#3: The Outdoor Seat

This is most definitely a bench seat from an old car or truck. What it is doing on the floor of a farmyard by the chicken coop, I am not so sure.

Who decided to put it there? I also don’t know. I’m not entirely sure how it got there in the first place, but it does offer a moment of pause, both for its consideration, and the resting place that it offers.

Now, in its ‘normal’ environment, this object would barely be considered for more than a moment’s glance. In the back of a car, doing its assigned job, it may only be thought of as particularly comfy and spacious, nothing more. Yet when you take it out of its original environment, it provides a whole new opportunity for perspective.

Walking into the farmyard, you are suddenly confronted by a car seat without a car. You start to wonder why on earth it is there, and then you begin to examine it. You search for clues, maybe a marker to tell you what kind of vehicle it came from. You consider the place in which it rests, and wonder how they logistically got it out there in the first place, whoever ‘they’ are.

A mundane object placed in an obscure location forces you to take more time in your consideration of the object. The famous literary theorist Victor Shklovsky wrote on this experience in Art as Technique, as he was concerned with what he called ‘habitualization’:

‘as perception becomes habitual, it becomes automatic.’

He feared the automatic way that we perceive the world. How many times have you left your house, only to question yourself minutes later as to whether you’ve locked the door, turned the oven off, left the iron on? You turn around, you go back and check, and you find that you have already done these things, that there was nothing to worry about. You had done it automatically, and so you forgot that you had done them. Shklovsky took this experience to a more extreme view:

‘if the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been.’

This is quite the fear, and while Shklovsky may have been writing in the early 20th century, it is a fear all too prominent in today’s world. Yet it cannot be all doom and gloom, for he also offered us ‘defamiliarization’ as a way to fight habitualization. It is a ‘technique of art’

‘to make objects ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception’

So, art is the answer to this fear of automatization. It is through art — that often looked down on creativity, seen as useless and unprofitable — that we may fight this.

‘The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known’.

The ‘sensation of things’ here, on this little blog, can be translated to the ‘sensation of objects’. What is the ‘sensation’ of today’s object, as it is perceived, and not simply known in its original situation of a car seat?

As I observe and muse on the seat, I begin to imagine an early morning, the sun rising above the trees. I have just come out to feed the chickens in the chicken coop, to collect freshly laid eggs, and I have now sat myself down ungracefully in the car seat. As I lean back and look upon the farmyard and at the brightening sky above, a farm cat appears on my left, joining me on my ground-level seat and offering some furry affection as I pet him. Having a seat here, I not only think of the seat itself as a new and useful and comfortable object, but it allows me to look on my surrounding environment from a new angle, from the floor looking up. A new sense of size and proportion is presented to me, but it is not one of smallness and weakness. Instead, leaning back in the chair on the ground, I feel safe and cosy with my cat and my seat, watching the new day begin.

This is only an idea, a fiction, but it is one I think of fondly. To place the mundane object into the obscure setting you see things in a new light, you notice things in a new way. You perceive differently.

Maybe that is what we are doing here with this blog. A salute to Shklovsky: do not fear, we, with our little blog in the wide universe of the internet, are here to continue the fight against habitualization.

To read more of Victor Shklovsky’s work, see his essay ‘Art as Technique’, which can be found in ‘Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader’, edited by David Lodge.
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