Prompts for the Promptless : Ostranenie is a Russian word meaning, roughly, “defamiliarization”. It is the artistic technique of encouraging audiences to see common things as strange, wild, or unfamiliar in order to enhance perception of the familiar.
If you were asked to contemplate the number seventeen, to focus on it non stop for hours in order to enhance your perception of it, would you eventually come up with something strange, wild and unfamiliar? Even if you don’t happen to be a gifted mathematician? Would you bore yourself to sleep? Give yourself a colossal headache? Maybe lose your mind?
Princeton University students Michael Spivak and David Kelly were assigned this task in the 1960’s. Their list of interesting properties of the number 17 somehow came to include a yellow pig with seventeen eyelashes. This is why mathematicians have been enthusiastically celebrating Yellow Pig Day on July 17th for several decades.
Well, hey, who are we to judge. There’s probably not a lot of things for mathematicians to celebrate that would be interesting to the rest of us numerically challenged calculator dependant people.
The most elaborate festivities are held at HCSSiM, where the holiday has been celebrated annually for roughly 34 years. In preparation for the event, students decorate shirts (often mathematically themed) with yellow pigs on them. On Yellow Pigs Day students, staff, and visiting alumni wear these shirts. Ultimate has long been the official sport of the day, and a competitive student/alumni game is held. In recent years, origami yellow pigs have been folded.
David Kelly gives a lecture on the historical and mathematical properties of the number 17, and his impressive collection of well over 289 (17 squared) yellow pigs is on display. The celebration concludes with the singing of Yellow Pigs Day carols and the eating of a yellow pig cake. Gifts containing or consisting of yellow pigs and mathematical knick knacks featuring the manifold properties of 17 are frequently exchanged among friends. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Samir/Yellow_Pigs_Day)
Seriously, will you ever again think of July 17th as just another hot day in July? Will you now start counting the eyelashes on pigs? Did you even realize that pigs had eyelashes?
And what are you doing in celebration of the seventeen eyelashed yellow pig? I hope you will think Ostranenie, and have a wildly perceptually enhanced day.