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Naturalization, desautomatization, and estrangement: Problems of literary reception and cognition in academic teaching

Chapter in book
Authors Beata Agrell
Cecilia Alvstad
Andrea Castro
Sonia Lagerwall
Staffan Thorson
Published in New Tendencies in Translation Studies. Selected Papers from a Workshop, Göteborg 12 December 2003. Eds. Karin Aijmer & Cecilia Alvstad
Pages 93–105
ISBN 91-7346-536-4
Publisher Göteborg University
Place of publication Göteborg
Publication year 2005
Published at Department of Comparative Literature
Department of Romance Languages, Spanish
Department of Romance Languages, French and Italian
Pages 93–105
Language en
Keywords Defamiliarization, didacticism, estrangement, literature, ostranenie, reader response, reception aesthetics, reception theory, academic teaching
Subject categories Pedagogy, Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified, History and Archaeology, Specific Languages, German language, French language, Spanish language, General Literature Studies, Arts


Presentation of a research project, grounded on perspectives and concepts mainly from reception theory (Iser, Jauß, Stierle), cultural sociology (Bourdieu’s habitus), and translation theory (Lefevere, Pym). The procect aims at contributing to the know-ledge and development of theoretical and practical approaches to literary fiction in aca-demic teaching situations. The issue is how to teach the art of reading the literary text as literature—as a literary artefact and an aesthetic process – and not primarily as an il-lustration of cultural habits and ideolgies, or as didactic mediation (as is too often the case). The project starts from the idea of the literary text as a double-sided phenomenon, wavering between recognition and estrangement—which is what the title of the project alludes to. On the one hand the literary text appeals to the reader’s competence of recognizing the repertoire of the text within the current culture. Examples of ’recognizable’ elements are plot-types, motifs, generic variations, and so on. But on the other hand, what is specifically literary in the literary text is precisely the existence of estranging devices that prevent immediate recognition and desautomatize habitual ways of reading. Literary estrangement means breaking the reader’s horizon of expectations and obstructing the reading, but it also means pointing to a new frame of reference and alternative ways of seeing and understanding the text. Thus, literary estrangement both prevents spontaneous reading and promotes an attentive reading with new dimensions of perceiving, and also of reflecting on the text and the problematics displayed in it. Thus, basic assumptions are that literary texts are cultural meeting places, and that literature, as a cultural tool, desautomatizes language (Sklovskij, Lotman). This means that literature, in breaking the flow of habitual unreflective reading, also provides unique opportunities to introduce the reader to unfamiliar values, ideas and modes of thinking. Literature in this way mediates human experience from different times, cultures and societies. The project studies teaching situations in academic contexts, textual strategies in hand-books, anthologies, and literary works, and reading strategies – actual encounters between student-readers and texts. Thus, how to improve an attentive and reflective way of reading in academic teaching will be investigated. To that end textual strategies will be studied from a theoretical point of view as well as and academic student’s actual reception of them in practical teaching situations. Also how translations of literary texts affect the literary strategies will be studied, especially the interaction between devices of recognition / estrangement and their actual reception. Finally, translation in itself exemplifies a reception of the literary text translated: it is in itself a reader’s response to that text.

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