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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 91 | volume XVI | July-August, 2013



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 91July-August, 2013

“The Call of Cthulhu” as read through the concept of estrangement

p. 1
Kristina Dimovska

1. Cthulhu?

     “(…) The most obvious things which come in our way have dark sides, which the quickest sight cannot penetrate into: and even the clearest and most exalted understandings amongst us find ourselves puzzled and at a loss in almost every cranny of Nature’s works (…).”
    The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,
Laurence Sterne

This essay will try to pinpoint the language inventions (or/ – and conventions) through the concept known as “otstranenie” (defamiliarisation, estrangement), developed by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky. The analysis will be made through careful hermeneutical interpretation of the language inventions in The Call of Cthulhu, but at certain points, our attention will be focused on specific mythological matrices which can be useful for depicting the nature of Cthulhu as chthonic or divine deity.
    This essay, furthermore, will aim to set the basis for some future, more analytical readings of Lovecraft’s short narratives, which are only casually mentioned here for the sake of some general outlines, but purposely without enough presented and explained details.
    To continue onwards with the analysis, we would need to remind ourselves of the meaning of the term otstranenie/ estrangement, which will be frequently used and which will be treated as one of the key terms for explaining the language inventions in Lovecraft.

2. Otstranenie – or how to re-invent the already used (literary) forms

    In his essay “Art as Device”[1], published in 1917, Viktor Shklovsky develops the idea about what he calls “ostranenie”, and which we can nowadays translate as “estrangement, defamiliarization, deautomatization, alienation”, especially in the Macedonian language. This term is practically based on the needed new forms in the literature in general, and in one literary work individually. To be considered as a unique, unrepeatable, original (and if these attributes are possible and applicable in the field of literary axiology nowadays), a literary work must turn to literary and historical past and engage in the process of and re-evaluating  almost everything previously founded and accepted as norm, as a prescription, as a convention. Therefore, the process of estrangement annuls (or at least tries to do so, since that is its purpose) the procedure of automatic imitation of: the style of prose/ poetry authors, already established and familiar plots, already given types of heroes, of literary and textual intentions, in order to create a new form, a new convention of writing and creating, to mark the period in which that literary work


1. The essay is also known by the name “Art as Technique” and maybe this title better illustrates Shklovsky’s critical and analytical thought about the term in its entirety.

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