I was thinking back to my English major days and remembered ostranenie as one of my favorite literary devices.
Essentially, ostranenie is the practice of making ordinary things appear odd or strange. My favorite example in literature is Gulliver’s Travels where rather typical human behavior is made strange by Jonathan Swift’s shifting of Gulliver’s perspective from very large in Lilliput to being very large in Brobdingnag and eventually to being a “Yahoo” from the perspective of the Houyhnhnms.
As Gulliver sees himself as the bizarre or strange, he gains special insight into who he is and what his community stands for.
When I introduced this blog as the “Other” librarian, I proposed that it is important to see oneself as “other” in order to understand one’s habits and culture. Ostranenie is an opportunity to do that. Here is my point form “ostranenie” of a public library given the perspective of Socrates who had suddenly found himself transported into the 21st century.
- Aha! I have finally found the agora. I wonder if anyone is willing to provide me with a feast of knowledge, so that I may inquire about those need I do not understand.
- There is a desk here at the entrance that must be where I set up my appointment for discussion. There is a line-up, I cannot wait to start.
- Very difficult conversation with the person at the desk and even worse vibes from the person behind me. I guess my method of inquiring about all things does not work very well with the phrase “Can we move on here please?”
- Well, I did not get my appointment with the wise man, but they did provide me with a plastic card to identify myself. The only problem is that they have their name in big letters and only a small place for mine. I did find a way to place the card on my Toga, but with my name so small, how are people going to know who I am?
- I have been sent to the “information desk” and was encouraged by the small group of people who gathered around to hear the symposium I had with the wise woman at the desk. I was very impressed, because as I assume “not to know” so did the wise woman. Every question I asked was further examined with other questions, helping me to specify what knowledge I needed. I must complain that the wise woman got increasingly quieter as I got louder. Didn’t she believe in speaking up so the audience could hear? Further, I never really got the information I wanted — instead the woman clacked on a box and beckoned me to follow her.
- I have been handed a small wooden buckler, with an interesting feature. It can be opened and expanded to twice its size. With some kind of adhesive, I believe you can change the thickness, so to increase or decrease the protection on either half.
- The buckler must be decorative, since the woman spoke something about “damaging the spine” as I practiced my defensive maneuvers.
- That wise Aristophanes found a way to communicate to me over such a wide chasm. As we discussed the nature and origins of “love” I was tapped on the shoulder and told “no cell phones.” I thought this might be the native tongue for “no symposia.” I explained that I was not drinking any wine. She gave me a missive on how food and drinks might damaged the bucklers.
- I have decided that I have not entered an agora, but instead some kind of temple worshipping some god of wooden armour. The god might be Athena, just not as clever. I have been asked to quiet my voice as well. Perhaps the goddess is a voiceless one?
- I thought I had breached some custom until my departure was announced by a singing gate. Jubilant, I turned to bid farewell to the front desk clerk. She put out her hand to ask for my “card.” I realized that she meant the buckler that I had been presented. I bowed and ceremoniously presented her with the armor and thanked her, since I no longer had need of armor since I was now too old to do battle.
- I left feeling recharged somehow, but no more wise. I hear that there is a place called a “shopping mall” that may lead me to the wisest that this culture has to offer.
It’s a weak attempt, but an interesting one. Are libraries more like a temple than a place for learning? Are we more concerned with traditional practices than we are for those trying to achieve wisdom in their lives? What does the placement of a circulation and information desk (usually at the front, to keep the thieves from running off) say about the ultimate values of the library?
Of course, we cannot assume Socrates is our customer, but I have seen customers who walk into a library without a sense of what to do. It is not unlike the non-churchgoer when first walking into a church and seeing the natives genuflect for the first time.