Foregrounding: Giving prominence to something in a literary work that would not be accentuated in ordinary discourse. The notion of foregrounding comes primarily from the work of Russian formalist critics, who deemed foregrounding a necessary component of “literariness,” the highly wrought, carefully crafted quality that characterizes literary works. When Russian formalists spoke of foregrounding, they referred in particular to the foregrounding of “device,” that is, all those aspects of verbal expression that are present in the literary work but are not functionally necessary to communication. Literary critics practice foregrounding as well, privileging those aspects of the text that they believe to be important.
EXAMPLES: In Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (9 vols; 1759—67), the foregrounding of literary device is manifested in constant digressions and temporal discontinuities that violate the conventions of ordinary discourse. In his foreword to Zora Neale Hurston’s Every Tongue Got to Confess (2001), a posthumously published collection of African American folk tales from the Gulf States, novelist John Edgar Wideman stated that Hurston “foregrounds creolized language and culture in her fiction and nonfiction, dramatizing vernacular ways of speaking that are so independent, dynamic, self-assertive and expressive that they cross over, challenge and transform mainstream dialects.”