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Poetics of Defamiliarization in Joseph Conrad’s Major Fiction

Author LiuXiuJie
Tutor LiWeiPing
School Shanghai International Studies University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords defamiliarization juxtaposition metanarrative involved narrator delayed decoding time-freezing irony
CLC
Type PhD thesis
Year 2009
Downloads 576
Quotes 5
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Joseph Conrad is highly recognized as“among the very greatest novelists in the language-or any language”. Standing at the juncture between the late Victorian and the early modernist cultural stages, Conrad, with a modern outlook of time, psychology and creation, attempts to transcend the hurdles of conventional narrative modes and seek a new form to convey meaning. The most restless and ingenious experimenter, Conrad is always“ahead of his times”in ideas and techniques and, thereby, one of the founders of modernist literature. His originality is primarily due to his employment of diverse defamiliarization techniques to concretize his awareness of defamiliarization—“to make you see”and thus to achieve the effect of defamiliarization—newness, novelty and refreshing perception on the part of the reader.Defamiliarization is the artistic technique of forcing the audience to see common things in an unfamiliar way to enhance perception of the familiar. As a term not a technique, defamiliarization was systematically developed by Victor Shklovsky to describe the capacity of art to counter the deadening effect of habit and convention by investing the familiar with strangeness and thereby deautomatizing perception. In his“Art as Technique”, Shklovsky presents the concept of defamiliarization. In his opinion,“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.”Defamiliarization is widely considered to be an inherent feature of modernist literature and, in the dissertation, the poetics of defamiliarization speaks to the set of the writer’s creative thinking mode, the novel techniques employed and the effect of newness and strangeness perceived by the reader.This study develops in five chapters. The first one serves as an introduction in which the literary importance of Conrad is pinpointed; the critical study of Conrad and his works are reviewed; the theory of defamiliarization is systematically introduced and six of defamiliarization techniques are defined that Conrad employs to deviate from the old literary conventions and to challenge the reader’s aesthetic stereotypes and automation; and it is also illustrated that application of defamiliarization to the study of Conrad’s fiction is highly valuable and plausible.Chapter Two illustrates juxtaposition and metanarrative as two specific techniques to“increase the difficulty and length of perception”in Conrad’s Lord Jim. Juxtaposition is a device of“setting one thing beside the other without connective.”It isolates narrative norms of connections of one situation and another, deviating from the convention of linear temporality. The effect of defamiliarization is that the author’s moral and philosophical judgments cannot be excavated until the reader has to construct a synchronic reading of these juxtaposed events. Metanarrative is“a narrative within the narrative”, a second narrative in comparison to the first one. Traditional functions of metanarrative are either to obstruct the development of the first narrative or simply to explain what has led to the present situation in the first narrative. For Conrad, metanarrative is a perspective, designed to perform an interpretative and evaluative function. Metanarrative is a defamiliarization technique used to present Jim’s multiple personality characteristics and highlight the theme: the denial of absolute truth.Chapter Three considers the involved narrator and delayed decoding as Conrad’s defamiliarization techniques in Heart of Darkness. The involved narrator is Conrad’s original narrative device by which he successfully hides away from the text and breaks the conventional reader-author conformity. As a defamiliarization technique, involved narrator defamiliarizes the traditional frame-narrative by taking the limited character perspective, making the unreliable narration and adopting the unorthodox language. It is the use of Marlow that helps Conrad make a creative deformation of the frame narrative and change an otherwise jungle thriller into an immortal psychological novella of self-discovery. Delayed decoding is a defamiliarization technique named by Ian Watt to refer to a literary device Conrad uniquely employs to“present a sense impression and withhold naming it or explaining its meaning until later; the reader witnesses every step by which the gap between the individual perception and its cause is belatedly closed within the consciousness of the protagonist”. Conrad offers impression before elucidation, which elongates the reader’s perception and deepens the understanding of what is described. In effect, delayed decoding is a defamiliarization technique which involves the change between the narrating“I”and the experiencing“I”.In the fourth chapter, the techniques of time-freezing and irony in The Secret Agent are explored to demonstrate Conrad’s poetics of defamiliarization. Time-freezing proves to be a powerful technique by which Conrad slows down the temporal progression of the story and accordingly fixes the reader’s attention on a series of minute descriptions of different scenes and events, establishing the temporal simultaneity. It is defamiliarizing in the sense that frozen time appears in place of fluid time in a narrative which is familiar to the average reader of literature and sudden holes in narrative time come into existence. Irony, an oblique mode of expression, is a“two-storey phenomenon”, stressing an implied discrepancy between what is said and what is meant. Shklovsky views irony as a defamiliarization technique of deconstructing the banal notions. It is employed by Conrad to make strange a then-popular literary genre of detective story, to make a deconstructive treatment of the sensational event, and thus to make an implicit but incisive thematic revelation: moral losses. Irony is Conrad’s distancing device, making it possible for him to discard the explicit judgment, to swerve from the Aristotelian convention of identifying his readers with the characters and ultimately to involve the reader in the thematic construction.The last chapter is a conclusion. On the basis of what has been examined, Conrad goes to great lengths to innovate both in form and in content of fiction and makes creative use of various defamiliarization techniques to intensify the perceptibility of his fiction and enable the reader to“see”what he offers. Though not theoretical in the systematic sense, this dissertation draws on the theory of defamiliarization to enliven the reader’s understanding of Conrad’s works, thereby providing a new perspective in understanding Conrad’s creative principles, aesthetic tenets and his world outlook hidden in his fiction.

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