defamiliarization in frenzy

In this post, I will be discussing a literary concept that is not used a lot. I will explain what the concept is, then also explain how it fits into what I’ve been learning in my English 203 class in the past couple of weeks.

Defamiliarization is something not a lot of people know about, or even use if they do. According to Literary Analysis: The Basics, by Celena Kusch, defamiliarization is; “the process of artistic creation designed to ‘remove the automatism of perception’, a mechanical way of taking in words and meanings without perceiving the ideas and images that may once have seemed fresh and new”. In simpler terms, it is the literary technique that takes a familiar process, and makes it sound like a crazy concept that nobody has ever heard of. For example, I can say that I put my clothes in a wet metal tube, then bake them in another metal tube. Basically, I am talking about doing laundry. I could also say, a hollow cement block full of children becoming the future, which just describes a school.

The reason I am bringing up defamiliarization is because in Percival Everett’s novel, Frenzy, this technique is used; although it is not very noticeable. Throughout the story, when the women go into the woods to take part in the frenzy, they are considered delirious, frenzied, or mad. In their own minds however, they are truly free. While it is true that they are under Dionysus’s godly power, my interpretation of their state is that they are drunk. It is well known that Dionysus is the god of wine, so these women are falling under a spell of intoxication. Because they are dancing naked and eating raw animals, it is a little more than just being drunk. Dionysius is also the god of insanity. With these two titles, Dionysus’s frenzy is a mix of insanity and intoxication.

            Another thing we have been learning in my English 203 class is interpretation. On one of the first days of class, the sentence; “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood” was written out on the board. This quite is also by Everett. It means that sentences can be interpreted differently depending both on how it is read, and who is doing the reading. Defamiliarization connects with this in a couple ways. One way, going back to the laundry example in the second paragraph, is that through the weird explanation, some people may figure out that it is about doing laundry. However, others may just think that somebody is throwing clothes in a water pipe, then putting them in an oven. When I gave the school example, some people might begin to worry for the safety of those kids, not realizing I was describing a school. Because it is defamiliarized, regular concepts begin to sound very strange.

            Everett’s Frenzy describes the frenzy that the women experience as something mystical and godly. However, if his description is read as defamiliarization, one can see the frenzy as just being intoxicated. When people get very dunk, they begin to do weird things. somebody could do something crazy, like dance naked in the woods, and in today’s society somebody would look at the person doing that and just assume they are in some way intoxicated. When Agave cut off her nephew’s head and is tricked into thinking she cut off her son’s head, she claims to remember a beast, and not a face or person. When a person is very drunk, they might do something crazy, maybe not as overboard as cutting off somebody’s head and eating their heart, and not remember doing it the next day. While I do believe that there could be other godly powers at work in the Frenzy, I think it is mostly that they feel drunk and crazy.

            Another reason of why I think the frenzy is mostly intoxication is their feelings of freedom. When someone is drunk, they feel free. They do not care about their actions, and even if they do something stupid or embarrassing, they do not care enough to feel bad or embarrassed because they are drunk. Intoxication is the closest thing to feeling completely free, and Agave described the frenzy as having true freedom.

            There do have to be some godly, mystic powers behind the frenzy though. It does only affect women, and there is also the sound of the drums they hear. They also stay in the woods for days straight, maybe even weeks, and just have orgies. Because of all this, I do believe that these women are more than just drunk, but they mostly just act like they are drunk; dancing and kissing. I believe Everett used defamiliarization when describing the frenzy because most readers would know what being drunk feels like, or how to describe it at least. He uses defamiliarization to make the frenzy sound like something completely new, so it can be seen as Dionysus’s insane godly powers.

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