But life has a certain ability of breathing new life into me
So I breathe it in *

There is no dopamine rush like a new beginning. Freshly laundered sheets, airplanes careening down runways, first days on the job, small purchases, new acquaintances. These are objects of my affection precisely because they induce a jittery conviction that life can be different, life can be better.

As time goes on even new beginnings acquire a certain banality. Familiar emotions get filtered and repurposed, like slant rhymes with a recognizable ring but a slightly different flavor. Epiphanies feel more like evolutions, resurrections feel more like reincarnations, and milestones feel more like déjà vu. Memory dulls the sharp blade of sensory experience in a way that is numbing but not wholly unpleasant.

Russian critic Viktor Shlovsky first coined the term “defamiliarization” (ostranenie) in 1917 as a concept to describe the process by which “language becomes literary.” Focusing on Russian Formalist literature, Shlovsky posits that by presenting familiar things in a strange way artists enhance our perception of reality and break our minds free of the inevitable “over-automatization” with which we experience our everyday lives.

The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. -Shlovsky **

Flying to Helsinki for a 9-month sojourn feels more like CPR than a gentle breath, but I could not be more thrilled to be here. In my limited experience Finns have a distinct gift for anticipating needs before they are communicated and my transition so far has been as smooth as it possibly could be. I am, however, looking forward to delving into the strangeness of my new life and thereby experiencing the world afresh.

*Lyrics from “Object Of My Affection,” Peter Bjorn and John

** Shklovskij, Viktor. “Art as Technique.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1998. 16.


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