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Horace and Formalists

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2019-04-17 By Deng Banghua

Horace, known as a faithful follower of Aristotle in relation to imitation, prescribes more strict and systematic rules for poesis. In his "Art of Poetry", picking up where Aristotle had left, he proceeded to chart down authoritative practice in respects of unity, simplicity, fitness of characters and language, decorum, etc., of which language part has evidently contained the core seed of “defamiliarization”, a term refined by the formalist Shklovsky in Russia more than one thousand years later.

In essence, both Horace and Shklovsky (one of the representative of Formalists), though by different terms, tilt for the novel effect arising from unconventional ways in treatment of works. Nonetheless, they do part from each other at some points when they are more subtly scrutinized.

Initially, as inspiration goes, Haroce's endorsement of untraditional language almost equals a reasonable response to the law of nature, which predestines the cycle of life and death and thus dictates the forever replacement of new to old. Whereas, Horace insists that such legitimate license for creation should be carried out with moderation. For Shklovsky, however, he seems to be immoderately motivated to address the inescapable automatization of our senses, because no matter how striking a diction may appear to be when it is applied this way for the first time, he observes it as ceasing to spark off lustre and vitality when it repeates itself in the same fashion over and over. More importantly, formalists the like claim that de-automatization can be achieved in a more extensive scale of new ways. That is, apart from old words in alternative contexts or use of newly coined words, formalists also welcome any other unfamiliar or strange device which will serve to make the familiar object unfamiliar and difficult. Lastly, formalists differ from Horace because they clearly rank the principle of creating a “vision” above that of conveying the meaning when attending an object. They overtly champion impediment and enlongation in the process of perception, holding that it should be deferred long enough as to lead to the final goal of renewal and enrichment of the reader's reading and perception experience. After all, formalism is set on the belief that perception itself is the aesthetic end.

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