Four axes: Literature in the digital age

The context or background to where my overall question about Literary Writing and / or the Web comes from:

Four axes can be discerned along which a lot of the available research in the field of literature in the digital age revolves: technology, publishing, reading and writing. These can be named ‘procedural’ because they deal not so much with the literary content, but with the external processes of making, producing, selling, consuming etc. surrounding it.

Firstly, the technological axis asks how authors use or can use technological possibilities so as to leave static text and reading experience behind. Especially analyses into early instances of electronic literature understand them as ‘net-art’ – literary works that use interactive technology and are ‘performed’ online, or which take inspiration from developments in video games such as offering alternative narrative paths or choices in character perspective. Such works of e-literature, where the author is at the same time writer and programmer are still made fairly often. They can however be distinguished from the texts I will discuss, which are not focused on offering an interactive experience.

Secondly, a lot of attention goes to publishing, both the possibilities of electronic publishing and the status of traditional publishers. The downfall of the publishing industries is heavily discussed since the introduction of e-books, e-readers and online megastores such as Amazon. On the other hand, a range of opportunities should present themselves for publishers, from instant updating to gaining revenues from the ‘long tail’. The field of self-publishing is yet another domain with its own questions, ranging from the meaning of self-publishing for self-expression to the challenge it poses for traditional publishing houses. While these developments have an enormous impact on experiments in online literary writing – especially since media such as blogs and social networking sites can be termed publishing platforms in themselves – the effects on the literariness of texts are less explored.

Thirdly, the discussion about reading focuses mainly on negative effects. Laments about the loss of so-called ‘deep reading’ surface regularly. Immersed, concentrated, deep reading disappears in favor of scanning, non-linear, or shallow reading. This change in reading is seen to have a certain effect on writing as well: shallow reading would lead to shallow (or ‘sloppy’) writing. But is that the case? On the other side there is talk of readers engaging on a larger scale with texts through ‘social reading’; commenting on the work-in-progress and on the published text through Kindle annotations and highlights, social media, etc.
When it comes to writing, the fourth axis, we get closer to the ‘literary question’, however it is again the process and not the outcome that is scrutinized most, looking into possibilities of collaborative writing, ‘book sprints’, and the usability of writing tools or automatic writing.

While these four axes provide interesting developments that should be researched accordingly, the core of the matter is left unattended. Like petals of a flower they surround the heart everything grows out of, and which seems to be overlooked. Contrary to these practices I plan to aim my attention not on the external process, but on the content.

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