Rethinking the Familiar in Steven Soderbergh‘s The Limey
This article complicates the notion that Steven Soderbergh‘s films are simply a
refashioning of familiar materials, as evidenced by his ongoing appropriation of
classical Hollywood and the European art cinema. Through a close analysis of The
Limey (1999), this essay argues that Soderbergh‘s film interrogates the idea of
familiarity, as such, beginning with the perceptual experience that it generates for
viewers. With reference to Victor Shklovsky‘s notion of defamiliarization as well as
Martin Heidegger‘s formulation of temporality in Being and Time, this discussion
proposes that Soderbergh‘s reiteration of the filmic past can be seen as a meaningful
event for film-critical practice that sheds new light upon issues of filmic
temporality and film history.
vanishes, / What more is there to say?’ 22
VictorShklovsky, ‘Art as Technique’
(1917), in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays , trans. and
ed. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln and London: University of
Nebraska Press, 1965), p. 12.
Nigel Andrews, Financial
The major part of this book project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 700913. This book is about two distinct but related professional cultures in late Soviet
Russia that were concerned with material objects: industrial design and
decorative art. The Russian avant-garde of the 1920s is broadly recognised to
have been Russia’s first truly original contribution to world culture. In
contrast, Soviet design of the post-war period is often dismissed as hackwork
and plagiarism that resulted in a shabby world of commodities. This book
identifies the second historical attempt at creating a powerful alternative to
capitalist commodities in the Cold War era. It offers a new perspective on the
history of Soviet material culture by focusing on the notion of the ‘comradely
object’ as an agent of progressive social relations that state-sponsored Soviet
design inherited from the avant-garde. It introduces a shared history of
domestic objects, handmade as well as machine-made, mass-produced as well as
unique, utilitarian as well as challenging the conventional notion of utility.
Situated at the intersection of intellectual history, social history and
material culture studies, this book elucidates the complexities and
contradictions of Soviet design that echoed international tendencies of the late
twentieth century. The book is addressed to design historians, art historians,
scholars of material culture, historians of Russia and the USSR, as well as
museum and gallery curators, artists and designers, and the broader public
interested in modern aesthetics, art and design, and/or the legacy of socialist
literature for use in political argument.
‘Engelsian’ Marxist criticism
From the 1930s, however, a rich variety of what Steiner calls ‘Engelsian’ Marxist criticism flourished, either in exile, or in suppressed or underground form. The group now called the Russian Formalists had flourished in the 1920s, until disbanded by the Party, and should be mentioned here, even though their work is not strictly Marxist in spirit. The most prominent members of the group were VictorShklovsky, Boris Tomashevsky, and Boris Eichenbaum, whose work can be sampled in Russian Formalist
in the Prague school as an element occurring in
all language use, but which is especially frequent and systematically employed in literature.22 Grounding refers to ‘the distinction
between the most essential, main line, or foregrounded material,
and the supportive, secondary, or backgrounded material’.23 The
aims of foregrounding can be tied in with VictorShklovsky’s concept of defamiliarisation.24 The foregrounded aspects of a narrative are rendered unfamiliar and hence require readers to perceive
and think about something that is otherwise known and familiar in
phenomenon of ‘so many diverse interpretations’ of Gulliver’s Travels to
‘Swift’s reticence’ in leaving so much up to ‘the judicious Reader’ (273).
15 See VictorShklovsky, ‘Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: Stylistic Commentary’ (first
published in Russian, 1921), in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays,
translated with an Introduction by Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis, Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1965, 25–57.
16 ‘“The void”, which is the final word of the book, is used with growing intensity at the end of its last three sentences’: Kayser, 60 (in
situate their readers and critics as part of an ongoing process of
interpretation and reﬁguration.
1 Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (London: J. M. Dent and Sons
Ltd, 1950), p. ix; VictorShklovsky, ‘Art as technique’, in Lee T. Lemon and
Marion J. Reis (eds), Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, trans. Lee T.
Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln: Nebraska University Press, 1965),
pp. 3–24, p. 12.
2 Anthony Fothergill offers a useful consideration of Conrad’s defamiliarization in his book Heart of Darkness (Milton Keynes, Open
concept he borrowed from the literary theorist VictorShklovsky, though not
explicitly). Designing teapots with soldered lids or vessels conjoined with
human and animal figures, as in his latest composition ‘Man, Horse, Dog
and Bird’, Smirnov intended to defamiliarise the forms of commodities,
to cause the viewer to reconsider household objects – vases, teapots,
etc. – as things full of symbolic meaning. In constructing these meanings,
Smirnov emphasised, matter was important: the transparency of glass
allowed him to ‘defamiliarise ordinary daily collisions, to inspire
interpretative role of
narrative; in formalist terms, it presents a chronological series of events,
akin to the ‘fabula’ described by VictorShklovsky, but resists the sense
of causal logic by which the viewer constructs the ‘syuzhet’, or plot,
from that data.
Moreover, viewed in terms of debates on narratology in historical
writing, it brings into question the ideological mediation of historical
representation. Hayden White (1981: 2) argued that historians narrativise their subject matter, placing events within narratives which
attempt to give them ‘the coherence, integrity