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.
Another thought-provoking post. I’ve heard of using a blindfold for a day and thus creating a new experience (without eyes,) walking around backwards all day, or doing everything with your non-dominant hand. Have heard of automatic writing with the non-dominant hand. All exercises to squeeze altered perceptions out of the same old thing. I’m totally in favor of any such techniques. I knew a guy who wrote all of his poetry and comments like the be-you-to-full and it was amazing how it was able to be done for just about anything.
My “O” song:
Cheers for the poet guy – I really love that way to expand language. And all those techniques are great as well – so many ways to experience things differently!
I often look at words and think how odd they look. Or second guess my spelling! I’ve blamed it on my age, but maybe not?
It is an odd sensation, isn’t it? But I’d go with the explanation of a cosmic wink rather than aging. 🙂
Yes to all of that. I have had that issue with words occasionally too, like I know it is spelled correctly but it doesn’t look right for some reason. I love that Angel Lynx card. So very mystical looking.
It’s a strange experience, isn’t it? But it definitely feels like a portal to me to more wonders.
Ha! I am just now reading On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz. She takes walks around the same city block with various experts (geologist, typographer, etc.), and sees all new things through their eyes. I’m loving it 🙂
The Multicolored Diary
That sounds wonderful. In fact, I’ve just put a library hold on it. Thanks!
to see things familiar as if new again is always an excitement. It requires a presence of mind and the desire to move away from the ordinary. Wordplay is a hobby of mine and have indeed had those instances of seeing regular words shifting sideways! Perhaps a functional aspect to this is the ‘repurposing’ of an item into a use it was never designed for… YAM xx
Oh yes, that sense of excitement is wonderful isn’t it? Good point about the pragmatic function as well.
I’ll have to read this beautiful post again Deborah.
For the rip you mention–I felt is if I was there with you in those lines. It felt akin to how I feel after a good glass of wine:)
Will say namaste to :“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”
And wish you a restful Sunday.
Thanks for the restful wishes Arti. I hope we’ll all be ready tomorrow for another fun and frantic challenge week.
Hi Deborah – so many words over the centuries have changed their meaning, or adjusted their meaning … and sometimes people really do use odd words … eg ‘raft’ completely used out of context now … i.e. not as a collection of things fastened together for transport by water … My gripe for today! Cheers HIlary
Your “gripe” made me smile doubly, Hilary. First, because you never gripe, and secondly, because I think the other “wrong” usage of raft must be an English thing. I can’t for the life of me think of any definition other than the one you mentioned.
An excellent word for our pandemic year. I spent 2020 looking at nature around my home with new eyes. The ordinary flowers of years past were suddenly more colorful, detailed and fragrant than in years past, when I just walked right by them on my way to or from home — and I “discovered” new streets in my neighborhood I had never walked down before, as I was used to one or two chosen paths. Ostranernie indeed!
Those are wonderful new “finds” Molly. And I think you’re really right about the pandemic inviting us to see differently.
Loved your post. Thanks for introducing me to this word the meaning of which is everyone’s sought after dream and a talent or should I say bliss to reach there I guess.
Just as your quote says:
“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”
Loved your word play on ‘beautiful’ and ‘business’ too. Made me think and perceive its deeper meaning. Will come back to read more of your A2Z posts as I am in love with your theme.
Thanks for your kind words and for coming to visit.
I love these quotes, and I agree ;))
Absolutely agree that seeing with new eyes is essential for an open mind. To keep learning and growing.
Yes, ever expanding.
I think you articulated it very well Deborah and I certainly relate to this sensation of unseeing a familiar word , sometimes it is the spelling that is odd, sometimes it is the sound and sometimes the word seems incongruent with the meaning .
A peculiar moment in time and space.
I have long been a fan of Mary Daly who dusted off words and brought them into the light repurposing and releasing the powers within .
and yes seeing with ‘new eyes’ is a worthwhile practice – I believe it can deepen our connection by adding in other dimensional layers.
Daly’s Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language has been well-thumbed and enjoyed by me.
Pissaro’s observation is exactly how I see my world divided in two – for those who can see things (faces in wood grain, a change in what is real and what is space, etc.) everywhere and those who can’t. No offense to do those who can’t, and I love several of them. But when you see the world as I do, as we do, there’s always a story, always a wonder, at least always a smiling face or obstinate face or some portal of fascination just waiting.
I’d say you are very skilled at that Eli, and ever-patiently encouraging others.
This is a new word for me, and I do like it. Thanks! I definitely try to notice things that are too-frequently overlooked.
The most common way to have a word seem strange is just to see it or hear it over and over too many times at once. Also, the word “soup” often seems especially odd to me, for some reason. Maybe it goes well with your spoon.
Black and White: O for Oz
LOL – yes, your soup goes well with my spoon. You raise an interesting point about repetition being a trigger for the seeming unfamiliarity of a word. I’ll be paying attention to that now.
I am very obsessed with studying things. My first degree is in Art History because I love the way meaning can be packed into the tiniest piece of an image. This is also why I enjoy working with children. It is funny, when I share my knowledge about simple things with a child, I often find nearby adults tuning in as well, as if they never thought of something that way. So many people walk blindly through the world!
Art history is magical – I can certainly appreciate your interest. Kids are magical too, aren’t they? If we could all hold their openness and curiosity and wonder the world would be a very different place I think.
It is, isn’t it? Thanks for stopping by, Hennie.