The terms Verfremdung and Verfremdungseffekt are often used interchangeably when talking about Brechtian theatre, but their meanings are quite different. Brecht’s essays ‘Short Description of a New Technique of Acting that Produces a Verfremdung Effect’ and ‘Verfremdung Effects in Chinese Acting’ are clearly different in meaning from the essay ‘Verfremdung Techniques in the Narrative Pictures of the Elder Breugel’ (all may be found in the third edition of Brecht on Theatre). Yet the BBC’s website, Wikipedia, and others consider the Verfremdungseffekt a technique or a process, which makes no linguistic sense at all. (That such sites also ally Verfremdung purely with ‘distancing’ only tells a fraction of the story, too.) In a nutshell then:

Verfremdung is a process: making the familiar strange. I discuss the concept here. Theatre-makers experiment with how something the audience may recognize can be called into question and re-evaluated.

Verfremdungseffekt is the result of a Verfremdung, and thus assumes (at least a degree of) success.


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David Barnett
Professor of Theatre
University of York