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Bertolt Brecht's term (also sometimes translated as alienation-effect) for the moment in a work of art when that which used to appear natural suddenly appears historical, when that which was thought of as timeless and eternal is seen as deliberately caused and altered across time. Its purpose is political because it aims to overturn the paralysing sense that things have always been ‘this way’ and therefore that there is nothing that can be done to change them. Brecht's principal means of doing this was to stage theatre in such a way that the viewer is denied the habitual comfort of forgetting that they are watching a play and becoming (what psychoanalytic film critics call) sutured into the events on stage. Thus he would discourage actors from ‘becoming’ their characters and using that to elicit the empathy of the audience, preferring that they create a sense of ‘distance’ between themselves and their character that would put the audience in two minds about what they were watching (Brecht's ideal manner of viewing, he famously said, was that of the sports fan evaluating a boxing match). French cultural critic Roland Barthes deployed this principal in Mythologies (1957), translated as Mythologies (1972), which is a spirited attack on everything that appears ‘natural’ in modern life in the era of late capitalism. See also cognitive estrangement; ostranenie.

Further Reading:

F. Jameson Brecht and Method (1998).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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