Baring the Device: About

The Gravity of the Thing is dedicated to the publication of defamiliarized writing, and our editors are always excited to discover new ways writers are experimenting with language. Defamiliarization is an artistic or literary technique that presents the common in an unfamiliar way; that which has been taken for granted is reenvisioned, made strange, to heighten a reader’s perception of the familiar and impart a renewed sense of discovery.

“Habitualization devours work, clothes, furniture, ones wife, and the fear of war And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.”

—Viktor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique”

At The Gravity of the Thing, our contributors might be turning familiar narratives inside out or upside down, experimenting with new craft effects (stanza becomes setting, setting becomes character, etc.), or stranging conventional forms of writing. We publish work that defamiliarizes writing at the content or thematic level, at the sentence, line, or word levels, or even during the creation process. A few techniques that have caught our attention recently are listed below. Many of these methods are explained in depth in Viktor Shklovskys essay quoted above, though some of these techniques—including “Baring the Device,” the title of this column—were coined by writer and creative writing professor Leni Zumas in her defamiliarization seminar at Portland State University.

Elements of defamiliarization:

  • The impeding or slowing of dominant perceptions of language. This might include…
    • Renaming or not naming familiar subjects or objects
    • Roughening the language; stalling or avoiding common word associations or meanings
    • Grammar that is individually or uniquely defined, or that rejects a status quo
  • Shifts in perspective. This might include…
    • Shifts in point of view or psychic distance that make the reader perceive anew
    • Shifts in translation or diction that emphasize the connections or surprises in language
    • Veerings to or away from euphemism or innuendo
  • An awareness and/or breaking of conventional literary forms. This might include…
    • Presenting familiar subjects, objects, or narratives in a new context
    • Drawing attention to traditional or experimental literary structures or dynamics
    • Foregrounding literary techniques or practices, or baring the device

Baring the device, as suggested above, emphasizes the construction of a piece of writing, as the construction often characterizes the form itself. In this way, baring the device can teach the audience how the magic show works, so the peek behind the curtain is no less fascinating than the magic on stage. This access can increase a reader’s excitement and engagement, and as the editors of The Gravity of the Thing aim to publish writing that defamiliarizes, so do we aim to defamiliarize conventional publishing models. The Gravity of the Thing will periodically post articles that bare various writing, editing, and publishing practices. Click the article titles below to learn more:

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