El Lissitzky, page from Pro Dva Kvadrata, Skythen-Verlag, Berlin, 1922.
Part 7b, where we continue yesterday’s questioning of formalism—the “restricted” formalism of shape and the “expanded” formalism of structure, of structuralism. [Thought: what happens when all this attention to structuralism runs into its post?]
The second main complaint against “formalism” that one often hears (and this is the criticism that I am most sympathetic to) is that it is apolitical and anti-social—that it does not look beyond the artwork, that it retreats into the old “ivory tower” of aestheticism, that to concentrate on an artwork’s form is to concede it its autonomy and cut off art from life.
And art-cut-off-from-life is something for rich people to buy and professors to argue about.
El Lissitzky, Propaganda Board in Street, photograph, 1920.
There are some of us who refuse that state of affairs. And there are some of us that believe, as part of a deep commitment to making art relevant and useful, that work on form is always necessary.
Our friend Brecht was one of them:
alienation-effect A translation of the German Verfremdungseffekt, coined by the dramatist BRECHT (1949, 1962) to describe the effect produced by his EPIC theatre and the style of acting appropriate to it.
Brecht’s dramaturgy breaks with the traditional values and conventions of naturalism and psychological realism, rejecting empathy, suspension of disbelief and unity of action on the grounds that they are expressions of a bourgeois IDEOLOGY that has no place in a scientific modern society. In order to create a revolutionary socialist theatre, a new style of writing and acting is essential. Brecht’s objective is encourage the audience to take a detached and critical attitude towards what they see on stage. The audience must be made aware that they are watching a reproduction of incidents drawn from real life, but must not be allowed to forget that they are in a theatre. The spectator’s attention is drawn to the artificial theatricality of the play by the songs that interrupt the action, by the slogan-painted placards that are brought on stage, and by the actors who step out of character to address the audience directly. The audience [is] thus encouraged to think about what has caused the incidents they are watching.
[…] To the extent that it involves an ALIENATION from theatrical conventions that are so familiar as to appear natural, Brecht’s theory has something in common with RUSSIAN FORMALISM’s concept of OSTRANENIE or defamiliarization. Written at a time when he was actively promoting Brecht’s theories as a model for popular theatre (1956), BARTHES’s demystifying studies of the MYTHOLOGIES of everyday life (1957) are intended to produce a cultural alienation-effect. 
This appears to be going around in circles. TO BE CONTINUED, as always, as we try to break these linkages and get to a larger picture…. [I think I see the aforementioned POST up ahead.]
1. David Macey, Dictionary of Critical Theory, (London: Penguin Books, 2001), 8.