On page 678, I discovered a nifty piece of ostranenie! Ostranenie is a fine bookish word that I know from my favorite book about books, David Lodge's The Art of Fiction. Also known in English as "defamiliarization," it is usually defined along the lines of "to render common things in an unfamiliar or strange way," although I think that a better definition would be "to write about things that are typically written about within a set of conventions, in a way that counters or undermines those conventions."
But Lodge's example serves the point better. It's from Charlotte Bronte's Villette, and describes the reaction of the book's protagonist, Lucy, to a classical painting in a museum.
It represented a woman, considerably larger, I thought, than the life. I calculated that this lady, put into a scale of magnitude suitable for the reception of a commodity of bulk, would infallibly turn from fourteen to sixteen stone. She was, indeed, extremely well fed: very much butcher's meat - to say nothing of bread, vegetables, and liquids - must she have consumed to attain that breadth and height, that wealth of muscle, that affluence of flesh. She lay half-reclined on a couch: why, it would be difficult to say; broad daylight blazed round her; she appeared in hearty health, strong enough to do the work of two plain cooks; she could not plead a weak spine; she ought to have been standing, or at least sitting bolt upright. She had no business to lounge away the noon on a sofa. She ought likewise to have worn decent garments; a gown covering her properly, which was not the case: out of abundance of material - seven-and-twenty yards, I should say, of drapery - she managed to make inefficient raiment. Then, for the wretched untidiness surrounding her, there could be no excuse. Pots and pans - perhaps I ought to say vases and goblets - were rolled here and there on the foreground; a perfect rubbish of flowers was mixed amongst them, and an absurd and disorderly mass of curtain upholstery smothered the couch and cumbered the floor. On referring to the catalogue, I found that this notable production bore the name 'Cleopatra.'Lucy, unlike the readers of this blog, was not all up in the fine arts scene, and her evaluation of what she sees in the museum underscores that she is out of her cultural milieu while making it clear that she is not therefore by any means unintelligent. At the same time, by stripping "Cleopatra" of its usual conceptual frame, Bronte pulls off a very sassy satire of classical painting. Lodge points out that by saving the title for last, Bronte "implies the arbitrariness and spuriousness of the historical/mythological justification claimed by the painting, which just as well could have been called 'Dido' or 'Delilah' or (more honestly) 'Odalisque.'"
This brings us to page 678 of War and Peace, where I found this passage:
The floor of the stage consisted of smooth boards, at the sides was some painted cardboard representing trees, and at the back was a cloth stretched over boards. In the center of the stage sat some girls in red bodices and white skirts. One very fat girl in a white silk dress sat apart on a low bench, to the back of which a piece of green cardboard was glued. They all sang something. When they had finished their song the girl in white went up to the prompter's box and a man with tight silk trousers over his stout legs, and holding a plume and a dagger, went up to her and began singing, waving his arms about.
First the man in the tight trousers sang alone, then she sang, then they both paused while the orchestra played and the man fingered the hand of the girl in white, obviously awaiting the beat to start singing with her. They sang together and everyone in the theater began clapping and shouting, while the man and woman on the stage- who represented lovers- began smiling, spreading out their arms, and bowing.
After her life in the country, and in her present serious mood, all this seemed grotesque and amazing to Natasha. She could not follow the opera nor even listen to the music; she saw only the painted cardboard and the queerly dressed men and women who moved, spoke, and sang so strangely in that brilliant light. She knew what it was all meant to represent, but it was so pretentiously false and unnatural that she first felt ashamed for the actors and then amused at them. She looked at the faces of the audience, seeking in them the same sense of ridicule and perplexity she herself experienced, but they all seemed attentive to what was happening on the stage, and expressed delight which to Natasha seemed feigned. "I suppose it has to be like this!"This is a fun passage, and if making fun of the artificiality of opera seems a bit like shooting fish in a barrel in 2013, it was probably a little more daring when Count Tolstoy was writing. But Tolstoy, like Bronte, is a fairly sharp character, and wasn't just mocking opera for the hell of it. He's got a character, Natasha, who is going to make some very foolish choices in the next few chapters because she is extremely naive in her reading of people and their intentions. Her inability to interpret the opera in the conventional way, by accepting that the actors are presenting a stylized story, prefigures her inability to penetrate the false promises of a dastardly young rake a few pages later.
Well, you can imagine how excited I was to find my very own instance of ostranenie! Unfortunately, when I rushed back to Lodge's article, I was disappointed to find that Victor Shlovsky, who came up with the concept in the first place, used this very passage from War and Peace as one of his key examples. Curses! That Shlovsky is always beating me to the punch.
I challenge you -- yes, YOU, dear reader, who actually read to the bottom of this long texty post -- to seek out and bring back additional instances of ostranenie!