Defamiliarisation in the arts of war

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Ui Nuallain, Rebecca
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BA (Hons) in Film, Literature and Drama
Dublin Business School
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Defamiliarisation refers in general to an artistic technique that forces people to look with new eyes upon familiar subjects. Defamiliarisation emerged against the backdrop of World War I and the Russian Revolution. In each case, carefully constructed propaganda had desensitised the populace to the underlying atrocities of war. This Final Year Project examines the technique of defamiliarisation in four works from the twentieth century: a photomontage, a sound-text poem, a play, and a graphic novel. In the examples presented herein, defamiliarisation leverages artistic expression to reawaken compassion, empathy and humanity. Chapter 1 establishes an historical context of 20th Century wars, demonstrating the pervasive reach of war to affect all classes of society. Chapter 2 defines defamiliarisation as articulated by Viktor Shklovsky, helping people to look with new eyes upon familiar subjects. He advocated for the mind to stop, study and perceive, instead of superficially skimming over. Chapter 3 discusses into two works from the Dada movement employing Shklovsky's technique of defamiliarisation to awaken the public of Zurich and (and beyond) from complacency about the Great War and towards life. The first work is Hannah Höch's photomontage Incision with the Dada Kitchen Knife through Germany's Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch (1920). This work demonstrates her skepticism towards print journalism and openly challenges the German government. The second Dadaist work is Hugo Ball's sound-poem Karawane (1916), an attempt to substitute a universal, emotive language as an escape from a language that had been manipulated. Chapter 4 explores the play Pic-Nic by Fernando Arrabal, that employs surrealist humour both to question and laugh at the war. He upends conventional narrative by juxtaposing a parental picnic with combat in the trenches. Chapter 5 examines the mechanisms in which defamiliarisation occurs in Maus. It is a tragic story told in the format of a graphic novel; an animal allegory in which a father recounts his experience of World War II and 'Mauschwitz' to his adult son, a graphic novelist. Chapter 6 concludes by determining that, for a culture diluted and desensitised by war, defamiliarisation reawakens sensitivity and empathy in the audience by reversing their emotional detachment from the atrocities of war.