Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Ostrannenie: On "Strangeness" and the Moving Image. The History, Reception, and Relevance of a Concept

Edited by Annie van den Oever
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Ostrannenie ('making it strange') has become one of the central concepts of modern artistic practice, ranging over movements including Dada, postmodernism, epic theatre, and science fiction, as well as our response to arts. Coined by the 'Russian Formalist' Viktor Shklovsky in 1917, ostrannenie has come to resonate deeply in Film Studies, where it entered into dialogue with the Brechtian concept of Verfremdung, the Freudian concept of the uncanny and Derrida's concept of différance. Striking, provocative and incisive, the essays of the distinguished film scholars in this volume recall the range and depth of a concept that since 1917 changed the trajectory of theoretical inquiry. European Film Studies - 'The Key Debates is a new film series from Amsterdam University Press edited by Annie van den Oever (the founding editor), Ian Christie and Dominique Chateau. The editors' ambition is to uncover and track the process of appropriation of critical terms in film theory in order to give the European film heritage the attention it deserves. With contributions from Ian Christie, Yuri Tsivian, Dominique Chateau, Frank Kessler, Laurent Jullier, Miklós Kiss, Annie van den Oever, Emile Poppe, László Tarnay, Barend van Heusden, András Bálint Kovács, and Laura Mulvey, this important study is a wonderful piece of imaginative yet rigorous scholarship.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0795-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Editorial
    (pp. 7-8)
    Ian Christie, Dominique Chateau and Annie van den Oever
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 9-10)
    Annie van den Oever
  5. Introduction: Ostran(n)enie as an “Attractive” Concept
    (pp. 11-18)
    Annie van den Oever

    Traditional accounts from the field of literature have tried to understand Viktor Shklovsky’s “Art as Technique” almost exclusively in relation to literature and criticism for many years and found some of its most basic statements “easy to attack.”¹ It seems to me, however, that Shklovsky’s fundamental statements onostranenie(or “making strange”) in art were first and foremost an urgently required and utterly relevant theoretical answer to the tremendous impact early cinema had on the early avant-garde movements in pre-revolutionary Russia. Shklovsky himself was part of all this and it was 1913 (and not in 1919, as is often thought)...

  6. PART I Theory Formation: Ostranenie, the Avant-Garde and The Cinema of Attractions

    • The Gesture of Revolution or Misquoting as Device
      (pp. 21-32)
      Yuri Tsivian

      First of all, I would like to comment on an expression used in the title of this article. The phrase “gesture of revolution” is not mine. I have borrowed this word combination from Aleksey Nikolaevich Tolstoy’s series of articles “Vozmozhnosti kino” (The Potential of the Cinema) written in 1924, shortly after his return from emigration to Moscow.² On his return, the writer concluded that all was not well in the new Soviet literature and the emerging Soviet cinema. Literature was in thrall to an unreflecting fascination with adventure, while cinema was ruled by the febrile American style of editing.


    • Ostranenie, “The Montage of Attractions” and Early Cinema’s “Properly Irreducible Alien Quality”
      (pp. 33-58)
      Annie van den Oever

      For quite some time now, it has been apparent that the dominant post-war rereading of Russian Formalism within the context of an immanent approach to literature created a serious misreading of some basic terms, notably “ostranenie,” and “technique.”¹ It was only while preparing this book, however, that it became clear to me that Viktor Shklovsky’s “Art as Technique” is not the proto-structuralist treatise on art as “form,” that many have been eager to suggest.² On the contrary, “Art as Technique” is a true “manifesto,” in the best of avant-garde’s traditions,³ and its main objective is to re-think art from the...

  7. Part II Mutations and Appropriations: Alienation Theories and Terminologies

    • Ostranenie, Innovation, and Media History
      (pp. 61-80)
      Frank Kessler

      There are, undoubtedly, many ways in which Viktor Shklovsky’s concept ofostraneniecan be used in a variety of fields. Even though the concept was conceived with regard to literature, right from the very beginning its scope was that of a general aesthetic principle, and thus,ostraneniehas also been adopted by the neoformalist approach elaborated by Kristin Thompson (1981 and 1988). In this essay, I would like to concentrate on the way in which the concept (or principle) can be made or has been made productive for work in the domain of film history and, by extension, for media...

    • Knight’s Moves: Brecht and Russian Formalism in Britain in the 1970s
      (pp. 81-98)
      Ian Christie

      Today, the genealogy of the concepts of Viktor Shklovsky’sostranenieand Bertolt Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt can be traced and compared with comparative ease. Most of the founding texts, originally in Russian and German, have long been translated into French and English, and a large secondary literature exists, continuing to analyse and contextualise them. They have, in Zygmunt Bauman’s phrase, “become settled in scholarly and common vocabularies,” seemingly on a more or less permanent basis.³ But it was not always so. In the 1960s and 1970s, both formed part of an assertive new vocabulary that was embraced by members of a generation...

    • Ostranenie in French Film Studies: Translation Problems and Conflicting Interests
      (pp. 99-110)
      Dominique Chateau

      When one thinks of the use of a concept in a given context, like the corpus of a discipline, one refers either to the linguistic sign (word or expression) which denotes this concept or to the conceptual content which is embedded in the sign, and perhaps even to the ideas the term evokes. If, moreover, the question is about importing the concept into a foreign language, it complicates matters further: we not only have to consider the occurrence of the original word in the new context, but also its translations as far as they are explicit. In our case, the...

    • Christian Metz and the Russian Formalists: A “Rendez-vous Manqué”?
      (pp. 111-116)
      Emile Poppe

      When Roland Barthes was asked why he scarcely wrote about the cinema, he admitted that, for him, cinema was a subject that posed serious problems, since the medium was too slick, too slippery.¹ And when Christian Metz was asked why he had not made more analyses of specific films, he replied in the same manner: that he was indeed a little apprehensive of the “amiable and slippery aspects of the film texts.” But, “not of the great amount of codes!”²

      Mastering this “slippery” material was also what the Russian Formalists were hoping to achieve. They proposed to subdivide and articulate...

  8. Part III Cognitive and Evolutionary-Cognitive Approaches to Ostranenie: Perception, Cognitive Gaps and Cognitive Schemes

    • Should I See What I Believe? Audiovisual Ostranenie and Evolutionary-Cognitive Film Theory
      (pp. 119-140)
      Laurent Jullier

      In my contribution to this book, I aim at exploring the potential contribution of evolutionary-cognitive psychology in the study of defamiliarization in cinema. Interdisciplinarity being at the core of the study, an epistemological preamble is necessary before analyzing what cognitive psychology has to say about the question of perception. The findings will then be transposed to the question of perception of the cinematographic spectacle: before being able to know what may be defamiliarizing in a film, one has to wonder whether the whole cinematographic process itself is not defamiliarizing. Three sections will then be devoted to audiovisualostranenie, based on...

    • On Perception, Ostranenie, and Specificity
      (pp. 141-156)
      László Tarnay

      In my contribution to this book, I would like to hint at a possible lineage of the concept ofostranenie(остранение) in aesthetic and film theory from the Russian Formalists to the present day. My approach is basically conceptual and unorthodox. My particular aim here is to define a golden thread for the conceptual labyrinth that would lead from Shklovsky’s idea – both theoretically and historically – to what I take to be a fundamental challenge to the theory of the moving image, namely the arrival of the newest digital technology of simulation. And I hope to be able to...

    • Estrangement and the Representation of Life in Art
      (pp. 157-164)
      Barend van Heusden

      Viktor Shklovsky considered estrangement, or “ostranennie,” to be the basic function of art. He was right, but for the wrong reasons. In his work on the subject, he mingled three theoretical perspectives: a theory of perception, a theory of semiosis, and a theory of abstraction. On the basis of an analysis of his discourse, I will argue that the concept of estrangement can and should be reassessed in contemporary art theory; that is to say, in the context of a theory of art as a specific instance of human semiotic cognition, realized in a variety of media, and focused on...

    • The Perception of Reality as Deformed Realism
      (pp. 165-172)
      Miklós Kiss

      Viktor Shklovsky stated that “[t]he purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.”² Although this assertion’s influence on cognitive studies is comparable to Hugo Münsterberg’s deservedly acclaimed study, it says less about the purpose of art than about the purpose of Shklovsky.³ In the following, I would like to re-evaluate Shklovsky’s highly progressive intuition on the cognitive distinction of “perceiving” as a bottom-up and “knowing” as a top-down logic.⁴ The opposition will highlight the discrepancy between the reality of perception and comprehension, and the realism of representation. My...

  9. Part IV Discussions: On Ostranenie, Différance, and the Uncanny

    • Conversation with András Bálint Kovács
      (pp. 175-184)
      Laurent Jullier

      Let me begin by introducing my fellow colleague and interviewee, András Bálint Kovács, Professor at the Institute of Art & Communication, ELTE (Budapest), where he holds the Chair of the Department of Film Studies. He was born in 1959 in Budapest, Hungary. Because of his work on defamiliarization, he was invited to contribute to this book. On the one hand, he frequently uses modern items (films, directors and essays) as objects of research. His book Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema 1950-1980, published by Chicago University Press in 2008 (Limina Award, 2009) is well known, and so are his writings about Tarkovsky...

    • Conversation with Laura Mulvey
      (pp. 185-204)
      Annie van den Oever

      New questions in Film Studies seem to have acquired urgency recently. We have seen some major changes in Film Studies, such as a focus on the spectator and the viewing experience, and cinema’s special appeal to historical audiences. Moreover, the current rapid transitions in digital and optical techniques and viewing practices have also called for attention. These current research interests in Film Studies are explored by Laura Mulvey, Professor of Film and Media Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, who, in her latest book Death 24× a Second. Stillness and the Moving Image (2006), addresses the role new technologies...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 205-240)
  11. General Bibliography
    (pp. 241-254)
  12. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 255-258)
  13. Index of Names
    (pp. 259-266)
  14. Index of Film Titles
    (pp. 267-268)
  15. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 269-278)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-280)