rites and having become drunk and reckless, was going to remain in the audience. But it is appropriate to render the Satyrs agreeable in their laughter and mockery and to exchange the serious for the comic so that no god, no hero is brought on who, having just been seen in regal gold and purple, then moves into the humble hovel of low class diction; or, while avoiding the lowly earth, reaches for empty clouds. Tragedy, indignant at spouting frivolous verses, like the matron who is asked to dance on a holiday, appears with some shame, among the impudent Satyrs. I shall not, O Pisos, were I a writer of Satyric drama, be fond only of unadorned and commonly used nouns and verbs; nor shall I strive so much to differ from the tone of tragedy that it makes no difference if Davus is speaking with audacious Pythias who, having swindled Simo, now has gained for herself a talent's worth of silver, or the speaker is Silenus, guardian and servant of his divine foster child. I shall aim at fashioning a poem from quite familiar elements so that anyone might anticipate doing as well, might sweat profusely at it, and yet labor in vain after having ventured to do what I have done: so great is the power of arrangement and linkage, so great is the grace that is added to words that are adapted from ordinary language. When Fauns of the forest are brought ontage, in my judgment, they should avoid behaving as if they had been born at the crossroads and were almost denizens of the forum or act ever as adolescents with their all-too-wanton verses or rattle off their dirty and disgraceful jokes. That sort of thing gives offense to an audience of knights, respectable heads of households, and men with substantial fortunes, nor do they accept with a patient spirit, or bestow a crown on, whatever the consumer of roasted chick-peas and nuts approves.

A long syllable adjacent to a short one is called an Iambus, a "quick" foot; for that reason Iambus commanded that the name trimeter be attached to the lines bearing his name although he delivers six beats a line and from first to last is the spitting image of himself. Not so long ago, in order that the trimeter reach the ears with somewhat greater dignity and deliberation, Iambus admitted the stately spondee into his ancestral rights, obligingly and tolerantly, but not so sociably as to withdraw from the second and fourth foot of the line. This Iambus appears rarely in the "noble" trimeters of Accius and, as for the verses of Ennius, hurled onto the stage in their ponderous sluggishness, he pursues them with the shameful charge of excessively hasty and slipshod workmanship or of sheer ignorance of the poet's craft.

263 -274
It is not just any critic who will notice rhythmically flawed lines, and indulgence, far more than is merited, has been granted to our Roman poets. Because of that should I ramble around and write without any discipline at all? Or should I consider that everyone is going to see my faults and, warily playing it safe, remain within the hope of pardon? I have then, in short, avoided blame, but I have not earned praise. Your mandate is to hold Greek models before you by day and to hold them before you by night. But (you say) your ancestors praised the meters and wit of Plautus; well (I reply), they admired both with excessive tolerance, not to say stupidity--if you and I just know how to distinguish a tasteless expression from an elegant one, and we have the skill to recognize the proper sound with our ears and fingers.

275 -284
We are told that Thespis discovered the tragic muse's genre, which was unknown until then, and hauled his verse dramas around in wagons; these dramas, actors, their faces thoroughly smeared with wine-lees, sang and performed. After him Aeschylus, the inventor of the mask and the elegant robe, laid down a stage on modestly sized beams and taught the art of grandiloquent speech and of treading the boards in the high boot of the tragic actor. Old comedy followed in the footsteps of these tragic poets and not without much praise; but the license it assumed for itself descended into vice, and its force was justifiably tamed by law; the law was received with approval, and the chorus in disgrace became silent since its right to cause harm was abolished.

Our own poets have left nothing untried nor have they earned the least glory when they have dared to abandon the tracks of the Greeks and to celebrate domestic situations either by producing serious Roman dramas or native Roman comedies. Nor would Latium be more powerful in courage and in illustrious arms than in literature if the time-consuming effort required for a truly polished revision of the text did not give offense to every single one of our poets. O you, who are descendants of Pompilius, denounce any poem that many a day and many a correction has not carefully pruned and then improved ten times over to meet the test of the well-trimmed nail.

Because Democritus believes that native talent is a more blessed thing than poor, miserable craftsmanship and excludes from Helicon, the home of the muses, rational poets, quite a number do not trouble to cut their nails or shave their beards; they seek out lonely spots; they avoid the baths. One will obtain the reward and the name of a poet if he never entrusts his head, incurable even by three times Anticyra's output of hellebore, to the barber, Licinus. O what an unlucky fool I am! I have my bile purged just before spring arrives! No one else could write a better poem. But nothing is worth that effort! Instead, I shall serve in place of a whetstone that has the power to render iron sharp but itself lacks the ability to cut; while not writing anything myself, I will teach what nurtures and forms the poet, from what source his power springs, what his function and duty are, what is proper and what is not and in what direction poetic excellence leads and in what direction failure beckons.

The foundation and source of literary excellence is wisdom. The works written about Socrates are able to reveal the true subject matter of poetry and, once the subject matter has been provided, words will freely follow. He who has learned what he owes to his country, what he owes to his friends, by what kind of love a parent, a brother, or a guest should be honored, what is the duty of a senator, what is the function of a judge, what is the role of a general sent into war--he, assuredly, knows how to represent what is appropriate for each character. I bid the artist, trained in representation, to reflect on exemplars of life and character and to bring us living voices from that source. Sometimes a tale that lacks stylistic elegance, grandeur, and skill but is adorned with impressive passages and characters who are accurately drawn is a greater source of pleasure and better holds the interest of an audience than verses that lack a vision of reality and are mere trifles to charm the ear.

To the Greeks, covetous of nothing except glory, the Muse granted inspired talent, to the Greeks she gave eloquence in full measure. Roman youths, on the other hand, learn by means of lengthy calculations how to divide a sum of money into a hundred parts. "You, there, Albinus's son, solve the following problem: If one-twelfth is subtracted from five twelfths, how much is left? Come on, you should have given me the answer by now!" "It's one-third!" "Well done, my boy, you'll surely be able to protect your investments." "Now suppose that one-twelfth is added to five-twelfths, what does that make?" "I've got itãone-half!" When once this corruption and avid concern for material wealth has stained the human spirit, can we really hope that poems will be written worth anointing and protecting with oil of cedar, and preserving in chests of polished cypress?

Poets wish to either benefit or delight us, or, at one and the same time, to speak words that are both pleasing and useful for our lives. Whatever lessons you teach, let them be brief, so that receptive spirits will quickly perceive and faithfully retain what you have said. Everything superfluous seeps out of the well-stocked mind. In order to create pleasure, poetic fictions should approximate reality so that a play should not claim, on its own behalf, that anything it wishes must be believed nor should it extract a living child from the stomach of the ogress, Lamia, after she has dined. The centuries of elders drive away whatever is without serious value; the high and mighty Ramnes keep their distance from gloomy poems. He gets every vote who combines the useful with the pleasant, and who, at the same time he pleases the reader, also instructs him. That book will earn money for the Sosii, this one will cross the sea and extend immeasurably the life of a famous writer.

There are, however, mistakes that we are willing to forgive. For the string does not always return the sound that the hand and mind desire, and although you seek a low note, it very often sends back a high one. Nor will the bow always strike whatever it threatens. But where many qualities sparkle in a poem, I will not find fault with a few blemishes, which either carelessness introduced or human nature, too little vigilant, did not avoid. What then? Just as the scribe who copies books, if he always makes the same mistake no matter how much he is warned, has no claim on our indulgence, and a lyre-player is mocked who always strikes the same false note, so the poet who is frequently found wanting turns into another Choerilus who, amidst my scorn for his work, astonishes me the two or three times he is really good; I am also offended when great Homer falls asleep on us, but it is permitted for some drowsiness to creep into a long work.

Poetry resembles painting. Some works will captivate you when you stand very close to them and others if you are at a greater distance. This one prefers a darker vantage point, that one wants to be seen in the light since it feels no terror before the penetrating judgment of the critic. This pleases only once, that will give pleasure even if we go back to it ten times over.

And you, the older brother, although you have been molded by your father's voice to know what is correct and you are wise in your own right, take and hold in your memory this warning: only in certain activities are we justified in tolerating mediocrity and what is just passable.

A run-of-the mill expert in the law or pleader of cases is a long way from the skill of the eloquent Messala and doesn't know as much as Aulus Cascellius, but nevertheless he has a value. But neither men nor gods nor booksellers have ever put their stamp of approval on mediocre poets. Just as at a gracious meal a discordant musical performance or a thick perfume or Sardinian honey on your poppy seeds give offense because the meal could have been put together without them; in the same way a poem that comes into existence and is created for the gratification of our mind and heart, if it misses true excellence by only a little, verges toward deepest failure.

The person who does not know how to play forgoes the athletic equipment in the Campus Martius, and someone who does not know anything about the ball, the discus, or the hoop stays away from the action in order to prevent the packed crowd of spectators from raising their voices in unrestrained laughter: But the person who has no idea how to create poetry still has the audacity to try. Why not? He is a free citizen, and was born that way, and especially because he is both rich (his property assessment places him in the equestrian class) and he has never been convicted of a crime.

Never will you say or do anything if Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, forbids it; you have good judgment, you have good sense. But if you shall, one day, write something let it first penetrate the ears of a critic like Maecius or your father or myself; and then keep a lid on it until the ninth year comes around by storing your pages inside your house. You will always be able to destroy anything you haven't published; a word, once released, does not know how to return.

391 -407
When men still roamed the forests, Orpheus, the priest and prophet of the gods, deterred them from slaughter and from an abominable way of life. On account of this he is said to have tamed savage tigers and lions. Amphion, the founder of the city of Thebes, also is said to have moved stones wherever he wished by the sound of his lyre and his seductive entreaties. Once it was deemed wisdom to keep what was public separate from what was private, what was sacred from what was not, to issue prohibitions against promiscuity, to set down laws for those who are married, to build towns, to inscribe laws on wooden tablets. In this way honor and renown came to poets, inspired by the gods, and their songs. After these, Homer achieved fame and Tyrtaeus, with his poems, sharpened men's minds for the wars of Mars; oracles were given in poetry, and the way of life was demonstrated, and the grace of kings was tested by Pierian songs; and entertainment was discovered, that entertainment which brought to a close periods of extended labor. I say this so that you will not in any way feel shame for the skilled muse of the lyre and the divine singer of songs, Apollo.

408 - 418
Is it nature or art, the question is put, that makes a poem praiseworthy: I do not see what study, without a rich vein of natural ability, or raw talent alone, would be able to accomplish. Each asks for assistance from the other and swears a mutual oath of friendship. He who is eager to reach the desired goal at the race-course has endured much and accomplished much as a boy. He has sweated and he has frozen; he has abstained from sex and wine. The flute-player who plays the Pythian piece first learned his skill under a master he feared. Now it is enough to say: "I fashion wonderful poems; may the mangy itch take the hindmost; it's a disgrace for me to be left behind and to admit that what I did not learn, I simply do not know."

419 - 437
Just like the herald at an auction who collects a crowd in order to sell his merchandise, the poet who is rich in lands, rich in money lent out for interest, bids flatterers with an eye on profit to assemble. If in fact he is someone who can properly serve up a lavish banquet and go bail for a fickle, poverty-stricken client and can extricate someone from distressing lawsuits, I will be surprised if the blessed fellow can tell a liar from a true friend. You, then, if you have given, or plan to give, a gift to someone, must refuse to invite him, full of joyful gratitude, to a reading of poems you have written. For he will shout, "Beautiful!" "Great!" "Right on!" He will turn pale over them, he will even let dew drip from his friendly eyes, he will dance and pound the pavement with his foot. Just as hired mourners at a funeral almost say and do more than those who grieve from the heart, so a mocking critic will more easily be aroused than a true admirer. Kings are said to ply with many a cup and test with wine the person they strive to examine with regard to his worthiness of their friendship. If you plan to write poetry, the thoughts concealed within the fox should never deceive you.

If you ever read something to Quintilius, he used to say, "Please correct this point and that." If you said that you could not improve them after two or three vain attempts, he would advise you to blot them out and to return the badly formed verses to the anvil. If you chose to defend your error rather than change it, he would expend not a word more nor waste any useless effort to stop you, alone, from loving your work and yourself without a rival. An honest and judicious man will be critical of dull verses and disapproving of harsh ones; next to those completely lacking in art he will smear a black line with a horizontal stroke of the pen; he will excise pretentious decoration; he will compel you to shed light on what lacks clarity; he will expose the obscure phrase; he will note what must be changed and will turn out to be a veritable Aristarchus. He will not say, "Why should I displease a friend because of trivialities?" These "trivialities" will lead that friend into serious trouble once he has been greeted with unfavorable reviews and mocking laughter.

453 -476
As when the evil itch or the disease of kings or the frenzied madness and wrath of Diana oppress someone, so sensible people are afraid to touch the mad poet, and run away from him. Inconsiderate children pursue and torment him. He, his head in the clouds, belches out his poems and loses his way; if, like a fowler whose attention is riveted on the blackbirds, he falls into a well or pit, no one will care to raise him up no matter how long he shouts, "Hey, fellow-citizens, look over here!" But if anyone takes the trouble to come to his aid and to lower a rope to him, I will say, "how do you know that he didn't throw himself down there on purpose and doesn't want to be saved?" Then, I'll tell the story of how the Sicilian poet perished. When Empedocles felt the desire to be considered an immortal god, cool as a cucumber he leaped into the burning fires of Aetna. Let the right be given, let permission be granted for poets to die. Whoever saves someone against his will does exactly the same thing as the person who murders him. Not just once has he done this, and if he is extricated now he will not become a mere mortal and put aside his infatuation with a death that will make him famous. Nor is it sufficiently clear why he practices the poet's trade. Did he sacrilegiously urinate on the ashes of his ancestors or disturb a gloomy plot of consecrated land that had been struck by lightning? Whatever the cause he is certainly mad and just like a bear--if he has succeeded in smashing the restraining bars of his cage--his morose public recitations frighten off the educated and the ignorant alike; once he gets his hands on a person, he doesn't let go until he kills him with his reading--a leech who will not release the skin unless gorged with blood.

Offline illiterati

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shklovsky on "defamiliarization (ostranenie)"
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2012, 04:06 PM »
"Art as Technique"

by: Viktor Shklovsky

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. Complete words are not expressed in rapid speech; their initial sounds are barely perceived. Alexander Pogodin 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. [1]

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[2]) 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 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.[3]
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 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...

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[4] -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 saw them, 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 understood 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 some 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 "my 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 say "mine" about this, that or the other thing. And the one who says "mine" about the greatest number of things is, according to the game which they've 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 pin ' ' 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 has relation'to us 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," or "my dry goods shop," for instance, and does not even wear clothes made from the better cloth he keeps in hi's 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 floorboards. 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; then 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 were pictures representing monuments and openings in the linen cloth representing the moonlight, and they raised lampshades on a frame. As the musicians started to play the bass horn and counter-bass, a large number of people in black mantels 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 side 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…

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… 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…

Such constructions as "the pestle and the mortar," or "Old Nick and the infernal regions" (Decameron) are also examples of the technique of defamiliarization. And in my article on plot construction I write about 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 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 or 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 actually 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 [dolce stil nuovo][5]the obscure style of the language of Arnaut Daniel with the "roughened" [harte] 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 shall

Willfully brighten the delicate

Pages of a novel with such a name,

wrote Pushkin. The usual poetic language for Pushkin's contemporaries was the elegant style of Derzhavin; 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 now begun to show a tendency towards the use of dialects (Remizov, Klyuyev, Essenin, and others,[6] so unequal in talent and so alike in language, are intentionally provincial) and or barbarisms (which gave rise to the Severyanin group[7]). And currently Maxim Gorky is changing his diction from the old literary language to the new literary colloquialism of Leskov.[8] 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 [dea prosae] 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. [9]

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 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 be rhythmically arranged, the mind may economize its energies by anticipating the attention required for each syllable.[10]
This apparent 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 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 in reality the problem is not one 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 procedure for the roughening of language. But I will not discuss rhythm in more detail since I intend to write a book about it.


1 Alexander Pogodin, Yazyk, kak tvorchestvo [Language as Art) (Kharkov, 1913), p. 42. [The original sentence was in French, "Les montagnes de la Suisse sont belles," with the appropriate initials.]

2 Leo Jakubinsky, Sborniki, 1 (1916).

3 Leo Tolstoy's Diary, entry dated February 29, 1897. [The date is transcribed incorrectly; it should read March 1, 1897.]

4 Viktor Shklovsky, Voskresheniye slova [The Resurrection of the Word] (Petersburg, 1914).

Dante, Purgatorio, 24:56. Dante refers to the new lyric style of his contemporaries.[Trans.]
6 Alexy Remizov (1877-1957) is best known as a novelist and satirist; Nicholas Klyuyev (1885~1937) and Sergey Essenin (1895-1925) were "peasant poets." All three were noted for their faithful reproduction of Russian dialects and colloquial language.[Trans.]

7 A group noted for its opulent and sensuous verse style. [Trans.)

8 Nicholas Leskov (1831-95), novelist and short story writer, helped popularize the skaz, or yarn, and hence, because of the part dialect peculiarities play in the skaz, also altered Russian literary language. [Trans.]

9 Shklovsky is probably referring to his Razvyortyvaniye syuzheta [Plot Development](Petrograd, 1921). [Trans.]

10 Herbert Spencer, The Philosophy of Style [(Humboldt Library, Vol. XXXIV; New York, 1882), p. 169. The Russian text is slightly shortened from the original].