Distancing effect

The distancing effect, more commonly known (earlier) by John Willett's 1964 translation as the alienation effect or (more recently) as the estrangement effect (German: Verfremdungseffekt), is a performing arts concept coined by German playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956).

Brecht first used the term in an essay on "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting" published in 1936, in which he described it as "playing in such a way that the audience was hindered from simply identifying itself with the characters in the play. Acceptance or rejection of their actions and utterances was meant to take place on a conscious plane, instead of, as hitherto, in the audience's subconscious".[1]


The term Verfremdungseffekt is rooted in the Russian Formalist notion of the device of making strange (приём остранения priyom ostraneniya), which literary critic Viktor Shklovsky claims is the essence of all art.[2] Lemon and Reis's 1965 English translation[3] of Shklovsky's 1917 coinage as "defamiliarization", combined with John Willett's 1964 translation of Brecht's 1935 coinage as "alienation effect"—and the canonization of both translations in Anglophone literary theory in the decades since—has served to obscure the close connections between the two terms. Not only is the root of both terms "strange" (stran- in Russian, fremd in German), but both terms are unusual in their respective languages: ostranenie is a neologism in Russian, while Verfremdung is a resuscitation of a long-obsolete term in German. In addition, according to some accounts Shklovsky's Russian friend playwright Sergei Tretyakov taught Brecht Shklovsky's term during Brecht's visit to Moscow in the spring of 1935.[4] For this reason, many scholars have recently taken to using estrangement to translate both terms: "the estrangement device" in Shklovsky, "the estrangement effect" in Brecht.

It was in any case not long after returning in the spring of 1935 from Moscow, where he saw a command performance of Beijing Opera techniques by Mei Lanfang, that Brecht first used the German term in print[5] to label an approach to theater that discouraged involving the audience in an illusory narrative world and in the emotions of the characters. Brecht thought the audience required an emotional distance to reflect on what was being presented in critical and objective ways, rather than being taken out of themselves as conventional entertainment attempts to do.

The proper English translation of Verfremdungseffekt is a matter of controversy. The word is sometimes rendered as defamiliarization effect, estrangement effect, distantiation, alienation effect, or distancing effect. This has caused some confusion for English scholars who confuse the German word Verfremdung with Entfremdung.

Brecht wanted to "distance" or to "alienate" his audience from the characters and the action and, by dint of that, render them observers who would not become involved in or to sympathize emotionally or to empathize by identifying individually with the characters psychologically; rather, he wanted the audience to understand intellectually the characters' dilemmas and the wrongdoing producing these dilemmas exposed in his dramatic plots. By being thus "distanced" emotionally from the characters and the action on stage, the audience could be able to reach such an intellectual level of understanding (or intellectual empathy); in theory, while alienated emotionally from the action and the characters, they would be empowered on an intellectual level both to analyze and perhaps even to try to change the world, which was Brecht's social and political goal as a playwright and the driving force behind his dramaturgy.

In Brecht and Method,[6] Fredric Jameson abbreviates Verfremdungseffekt as "the V-effekt"; many scholars similarly leave the word untranslated.


The distancing effect is achieved by the way the "artist never acts as if there were a fourth wall besides the three surrounding him ... The audience can no longer have the illusion of being the unseen spectator at an event which is really taking place".[7] The use of direct audience-address is one way of disrupting stage illusion and generating the distancing effect. In performance, as the performer "observes himself", his objective is "to appear strange and even surprising to the audience. He achieves this by looking strangely at himself and his work".[8] Whether Brecht intended the distancing effect to refer to the audience or to the actor or to both audience and actor is still controversial among teachers and scholars of "Epic Acting" and Brechtian theatre.

By disclosing and making obvious the manipulative contrivances and "fictive" qualities of the medium, the actors attempt to alienate the viewer from any passive acceptance and enjoyment of the play as mere "entertainment". Instead, the goal is to force viewers into a critical, analytical frame of mind that serves to disabuse him or her of the notion that what he is watching is necessarily an inviolable, self-contained narrative. This effect of making the familiar strange serves a didactic function insofar as it aims to teach the viewer not to take the style and content for granted, since (proponents argue) the theatrical medium itself is highly constructed and contingent upon many cultural and economic conditions.

It may be noted that Brecht's use of distancing effects in order to prevent audience members from what he characterizes as bathing themselves in empathetic emotions and to draw them into an attitude of critical judgment may lead to other reactions than intellectual coolness. Brecht's popularization of the V-Effekt has come to dominate the understanding of its dynamics. But the particulars of a spectator's psyche and of the tension aroused by a specific alienating device may actually increase emotional impact.[9] Audience reactions are rarely uniform, and there are many diverse, sometimes unpredictable, responses that may be achieved through distancing.

Actors, directors, and playwrights may draw on alienating effects in creating a production. The playwright may describe them in the script's stage directions, in effect requiring them in the staging of the work. A director may take a script that has not been written to alienate and introduce certain techniques, such as playing dialogue forward to remind the audience that there is no fourth wall, or guiding the cast to act "in quotation marks". The actor (usually with the director's permission) may play scenes with an ironic subtext. These techniques and many more are available for artists in different aspects of the show. For the playwright, reference to vaudeville or musical revues will often allow rapid segues from empathy to a judgmental attitude through comic distancing. A notable example of such estrangement in an English-language script can be found in Brendan Behan's The Hostage (1958).

See also


  1. ^ John Willett, ed. and trans., Brecht on Theatre (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), 91.
  2. ^ "Art as Device", translated by Benjamin Sher in Shklovsky, The Theory of Prose (Bloomington, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1991).
  3. ^ Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis, eds. and trans., Russian Formalist Criticism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press).
  4. ^ For discussion, see Douglas Robinson, Estrangement and the Somatics of Literature: Tolstoy, Shklovsky, Brecht (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).
  5. ^ "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting" Archived July 19, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, in Willett 99.
  6. ^ London: Verso, 1998.
  7. ^ Willett 91
  8. ^ Willett 92
  9. ^ Frau Weigel’s famous Gestus of the stummer Schrei or "silent scream," following the death of Courage's son Swiss Cheese, moved some to experience deep empathy—based on a vicarious feeling of what it is to so restrain oneself that the full expression of grief is prevented.

Further reading

  • Brecht, Bertolt. "On Chinese Acting", translated by Eric Bentley. The Tulane Drama Review 6.1 (1961): 130–136.
  • Jameson, Fredric. Brecht and Method. London and New York: Verso, 1998. ISBN 1-85984-809-5 (10). ISBN 978-1-85984-809-8 (13).
  • Min Tian, The Poetics of Difference and Displacement: Twentieth-Century Chinese-Western Intercultural Theatre. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008.
  • Robinson, Douglas. Estrangement and the Somatics of Literature: Tolstoy, Shklovsky, Brecht. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.
  • Squiers, Anthony. An Introduction to the Social and Political Philosophy of Bertolt Brecht: Revolution and Aesthetics. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 2014. ISBN 9789042038998.
  • Willett, John, ed. and trans. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. London: Methuen, 1964. ISBN 0-413-38800-X. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964. ISBN 0-8090-3100-0.
1949 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1949.

Aesthetic distance

Aesthetic distance refers to the gap between a viewer's conscious reality and the fictional reality presented in a work of art. When a reader becomes fully engrossed in the illusory narrative world of a book, the author has achieved a close aesthetic distance. If the author then jars the reader from the reality of the story, essentially reminding the reader they are reading a book, the author is said to have "violated the aesthetic distance." The concept originates from Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement, where he establishes the notion of disinterested delight which does not depend on the subject's having a desire for the object itself, he writes, "delight in beautiful art does not, in the pure judgement of taste, involve an immediate interest. [...] it is not the object that is of immediate interest, but rather the inherent character of the beauty qualifying it for such a partnership-a character, therefore, that belongs to the very essence of beauty."The term aesthetic distance itself derives from an article by Edward Bullough published in 1912. In that article, he begins with the image of a passenger on a ship observing fog at sea. If the passenger thinks of the fog in terms of danger to the ship, the experience is not aesthetic, but to regard the beautiful scene in detached wonder is to take legitimate aesthetic attitude. One must feel, but not too much. Bullough writes, "Distance … is obtained by separating the object and its appeal from one's own self, by putting it out of gear with practical needs and ends. Thereby the 'contemplation' of the object becomes alone possible."Authors of film, fiction, drama, and poetry evoke different levels of aesthetic distance. For instance, William Faulkner tends to invoke a close aesthetic distance by using first-person narrative and stream of consciousness, while Ernest Hemingway tends to invoke a greater aesthetic distance from the reader through use of third person narrative.

Andorra (play)

Andorra is a play written by the Swiss dramatist Max Frisch in 1961. The original text came from a prose sketch Frisch had written in his diary titled Der andorranische Jude (The Andorran Jew). The Andorra in Frisch's play is fictional and not intended to be a representation of the real Andorra located between France and Spain. Frisch has stated that the title Andorra had only been intended as a working title but later liked using the term "Andorrans" so much he kept it.

In Germany, Andorra remains one of the best known of Frisch's plays.

Bhavni Bhavai

Bhavni Bhavai (Gujarati: ભવની ભવાઈ; The Tale of the Life) is a 1980 Gujarati film directed by Ketan Mehta, starring Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Smita Patil, Mohan Gokhale, Benjamin Gilani. It tells the story of untouchability through folklore and Bhavai.

Bhavni Bhavai was Ketan Mehta's debut film and received a critical acclaim. Mehta won the prestigious Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration, while Meera Lakhia won National Film Award for Best Production Design at the 28th National Film Awards. The film was selected for a festival at the Museum of Modern Art and received UNESCO Club Human Rights award at the Three Continents Festival.

Boston School (painting)

The Boston School was a group of Boston-based painters active in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Often classified as American Impressionists, they had their own regional style, combining the painterliness of Impressionism with a more conservative approach to figure painting and a marked respect for the traditions of Western art history. Their preferred subject matter was genteel: portraits, picturesque landscapes, and young women posing in well-appointed interiors. Major influences included John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, and Jan Vermeer. Key figures in the Boston School were Edmund C. Tarbell, Frank Weston Benson, and William McGregor Paxton, all of whom trained in Paris at the Académie Julian and later taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Their influence can still be seen in the work of some contemporary Boston-area artists.


Catharsis (from Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning "purification" or "cleansing") is the purification and purgation of emotions—particularly pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics, comparing the effects of tragedy on the mind of a spectator to the effect of a cathartic on the body.

Distancing (disambiguation)

Distancing may refer to:

Distancing, a martial arts term describing the proper placement of one's self with respect to an opponent.

Distancing (psychology), a technique used in psychological therapy and special education to encourage the early stages of cognition, particularly identity and the separation of one's self from other objects.

Distancing effect, a technique used in theatre and film

Dobytí severního pólu

Dobytí severního pólu (full title: Dobytí severního pólu Čechem Karlem Němcem 5. dubna 1909, in English: The Conquest of the North Pole by the Czech Karel Němec on 5 April 1909) is a comedy written allegedly by fictional Czech polymath, Jára Cimrman. Its real authors are Zdeněk Svěrák and Ladislav Smoljak. The work was premiered on 25 October 1985 in Divadlo Jiřího Wolkera in Prague.The play is about a fictional Czech Arctic expedition who conquered the North Pole one day before Robert Peary. As with the other plays supposedly authored by Cimrman, it satirizes Czech national psychology and patriotic clichés, using many puns, historical hoaxes and the distancing effect. It was published as a book, CD, DVD and VHS, and was translated into English by Craig Cravens and by Emilia Machalová and Brian Stewart. The premiere of the Machalová and Stewart version of Conquest of The North Pole was premiered on April 16th, 2016 at the Jára Cimrmana Theatre in Prague and continues to be perfromed regularly in Prague. As with their previous translation of another Cimrman classic, The Stand-In, Záskok, the Machalová and Stewart version aims to stay closer to the original Czech text.


Ducking is an audio effect commonly used in radio and pop music, especially dance music. In ducking, the level of one audio signal is reduced by the presence of another signal. In radio this can typically be achieved by lowering (ducking) the volume of a secondary audio track when the primary track starts, and lifting the volume again when the primary track is finished. A typical use of this effect in a daily radio production routine is for creating a voice-over: a foreign language original sound is dubbed (and ducked) by a professional speaker reading the translation. Ducking becomes active as soon as the translation starts.

In music, the ducking effect is applied in more sophisticated ways where a signal's volume is delicately lowered by another signal's presence. Ducking here works through the use of a "side chain" gate. In other words, one track is made quieter (the ducked track) whenever another (the ducking track) gets louder. This may be done with a gate with its ducking function engaged or by a dedicated ducker.

A typical application is to achieve an impression similar to the "pumping" effect. The difference between ducking and side-chain pumping is that in ducking the attenuation is by a specific range while side-chain compression creates variable attenuation. Ducking may be used in place of mirrored equalization to combat masking, for example with the bass guitar ducked under the kick drum, resembling subtle side-chain pumping. A ducking system may be created where one track ducks another, which ducks another, and so on. Examples include Portishead's "Biscuit".Used most often to turn down the music when the DJ speaks, ducking may be used to combat the muffling and distancing effect of reverb and delay. The ducker is inserted into the reverb and delay line and keyed to a dry track to duck its own reverb and delay so that when the dry track exceeds the ducker's threshold by reaching a certain amplitude the reverb and delay are attenuated. Clear examples include Céline Dion's "The Power Of Love" where the reverb and delay become audible when Dion pauses and Adele's "Cold Shoulder".


Earthlings are inhabitants of the planet Earth. They are also known as Terrans or Gaians. As no extraterrestrial life has been discovered, all known forms of life in the Universe are earthlings.

Epic theatre

Epic theatre (German: episches Theater) is a theatrical movement arising in the early to mid-20th century from the theories and practice of a number of theatre practitioners who responded to the political climate of the time through the creation of a new political theatre. Epic theatre is not meant to refer to the scale or the scope of the work, but rather to the form that it takes. Epic theatre emphasizes the audience's perspective and reaction to the piece through a variety of techniques that deliberately cause them to individually engage in a different way. The purpose of epic theatre is not to encourage an audience to suspend their disbelief, but rather to force them to think introspectively about the particular moments that are occurring on stage and why they are happening a certain way.

Farces et moralités

Farces et moralités (Farces and morality plays) is a collection of six comedy plays in one act, written by the French novelist and playwright Octave Mirbeau and published by Fasquelle in 1904: Vieux ménages (Old couples), L’Épidémie (The Epidemic, Bloomington, University of Denver Press, 1949), Les Amants (The Lovers), Scrupules (Scruples, New York, Samuel French, 1923), Le Portefeuille (The Purse) and Interview.

Index of aesthetics articles

This is an alphabetical index of articles about aesthetics.

List of narrative techniques

A narrative technique (also known more narrowly for literary fictional narratives as a literary technique, literary device, or fictional device) is any of several specific methods the creator of a narrative uses to convey what they want—in other words, a strategy used in the making of a narrative to relay information to the audience and, particularly, to "develop" the narrative, usually in order to make it more complete, complicated, or interesting. Literary techniques are distinguished from literary elements, which exist inherently in works of writing.

O.k. (film)

o.k. is a 1970 West German anti-war film directed by Michael Verhoeven. It was chosen as West Germany's official submission to the 43rd Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, but did not manage to receive a nomination. The film was also entered into the 20th Berlin International Film Festival. However, the competition was cancelled and no prizes were awarded, over controversy surrounding the film.

Pippin (musical)

Pippin is a 1972 musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson. Bob Fosse, who directed the original Broadway production, also contributed to the libretto. The musical uses the premise of a mysterious performance troupe, led by a Leading Player, to tell the story of Pippin, a young prince on his search for meaning and significance.

The protagonist Pippin and his father Charlemagne are characters derived from two real-life individuals of the early Middle Ages, though the plot is fictional and presents no historical accuracy regarding either. The show was partially financed by Motown Records. As of February 2018, the original run of Pippin is the 34th longest-running Broadway show.

Ben Vereen and Patina Miller won Tony Awards for their portrayals of the Leading Player in the original Broadway production and the 2013 revival, respectively, making them the first two actors of different sexes to win a Tony for the same role.

Taste of Cherry

Taste of Cherry (Persian: طعم گيلاس...‎, Ta’m-e gīlās...) is a 1997 Iranian drama film written, produced and directed by Abbas Kiarostami. It is a minimalist film about a man who drives through a city suburb, in search of someone who can carry out the task of burying him after he commits suicide. It was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon is a 2009 black-and-white German-language drama film written and directed by Michael Haneke. Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (literally, "The White Ribbon, a German Children's Story") darkly depicts society and family in a northern German village just before World War I and, according to Haneke, "is about the roots of evil. Whether it’s religious or political terrorism, it’s the same thing."The film premiered at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in May 2009 where it won the Palme d'Or, followed by positive reviews and several other major awards, including the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film also received two nominations at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2009: Best Foreign Language Film (representing Germany) and Best Cinematography (Christian Berger).

Time travel in fiction

Time travel is a common theme in fiction and has been depicted in a variety of media, such as literature, television, film, and advertisements.The concept of time travel by mechanical means was popularized in H. G. Wells' 1895 story, The Time Machine. In general, time travel stories focus on the consequences of traveling into the past or the future. The central premise for these stories oftentimes involves changing history, either intentionally or by accident, and the ways by which altering the past changes the future and creates an altered present or future for the time traveler when they return home. Some stories focus solely on the paradoxes and alternate timelines that come with time travel, rather than time traveling itself. They often provide some sort of social commentary, as time travel provides a "necessary distancing effect" that allows science fiction to address contemporary issues in metaphorical ways.Time travel in modern fiction is sometimes achieved by space and time warps, stemming from the scientific theory of general relativity. Stories from antiquity often featured time travel into the future through a time slip brought on by traveling or sleeping, or in other cases, time travel into the past through supernatural means, for example brought on by angels or spirits.

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