Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’m sharing my thoughts and reflections on a lexicon (vocabulary specific to a certain subject) of unusual, obscure, or simply charming-to-me words. Ludic is defined as “playful, in an aimless way” and that’s my plan for approaching this challenge – keeping my feet on the joy trail and meandering wherever the daily word takes me.
O is for…
ostranernie – (n) encouraging people to see common things as strange, wild, or unfamiliar; defamiliarizing what is known in order to know it differently or more deeply.
I’m inspired by John Cage who said: “I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I am doing.”
Not frequently enough to be annoying or worrisome, but on the odd occasion I find myself looking at a quite ordinary, frequently used word and feeling gobsmacked by it. The last time it happened it was with the word spoon. It was like I was encountering a word in a foreign language I had no clue about. The spelling seemed somehow laughably wrong as I rolled the word around on my tongue. I feel a sort of excitement when this happens as though the world has tilted a bit, and at the same time it feels quite mysterious. It feels like a rip in the continuum, and I know I’ll slip back into a state of familiarity soon enough, but in those few seconds it’s as though the possibility exists of standing on an edge you’ve never seen before.
I’m quite aware I’m not explaining this with great skill or clarity, but I’m hoping you can lean into it and recognize your own experience. This is such a tangible example of spontaneous ostranernie for me. And it excites me into understanding the real value of trying to encourage a conscious replication.
Probably one of the most common ways for getting people to see familiar things in an altered light is the exercise of describing something as though one were explaining it to a Martian. Some people are really skilled at this, and I’ve seen/heard some fabulous explanations that really help shift understanding.
Personally, I’m not very good at this. Wordplay interests and amuses me much more. For example, the word beautiful. One could perhaps re-define this as Be-You-To-Full. And if you examine this concept and come to understand that being yourself fully is indeed beautiful, you have expanded your perception.
I’m sure there must be a word for this kind of wordplay, or at least there certainly should be to my mind, but I’ve never found one. But there are people who are masters at it. John Sacelli shares many of his magical wordplays in a divination deck called AngeLynx. I love what he says:
“Words are spelled because they are castings of spells. Words are placed in sentences becase we are sentenced to live by the spells we cast.”
An example of one of the AngeLynx cards: Insects (bee hive); In sects (behave!); business (buzzy-ness; be, have yours); busy-ness (buzzy nest; bee hive yours).
While I know this sort of thing doesn’t enchant everyone, it never fails to delight me and send me down fabulous rabbit holes. If it fascinates you as well, let me encourage you to visit the AngeLynx website here and poke around.
Another fabulous resource in my mind is a book – a tome really at over a 1000 pages – The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher. The description states “It is an inexhaustible mine of anecdotes, quotations, images, curious facts and useless information, oddities, and serious science, jokes and memories, all concerned with the interplay between the verbal and the visual.” It really is a fabulous and delightful creation. It was published in 2001 and now appears to be out of print, but if you ever have a chance to get a hold of a copy, I have no doubt you’ll be enchanted as well.
Aside from the inherent delight in pursuing ways to look at things differently, I’ve really been swept away in fascination with the origins of the concept itself. Defamiliarization was first introduced by Russian Viktor Shklovsky in 1917, and he meant its use to distinguish poetic language from practical language. He argued that poetic language is fundamentally different than everyday language because it is more difficult to understand. It is “formed speech.” And he believed that this difference was essential to the creation of art and the prevention of “over-automatization…and functioning as though by formula.”
According to Shklovsky: “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.”
I’m not sure I agree with him about the purpose of art, but I certainly find his argument compelling. What I am sure about is that I totally concur with Camille Pissaro’s statement:
“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”
I want more of those people in the world and in my life.
What about you? Do you see the value in ostranernie? Have you ever deliberately tried to make something known unfamiliar, so you might know it more deeply? Do you agree seeing with “new eyes” is inherently valuable in staying open-minded? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.