The Point Podcast

Selected Essays | Jennifer Wilson on Viktor Shklovsky

April 09, 2024 The Point Magazine Season 2 Episode 6
Selected Essays | Jennifer Wilson on Viktor Shklovsky
The Point Podcast
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The Point Podcast
Selected Essays | Jennifer Wilson on Viktor Shklovsky
Apr 09, 2024 Season 2 Episode 6
The Point Magazine

On this episode of “Selected Essays,” Jess and Zach talk with Jennifer Wilson about
her New York Times Book Review essay, “The Love Letters That Spoke of Everything but Love,” and Viktor Shklovsky’s “Art as Device,” first published in 1917.

Craving more essays? Subscribe to The Point here and use the coupon code 7POD50
at checkout for 50% off.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this episode of “Selected Essays,” Jess and Zach talk with Jennifer Wilson about
her New York Times Book Review essay, “The Love Letters That Spoke of Everything but Love,” and Viktor Shklovsky’s “Art as Device,” first published in 1917.

Craving more essays? Subscribe to The Point here and use the coupon code 7POD50
at checkout for 50% off.

Jessica Swoboda  00:00

Hey everyone, welcome to Selected Essays, a podcast series from The Point magazine about essays you should read, but probably haven't. Each episode we'll be talking with writers about an essay that's influenced one of their own. My name is Jess Swoboda, and I'm here with my co-host Zach Fine.

Zach Fine  00:22

Hey everyone. This week we spoke with Jennifer Wilson about Viktor Shklovsky's "Art as Device" and Jennifer's essay, "The Love Letters That Spoke of Everything but Love" about Shklovsky's epistolary novels Zoo. Jennifer is a contributing writer at The New Yorker. Previously, she was a contributing essaysist for the New York Times Book Review. She holds a PhD in Russian literature from Princeton University. 

Jessica Swoboda  00:43

We hope you'll enjoy this episode and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. If you have questions, comments, or anything else, send an email to We'd love to hear from you. And also be sure to subscribe to The Point, the magazine that brings you content like this podcast. You can find a 50% off discount code exclusive to listeners in the Episode Notes.

Zach Fine  01:17

Hey, Jenn, thanks so much for joining us today.

Jennifer Wilson  01:20

Thank you for having me.

Zach Fine  01:21

So to start off, can you tell us a little bit about Viktor Shklovsky?

Jennifer Wilson  01:26

I can do my best. He lived a very long time, he lived to be 91 years old, which is a lot of life for someone for you know, a Russian of the 20th century. I guess I can talk more about his his early life kind of you know, around the time that he wrote the essay that we're discussing today, "Art as Device," he was sort of a leader of what has now been kind of labeled, kind of after the fact as Russian formalism. I think it's I don't think a lot of people realize the Russian Formalists didn't call themselves that. It was sort of, you know, kind of an insult that was leavied at them, by their, by their critics, you know, they didn't think of themselves that way. They didn't sort of think of what they were doing as this way of approaching literature that was, you know, like apolitical or something. But basically, you know, he was kind of part of this group of writers and critics who were interested in developing kind of a scientific approach to the study of literature and literary criticism. You know, Shklovsky was a leftist. He was not a Bolshevik, he was a leftist. You know, so he was interested kind of in just kind of, like revolutionary, you know, kind of like rhetoric, and, you know, this kind of idea of like art and artists have use and utility, and everyone has to sort of be doing something and bringing about kind of a new reality, a new sensibility, or he was one of the founders of this group in St. Petersburg, called Opoyaz, the translation is Society for the Study of Poetic Language. Their kind of counterpart in Moscow was the Moscow linguistic circle run by Roman Jakobson. But yeah, so that's sort of who he who he was. And in 1917, he wrote the essay we're discussing today, "Art as Device." And it's considered kind of the manifesto of this, again, I hate to use the word Russian formalism term, Russian formalism, but it's fine. But he was sort of this is kind of the manifesto for this new kind of movement of young critics who were trying to think scientifically about what art and what literature is and what it does what it can do for a world that is, you know, in the process of remaking itself.

Jessica Swoboda  04:08

And can you say a bit about why you selected this essay "Art as Device"?

Jennifer Wilson  04:12

Yeah, I just remember, you know, I read it in graduate school, and I just remember being so excited by it's just kind of the attitude that it has, you know, I think when I was in graduate, you know, graduate school and academia, everything is so sort of polite, and everyone's so kind of, like, you know, well, you know, kind of, you know, well mannered and genteel, I mean, obviously, it's like sort of masking like ferocious competitiveness and all this stuff, but like, you know, it was really exciting to read a work of literary criticism that was just so kind of like pugnacious, and that was just so that just took itself you know, very seriously and considered this to be a literature, something worth fighting for? And yeah, I just I really loved the energy of it just stylistically. And I think it gave me kind of a new set of questions to bring to literature that I hadn't, you know, I hadn't really thought to ask before. I mean, I think "How?" is such it was such as such a big question that this essay asks is, "How does literature do the things that it does?" And I never really thought to ask that, you know, I always just always trying to figure out, like, what is already doing? Or, you know, what's it? What's it about? Or, you know, why did it come into the world, but I think, again, like sort of, I'd never really thought that I could kind of break literature apart in the way that this essay doesn't even just suggests, was sort of, you know, to commands you to,

Jessica Swoboda  05:52

Yeah why don't we turn to the essay now? Can you read the first passage for us?

Jennifer Wilson  05:57

"Art is thinking in images, that's a quote, unquote, poetry is a special way of thinking, it is precisely a way of thinking in images away, which permits what is generally called economy of mental effort away, which makes for quote, sensation of the relative ease of the process, unquote. Well, without imagery, there is no art, artists thinking in images, unquote. These Maxim's have led to far fetched interpretations of individual works of art attempts have been made to evaluate even music architecture and lyric poetry as imagistic thought. So these are a bunch of, like, part of my hesitation was that we're supposed to read these perceive all of these quotes as just kind of like idiocy." He's basically just quoting a bunch of critics he doesn't like, and sort of trying to, you know, so he kind of lists off these kinds of, you know, things that are frequently said about art, you know, artists thinking and images, you know, you know, mainly the idea that the task of art is to take, you know, these extremely complex, you know, metaphysical abstract concepts and sort of bring them down to earth and these concrete images, the idea that that sort of the task of, of art is to ease the process of combat comprehension in some way or perception in some way. That's what he's kind of mocking here. So it's, yeah, it's a bunch of he's basically just listing a bunch of quotes from other critics that he thinks are just completely worthless, which is sort of kind of like what I was saying about, you know, Shklovsky was difficult. He was sort of this person, he would kind of ruin parties, ruin meetings. He was kind of a risky person to have around. I know, we're going to talk about Zoo later. But he when he was living in Berlin, he was asked to be part of this new literary journal, emigre journal there, and it's like, you know, Shklovksy you got to have him there. You know, he's been a major figure, but you know, someone, someone comes to give a talk at this thing and schlocky just rips the guy to shreds. And it's just like this absolute nightmare, like and, you know, work, he's like, what are you doing, we're trying to get more people to be on our board, we can't be turning people to, you know, can be tearing people apart like this. And she's close. He's like, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'm in love. You know, he was like, in love with this woman. He was just in a bad mood that day. So he's just, you know, it's yeah, he's just, he's a difficult kind of character. And you kind of get that right away in this essay, which is another thing I really just like about this essay, too. It's like it feels like he and only he could could write this.

Zach Fine  08:48

It's almost 1000 words into the essay before we get to that famous passage, where he talks about defamiliarization. I was wondering if you could walk us through the argument that he's making on those on those first two pages, about why he sets up his argument about defamiliarization in terms of a contrast between practical language and poetic language, prose and poetry? 

Jennifer Wilson  09:10

I can do my best. It's a difficult you know, this is very, you know, your Russian formalist high theory of over 100 years ago. It's a bit kind of, you know, it's a kind of a style of argumentation that's a little to us now arcane. But, you know, I think that he basically, what he's trying to sort of build up is this idea, that sort of language can sort of do can serve sort of serve two functions, it can just sort of be there sort of like it's kind of like every day kind of prosaic language, and he kind of compares it to like he's like, you know, if you if you do something every day, you start to forget if you've done it already, and I was you I was sort of when I was reading this, I was thinking about how I don't know if any of you if you take like vitamins or pills or something, but you know, you have that thing where like, oh, did I take that? Did I take that or not? He's sort of saying, well, that's exactly how language works. Like, if it becomes habitual, then you, then it's almost like it ceases to exist. Because it doesn't force you to stop, it becomes automatic. And so he's sort of saying that's prosaic language, and then there's poetic language that sort of forces you to sort of stop and to pay attention. And to notice, and that's where he, you know, he gets into the famous line about like, the task of art is to make the stone stony. You know, I think, like, one of my favorite parts was when he talks about visualization, you know, he's like, once things become habitual, you know, it devours work clothes, furniture, one's wife and the fear of war. So it's yeah, it's I know, it's sort of like a long build up to his argument. But, you know, I think again, it's also about sort of this whole notion of a scientific approach to literature and literary criticism, I think he's almost sort of like, laying everything out in this sort of way that you might lay out a math problem. So it's a bit yeah, I understand it's a bit kind of a challenging to get through, but it's almost supposed to, you know, in some ways, he's sort of do you know, he's doing kind of the stony stone of literary criticism and, you know, he's sort of making it feel unusual, making it feel like something a little different. It's, you know, it's a little bit more scientific, it's a little bit more analytical. It's, you know, it's kind of yeah, defamiliarize literary criticism.

Jessica Swoboda  11:48

So he's really known for defamiliarization. Can you tell us what he means by that, and why he sees it as so important?

Jennifer Wilson  11:55

Yes. Um, so it's a great term, because it means exactly what it sounds like. But you know, so so, some people translate it defamiliarization. The other way you might translate it is making strange, making something strange. Basically, he saw defamiliarization as a way of destroying the kind of automization of perception. For instance, when he talks about Tolstoy and the way Tolstoy writes about war, and he's like, Well, Tolstoy writes about wars, if no one has ever seen a war before. That sort of de, you know, defamiliarization, or the, you know, that sort of scene with kind of like the theater, and it's just kind of like, it's very confusing, you just sort of see, initial description is just kind of like, you know, body parts flying and, and wooden floorboards, and you don't exactly know what you're seeing, and then all it sort of kind of puts together you understand it's kind of a stage. And that's sort of what he means by defamiliarization, something that kind of forces forces you to spend a lot of time with words with language, with literature, figuring out what it means. He really believed that perception should be prolonged. Whereas he felt that bad art is art, that is to every day, it just kind of makes everything feel ordinary, habitual, things you just kind of consume very quickly without thinking. You know, for him kind of great art sort of forced you to stop and experience the world anew every time.

Jessica Swoboda  13:40

In this section on the unfamiliar, on defamiliarization, he has this line "art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object when the object is not important." And this made me stop for a minute, like what does this mean? And so what does he mean when he says the object is not important? Are we supposed to take this literally? Or is it really only the aesthetic quality of the object that matters to him?

Jennifer Wilson  14:07

I think that what he is saying is that he's much more interested in perception or other than what is being perceived. You know, I think that the that sort of the, his focus in this essay, which I feel like we should mention, is quite short. It's provocative. You know, he'll like, you know, in some ways, I think kind of later revise a lot of this. But yeah, I mean, I think is that his fear was that we sort of get caught up too much in the object and rather than the way that art introduces us to a particular object, and he wanted people to be aware of the ways that are kind of could rewire your sensibility. And, again, again, it's about sort of pushing back against the optimization of perception just kind of. Yeah. So that's what he means. I don't think that he sort of is suggesting that what's being represented is irrelevant. I just don't think that that's, you know, he's making a provocative argument. Right. So it's not gonna hold up. And I think one of the things, one of the things I really liked towards the very end of this essay is he says, you know, he's, he's sort of like, it's kind of like mocking the entire project of formalism, period, you know, he's talking about when he's talking about rhythm and trying to come up with a kind of a grand unified theory of rhythm. He's like, "there is order in art, yet not a single column of Greek temple stands exactly in its proper order." You know, so I, you know, he's like, there's to certain extent, if you turn something in too much of a science, you're also kind of destroying what makes it art. So it's, there's kind of like, so I don't think that you're wrong to pick up on certain kinds of like, flaws in his argument, but I think on some level, he's okay with a flawed, provocative argument.

Jessica Swoboda  16:19

And that, and phrasing it the object does not matters is a provocative way of phrasing that statement. Yeah. So yeah, a really helpful way of kind of viewing it. So why don't we turn to the passage about Tolstoy's work that you selected as a way to keep talking about this idea of defamiliarization and kind of what Tolstoy is doing in this essay?

Jennifer Wilson  16:40

"Tolstoy makes the familiar seems strange by not naming the familiar object, he describes an object as if he were seeing it for the first time, and event as if it were happening for the first time. In describing something he avoids the accepted names of its parts and instead names corresponding parts of other objects. For example, in shame, Tolstoy defamiliarizes, the idea of flogging in this way, quote, 'To strip people who have broken the law, to hurl them to the floor, to wrap on their bottoms with switches, to lash about on the naked buttocks.' Then he remarks just why precisely this stupid savage means of causing pain and not any other, why not prick the shoulders or any part of the body with needles, squeeze the hands or the feet and advice or anything like that. I apologize for this harsh example. But it is typical of Tolstoy's way of printing. The conscience, the familiar act of flogging is made unfamiliar, both by the description and by the proposal to change its form without changing its nature."

Zach Fine  17:46

That's a great passage. When you chose that, it wasn't the first passage that I expected necessarily. Why did you choose this passage in particular?

Jennifer Wilson  17:53

Um, I, you know, I think that it's a really great illustration of his point. And, you know, it's one of those things like, I remember reading this essay, and kind of, you know, not really necessarily thinking about it again. And then once I started reading more of Tolstoy you know, I thought, oh, gosh, like, that it's absolutely true the way that he pulls you into a world in a way that is so unexpected, like I was just running this reading group for Anna Karenina, and I completely forgot they're like these long passages that are in the voice of Levin's dog. And it's such this interesting vantage point to think about, you know, Levin is like this landowner, and this this, you know, dog that's just like, I don't know how to make him happy. I don't know how to give him what he wants. And yet that feels like my entire, the entire point of my life is to give this person what he wants. And the you know, when you realize that, on some level, like this is kind of the condition of a lot of the peasants. And yet there's something about getting this kind of, you know, getting it from this dog that just kind of reminds you of just like how impossible it is to sort of like, anticipate the desires of, of people in charge, even though that's exactly what your your job is, to a certain extent. And, you know, yeah, so I just really felt like, you know, this does a really great job have sort of, of how kind of Tolstoy takes you out of a scene, even as he described scenes, like, you know, quite beautifully, sometimes you always kind of, uh, it forces you to kind of stop and consider not just what you're reading, but, but other things, other really important things. And yeah, I do, I do think that Tolstoy is a, you know, a writer of tremendous conscience.

Zach Fine  20:00

Shklovsky's argument, even when it's not really explicitly cited has become so important to the defense of art and literature today--I feel like in terms of arguments about art as a way of making things difficult, art is a way of making things slow, lengthening perception, you know, in terms of like resisting the attention economy and things like this. And I'm kind of wondering if you think the reason philosophies had this long afterlife is part of his kind of resonance with that today, or if there's something that's changed in the kind of cultural climate, from Shklovsky's own time, that, you know, draw some kind of contrast?

Jennifer Wilson  20:35

I mean, do you feel like people are reading Shklovsky? Because I was, I mean, I don't know. I don't know that, I think they should, I think for precisely and this is another one of the reasons why I think I suggested this is like, I have been thinking a lot about, you know, attention, art kind of being you know, automized, and, you know, I'm, I think that he has a lot to say to the present moment. But I haven't had a sense that there's been that much interest in him outside of like, my really small academic world, I've been a really big proponent for you know, a lot of his translations have been kind of like out of print for a while I've been like a really big proponent for Zoo: or Letters Not About Love, his epistolary novel, set in Berlin, which I was really excited to hear that Dalkey Archive and Deep Vellum are finally reassuring. And I believe it's I believe you can preorder it now actually, but that's been like years. So I don't I don't know that he's had a really big afterlife. Actually, he should I'm trying.

Zach Fine  21:44

So in the in the critique of in the critique of like, the attention economy and our defens of literature is difficult to do you feel like maybe we don't acknowledge Shklovsky, but that he's kind of buried there. In that defense, which I still hear from time to time, people, you know, advocating for literature or art as, you know, as an engagement with difficulty. I don't know if there's a precedent before Shklovkski for that, or if he's really the person we kind of should look back to.

Jennifer Wilson  22:10

I mean, I don't know, I think that it's all very complicated. And I don't know that he's necessarily right. You know, I mean, for instance, I was reading Sianne Nga's book on the gimmick. And, you know, she writes a bit about Shklovsky. But she has a really interesting argument. I'm thinking about the, you know, well, I guess she she talks about it also, in Our Aesthetic Categories, then sort of continues in the book on the gimmick, but this idea of the word interesting, as like this word that we apply, when we love something, you know, we like something, we call it interesting. And she's like, well, what does interesting mean, and you know, interesting, and she sort of saying, like, what interesting kind of means is that we think it's worth our time, we think it's worth revisiting. We think it's worth sort of, ruminating on she's, and she sort of I unless I'm misunderstanding, but I think she's kind of saying that this, in some ways, is kind of an aesthetic judgment that sort of fits within kind of this capitalist logic of, oh, this is worthwhile. And I'm going to and, you know, I've decided it's worthwhile by suggesting that it's worth my time, and that there's this way that we kind of value time under capitalism, which really I was, I remember that kind of, also sort of threw me a bit, because it's kind of interesting that Shklovsky makes kind of the opposite argument, you know, and he's coming from a, obviously kind of a, he's an auto, he wasn't a Bolshevik, but he was definitely, you know, he was part of the socialist Revolutionary Party. So I think it's, you know, I think it's, it's complicated. I think that it's, this is one, see, you know, one theory of what makes great art, I don't know that it's necessarily, I don't even know that Shklovsky would want it. I mean, he wrote this when he was like, 24. I don't know that we should. I don't know. I don't know if we want to take it that seriously, I you know, and I but to me, it's it's again, it's exciting, because it's like a provocative piece, you know, imagine being 24 and be like, No, this is what great art is, and, you know, people reading it 100 years later, I mean, I think that's very cool.

Jessica Swoboda  24:32

Yeah, and I mean, that really just adds to your comment earlier about that this is a provocative argument that he's making. This is a provocative essay, and it's intentionally that way. No, super interesting

Jennifer Wilson  24:43

Which is I think, really, I find very freeing to me. I think that's another reason why I suggested it to like, I find I you know, I mean, it's just, it's, I don't feel like a lot of space to be experimental or I don't I I try my best, but it does feel like we're kind of entering this era where I think, you know, so much of just even kind of like, the criticism that you do, there doesn't feel like a space for kind of purely amateur kind of criticism, like everything feels so pre professional. Everyone's just sort of like hoping that the right person will see it, and it'll lead to something else. And, you know, I do feel like there's tremendous care or like, or even, like, even when someone's being provocative, you know, there's always this suspicion that it's like, kind of like, like provocation for provocation's sake, or, I don't know, I think that there's something really exciting about reading criticism at a time when no one were, I just don't, I don't mean to suggest that Shklovsky didn't have literary ambitions, but it really just does feel like a truly experiment, like a true experiment, a true kind of, I don't feel like he has any agenda. And it's really exciting to read criticism from just a different, you know, a different time, a different era, you know, a less market-driven kind of ecosystem for it.

Jessica Swoboda  26:21

So we asked you to select an essay of your own to pair with artist device, and you chose "The Love Letters that Spoke of Everything but Love." Can you say a bit about this essay and what inspired you to write it?

Jennifer Wilson  26:34

Yeah, I, I really loved Zoo. And it was just one of these books that really stood out to me when I read it in graduate school. And it was just, you know, one of those books I was always recommending to people, but it was people would sort of go try to find the translation. And they'd be like, oh, you know, it's, you can only buy it for like, $1,000 on eBay. And so I was like, Oh, crap. And so I was like, um, I was like, Alright, I can't keep recommending this. Um, but I really wanted to get the ideas out there because I thought that it was just such a fascinating book. And also just an interesting theory of the love letter, like, you know, is, you know, is a great love letter about love. Or, and, you know, it's, maybe I should explain a little bit more about Zoo. So basically, it's an epistolary novel. And it's based, you know, they're actual letters between him and a woman named Elsa Triolet, who some people probably know, as the French writer who won the, I believe she was the first woman to win the Goncourt prize, and she was a part of the French Resistance and married Louis Aragorn and like, but anyway, before all that she was living in Berlin, in the 20s. And Viktor Shklovsky had a massive crush on her. And she just was like, bombarding her with all these love letters. And she said, Look, you can keep writing me you just have one rule, which is no, don't write about love. Um, so he just sort of starts writing about like his, you know, his everyday life in Berlin. You know, his going to the bakery. You know, all sorts of just kind of like daily life, his thoughts on literature, his thoughts on new writers. And it's just in a way it feels like just tremendously romantic, like in a way that maybe like explicitly writing about love, maybe wouldn't be like, there's just an intimacy in the kind of minutia that they share with one another. And it kind of proves, I feel like in so many ways, like kind of Shklovksy's kind of larger theories about about art, that there's something about this kind of defamiliarized love letter that forces you to think about what we actually want from love letters and love language. Because it's, it's not what we're expecting from the form. So yeah, I just thought it was a super interesting book that was and I wanted more people to know about it, and to hear about it. And I was very lucky that my editor, then at the Times, he was interested in essay on it, it was like around Valentine's Day. So yeah, made sense. And I don't know if this if it helped convinced Dalkey to reissue it or not, I mean, maybe I don't know. But I'm very glad to hear that more people are going to be able to read it for less than $1,000 on eBay.

Zach Fine  29:51

Your essay wasn't making by any means a kind of reductive biographical reading, but when I was reading it, I felt like I was wondering, did you know, even though oh, the book zoo comes out after he writes the the essay on defamiliarization if there was something about Shklovsky's biography that lent itself to him coming up with the theory of estrangement or defamiliarization, that this guy who's being, you know, kind of seems like, in some ways, not the most charming guy and, you know, puts people off in different way, if there was a kind of biographical reading that was kind of buried under your essay slightly.

Jennifer Wilson  30:24

I don't even think I necessarily buried it. I mean, I think that in some ways, there's even a double layer of estrangement, because who he's really in love with is Russia. And he's not able to be there, right. He's living in, you know, he's an emigre in Berlin, he, because he wasn't a part of he wasn't a Bolshevik he left. Um, you know, there had been the show, there had been show trials. And so a bunch of members of the socialist Revolutionary Party left, a number of them went to Berlin, there was a big Russian community there, actually, a friend of mine just wrote a book on it, called Charlottengrad, which was because they used to call the neighborhood of Charlottenburg or lottengrad, because so many Russians lived there. And actually, the word zoo, zoo, it's because in Berlin, the tear garden, the zoo, like so it was like, where all the Russians lived. So even though it's like about Elsa, and about his love for her, it's also very much about Russia, and how much he misses it, and one of the letters, so there's all these letters between him and Elsa, and then one of the letters is addressed to officials in, in Russia asking to be let back in. So I think, you know, it's also love, you know, the love letters are all that are themselves kind of, not his true, not, you know, it's, it's also a way of kind of, defamiliarizing his, his his true love, which is his home country,Russia, which I was, like, you know, it's been a very emotional for me thinking about this in the last, you know, year and a half or so, like, I have a long standing relationship with Russia and used to travel there quite frequently. And, you know, I've had to consider, you know, obviously, it's not the worst thing in the world that can happen to you compared to what's happening to people there in Ukraine, but like, I just there is a sigh of a sadness now thinking that I might never go back. And so it was just, you know, it's also been just kind of an emotional book to read in that way, too.

Jessica Swoboda  32:37

So we've been talking a lot about defamiliarization for Shklovsky, and can you say a bit about your own relationship to defamiliarization? If you see that as something you're attempting to do through writing?

Jennifer Wilson  32:48

I don't know, do I try to I don't I mean, you know, in some ways, I think one of the things that's so fun to me about Shklovsky is, you know, he's great. He's got this, like, science of like, literary criticism, and he's got, like, really strong ideas about what literary criticism is and what it should be. And I find it exciting because I just have none, like, I'm constantly being asked, you know, I'm always with these panels, you know, being asked, like, what is your approach? What is the role of the critic? Like, what is the, what are the tasks of criticism? Like, what is your opinion, I'm just like, I have no idea, I just really open up a Word document. And I just sort of see what comes out, you know, I mean, um, so for me, it's, it's kind of like, I'm fascinated by him, because I, on some level, I just like, I can't relate to the certainty that he has, although I, you know, I told myself, on some level, he also has kind of a sense of humor about certainty to write, you know, what he says about the Greek columns, like, are you there's a science to it, and yet none of them look the same. So I think that's cool.

Zach Fine  33:59

There's one line at the very end of your essay that I really loved, where you say that a quote "that love could best be relayed indirectly became an aesthetic principle for Shklovsky." And then you say, at the very end, that, that "the letter is not about love into being a book about about love." And when I read that, I was kind of wondering if defamiliarization in a way, becomes ultimately about making things familiar in the end, or if that is, too, if that doesn't apply in the same way? 

Jennifer Wilson  34:28

Well, I think that the thing itself is familiar. I think, you know, everything is familiar. That's the thing. Everything is familiar, like, I was thinking about War and Peace. And I was like, wow, like, so you know, and I'm like, wait a minute, but that's my life to my life is just sort of going about my day worried about you know, you know, you know, like, in so many ways, like Natasha worried about the person I like, et cetera, et cetera. While you know, there are wars being fought and you know, and it's the thing it's like, all things are familiar, and I think that the the point of defamiliarization is to maybe nudge you to think maybe it shouldn't be or maybe I should be sort of processing all of this. Maybe that shouldn't just feel so normal. Maybe it shouldn't just feel like habitual, maybe it shouldn't shouldn't feel so automatic and unavoidable. You know, maybe it should feel. Maybe it should feel like something. Maybe we shouldn't be so desensitized to it.

Zach Fine  35:32

Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Jenn. We really appreciate you joining us.

Jessica Swoboda  35:37

Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us. 

Jennifer Wilson  35:39

Thank you so much. Thank you for bearing with me. I know this was a, it's a weird essay. So I really appreciate you.

Jessica Swoboda  35:49

Thanks, everyone, for joining us for this episode of Selected Essays. We'd like to thank John Trevaskis for editing the podcast and Meg Duffy of Hand Habits or contributing the original music. As always, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and please subscribe to The Point. There's a discount code for listeners in the show notes. If you have questions, comments or anything else, send an email to We'd love to hear from you. Until next time, listeners.

Who is Viktor Shklovsky, and why “Art as Device”?
Pugnacious literary criticism
Defamiliarization in art and literature
The second passage: defamiliarization and Tolstoy
Art and the attention economy
Defamiliarization and romance in “Zoo”
Uncertainty and the task of the critic