Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 52, Issue 1, pp 91–113 | Cite as

‘Estrangement’ in aesthetics and beyond: Russian formalism and phenomenological method

  • Georgy ChernavinEmail author
  • Anna Yampolskaya


We investigate the parallelism between aesthetic experience and the practice of phenomenology using Viktor Shklovsky’s theory of “estrangement” (ostranenie). In his letter to Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Husserl claims that aesthetic and phenomenological experiences are similar; in the perception of a work of art we change our attitude in order to concentrate on how the things appear to us instead of what they are. A work of art “forces us into” the aesthetic attitude in the same way as the phenomenological epoché drives us into the phenomenological one. The change of attitudes is a condition of possibility of aesthetic and/or phenomenological experience. Estrangement is an artistic device that breaks the routinized forms of perception: one sees the thing as new and does not just “recognize” it automatically. Shklovsky insists that it is possible if one experiences or feels the form of the work of art—in an affective and even sensuous way. We claim that this is similar to the phenomenological seeing, or intuition, which, according to Husserl, should be devoid of all understanding. Phenomenological epoché can also be described as a philosophical technique that aims to arrest the “ready-made,” “taken for granted,” “pre-given” meanings in order to access a new meaning which is not yet stabilized, the “meaning-in-formation.” It is not enough to turn from what appears to how it appears; one has to oscillate between these conflicting attitudes, or rather to keep them both at the same time thus gaining a kind of a 3D-vision of meaning in its becoming. This double life in two different attitudes (or, following a Husserlian metaphor, “double bookkeeping”) can be clarified in terms of Roman Jakobson’s theory of antinomic coexistence between the poetic and communicative functions of language. The notion of “double life in two attitudes” uncovers the role that ostranenie can play in the philosophical transformation of the subject based on variety and essential mobility of the affective components involved. Proposing a phenomenological interpretation of a passage from Samuel Beckett we show how the radicalization of ostranenie can lead even to “meta-estrangement”: to estrangement of the everyday “lack of estrangement.” We conclude with a remark on the productivity of this form of estrangement in the phenomenological context.


Edmund Husserl Viktor Shklovsky Poetical function of language Phenomenological epoché Estrangement (ostranenieAffectivity 



Georgy Chernavin’s contribution was prepared within the framework of the Academic Fund Program at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) in 2017–2018 (Grant No. 17-01-0082 “Phenomenological Investigation of the Obviousness”) and by the Russian Academic Excellence Project «5-100». He would like to thank Alexandr Sekatski for the inspiring idea of the phenomenological reading of Beckett’s “Trilogy.” Anna Yampolskaya was supported by the grant of the Russian Foundation for Humanities No. 15-03-00802 “Aesthetization and eventness in contemporary phenomenology.” She thanks Marci Shore, Andrew Haas and Mikhail Iampolski for fruitful discussions. The hospitality of the New York University is gratefully acknowledged.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Research University Higher School of EconomicsMoscowRussian Federation
  2. 2.National Research University Higher School of EconomicsMoscowRussian Federation

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