cognitive estrangement

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Russian Formalism

Bertolt Brecht (1898—1956) German dramatist, producer, and poet

Fredric Jameson (b. 1934)


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A concept derived by Darko Suvin from Russian Formalism's notion of ostranenie and Bertolt Brecht's closely related (but Marx inflected) notion of the estrangement-effect in his Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979), a structuralist attempt to distinguish the genre of science fiction writing from other forms of fiction. As Fredric Jameson points out in Archaeologies of the Future (2005), this is a rather exclusive definition, which emphasizes the rational scientific dimension of science fiction and rigorously excludes the kinds of flights of fancy associated with fantasy fiction. For Suvin, the key to cognitive estrangement is the presence in a story or novel of what he calls a ‘novum’, that is a device or machine that is absolutely new and whose presence compels us to imagine a different way of conceiving our world.

Subjects: Literature.

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