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alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt)

Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


A term first used by the German Marxist playwright, dramaturge, poet, literary theorist, and political thinker Bertolt B recht , deployed in a variety of contexts to suggest the idea of a deliberate break with those traditional values (verisimilitude, unity of action, audience participation, tragic catharsis, the imaginative “suspension of disbelief,” etc.) which Brecht saw as deeply bound up with the hegemony of bourgeois aesthetic, social, and political institutions. Hence – he argued – the need for a truly revolutionary theater that would exploit every means of disrupting and subverting such routine habits of response. These might include the introduction of strikingly anomalous or anachronistic details in order to break the realist illusion; the use of conspicuous devices (for example, on-stage commentary or actors speaking “out of character”) to similar defamiliarizing effect; the juxtaposition of incongruous styles – including elements of dance and song – to undermine the classical norms and precepts of genre identity; and the large-scale “reworking” ( Umfunktionierung ) of plays from the established repertoire, such as Brecht's treatment of Coriolanus as a commentary on moral and political issues raised by the East German workers’ rising of 1953. It could also entail the staging of didactic “parables” ( Lehrstücke ) which presented these issues in a starkly paradoxical ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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