Trumpeted as the artistic hallmark, central to Russian Formalism, and persistent ever since, estrangement yet remains an ill-defined term. We have nothing like a comprehensive approach to it, equipped to specify its workings by kind, medium, art form, discourse level, historical context. Narrative, Shklovsky's own forte, would appear the paradigm case, as the most inclusive genre and the most akin to art's and life's temporal movement. I accordingly revisit “making strange,” with its branches and afterlives, from the viewpoint of narrative theory and history—especially in relation to my account of narrative dynamics, in this “Telling in Time” series and elsewhere. Above all, given Shklovsky's perceptual emphasis, does his master effect constitute the genre's universal, overlapping and/or rivaling the dynamics of prospection (“suspense”), retrospection (“curiosity”), and, especially, recognition (“surprise”)? Or is it only a pretender to the title, a fortiori to literature's and art's supreme value and motive power?
The answer hinges on the equation, current since Formalism, of perceptual estrangement with temporal disarrangement: artistic sjuzhet is disordered, hence defamiliarized, fabula, à la Tristram Shandy. Itself a variant of the anti-chronologism that has always dominated narrative study—as early as in medias res—this formula proves untenable in all its versions and reversions. But the inquiry into it, and them, is nonetheless instructive. The versions consist in two silent Formalist logics of making strange: one absolute and universalist, the other more relativized to history, both originating in Shklovsky's own ambivalence, or thoughtlessness, and still going strong. The reversions include the underground pushing of the idea to some extremein (Post)Structuralist narratology—Genette's anti-perceptual, mind-less formalism, Barthes's drive against all sequentiality (actional, textual, historical) in the name of “writerly” license—as well as open follow-ups, in cognitivist and literary-empirical circles, for example.
Through these lineages, inter alia, the argument develops a set of key issues and counterproposals. Thus the shifts of estrangement, as a value, between top and low priority; its affective, or experiential, constants and variables; its relation to narrativity, their respective limits included; its correlation of narrative's unmatched time repertoire with the temporalities of history, via survival tactics and more strategic dishabituating resources; the models that capture, or emplot, its birth-death-revival (hi)stories; its transfer from the life of art to the art of living; and, most fundamental, its endless form/function interplay in both synchrony and diachrony, under the Proteus Principle.