By Aaron Grierson
Once, literature seeped out of quills in quiet hovels onto treated hides. Now, literature seeps out of wires in bustling communities onto the pixels of our monitors. A product of many changes, this evolution of literature may signal shifts just as numerous. It may be safe to say that literature has grown to the point where a person’s diary can be viewed, should they so choose, by thousands of people.
Blogs represent only one facet in the conglomerate that is the corpus of modern literature. They are the most potentially numerous format, though perhaps not in print. Just think, if every person in the world had a blog that they updated even once a week from a library or internet café, what the sheer volume of posts would look like. And imagine trying to read even a quarter that many. It would be a whole new industry and in 50 years or so, that may be the case, once blogs are deemed primary historical source documents for ‘the way things were.’
It might be an odd way to think about yourself and any blogs you do post on, which could include personal or ‘professional’, like ones that post recipes and the like. Any students of history may know that the further back you go, the fewer such sources still exist. Web-based writings have the potential to outlast not only their author, but humanity, assuming the last of our kind leave the power on. They are a 21st century account of whatever we want: daily life, career, political issues, sewing or knitting, and so on. For later historians, anthropologists and cultural theorists, blogs could be the basis for a whole new generation of thought.
This process has begun as more than an idea, too. Forums, though not an internet novelty are available to discuss just about anything. Not least among the variety of topics is literature. While the topics may not yet include blogs, a multitude of literature, from Shakespeare to Twilight, is discussed. Obviously not the work of scholars, these environments seem to encourage amateurs and avid readers to put forth their opinion in a manner that abides by the rules (which generally aim to preclude profanity, derogatory remarks or other insults) for good, clean discussion.
One of the results is a sort of ever expanding spiral. New literature comes into popularity, followed by blog or forum posts about it (typically for some years, though volumes fluctuate), more and more cross-textual comparisons are drawn based on individual interests and things continue to grow. The last few years have produced some particularly prominent examples, like Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games series. In the eyes of readers, these texts are sometimes in competition with one another, and similarities are drawn (in this case concerning characters, primarily). The result is not only a complete non-academic canon of evaluation and analysis on the internet, but a fan base that may find itself divided concerning the top characters or plot line.
And then there are those particularly enthusiastic readers, often youth, who have “a vision”, which usually manifests itself as a spin on a popular novel or story. They take that spin, write about it (typically as a short story or novelette though there are those who go the full Monty), and rather than making millions themselves, wind up posting the finished product on a website somewhere. Such productions are aptly called “fan fiction”. Although I have no doubt that many of these wind up on blogs, perhaps by the chapter, there are sites entirely devoted to fan fiction, in addition to other, more general purpose websites for literature not deemed ‘professional.’ What I mean by professional is simply that these are novice works (no matter the quality) that are not taken up by publishing companies and instead remain on a free website. Fan fiction seems not only popular but of questionable integrity. Authors create worlds they see as—at least in most ways—adequate and complete. Who are we (as readers) to turn around after enjoying the original literature and create a spinoff that tends to be a “how world X should be” or the “untold story of character Y” moment. While admirable, these fictions seem little better than Frankenstein-esque bastards though it seems unlikely that they are as misunderstood as the good doctor’s Creature.
Regardless of how I feel about fan fiction, the sheer variety that’s out there is mind-numbing. Certain sites with a database of prolific authors are particularly commendable in the volumes of nice literature they host. One such example is DeviantArt, a popular destination for literature (original and derivative) and artwork. Unfortunately, location seems to be very important, even on the internet. Writing winds up almost everywhere, even inside Facebook notes to be kept in the off chance a profit is to be made. This is essentially the nature of the interwebbed beast. It might look cuddly and welcoming, but the reality is that most of us get smothered by the sheets. To have a large audience is almost wishful thinking. But wishful thinking seems to be the starting point for many great stories which always grow, though not always to fruition. So at least in that way, it may be a safe bubble in which to live.
For all its evolutionary qualities, questions must be raised about the path literature will take on the web. Will it simply be segregated from visual art forms because literature requires a longer commitment? Do aspiring writers of various fictions bring this on themselves, living silently in the shadow of the colossus that is the literary industry? Or do they just hope to get published through Amazon’s e-books and then wait to hear what everyone says? There are other problems too, like holding on to readers once you’ve hooked them on a particular piece. Still, each of these problems should not merely resonate through or with the teenagers hoping to spill their hearts out. Many established authors have started reaching out to their respective audiences, perhaps taking note of how musicians have begun to utilize the ubiquity of the internet.
Each of these relatively new mediums point together at a few conclusions about literature on the whole. The term ‘classic’ which might refer to authors like Jane Austen or Dante has contemporary competition with series like Harry Potter, which is so widely read, your only excuse for not knowing the series would be living alone on an island. This development, while perhaps not new may cause us to reconsider what it is that makes a classic and why we make the distinction in the first place. It also shows just how far literature has come. So far gone are the days where monks copied manuscripts for a living, even the printing press is increasingly in danger of being put out of business, at least as far as literature is concerned. The new literature or new formats of it at least may not seem so prominent in our lives now, but like this publication it has grown in recent years, and will continue to do so as time marches on. Eventually, we will have to reconsider how literature works on personal and larger scales. Another question of increasing relevance is how we view ourselves in relation to literature. No longer are we handed masterpieces by craftsmen from three or four centuries back, but even young teenagers are producing literature like fan fiction. Will we draw distinctions, not only between classics and more mundane authors, but will the sheer volume of fiction and non-fiction cause society to reconsider what it means by literature on the whole?
It may be maintained that proper literature is what gets published and distributed by (publishing) houses, rather than the everyman’s blog posting. At this point, no answers are really clear. However, it is easy to feel that literature, and internet-based writing is a major contributor to an ever-growing conglomerate of experiences. The sheer variety of information and written (or typed) works available through the internet may mean that book stores are in for some serious competition, e-books or no.
As much as we may love picking up a book and learning about something new, or going on a foreign adventure, it is almost impossible to resist the allure to type a few keys, click a few buttons and open up a whole other body of texts, ripe for the intellectual picking.
Nazuk Iftikhar Rao is an aspiring novelist and a photographer from Lahore, Pakistan. She is the founder of “Humans of Lahore” and currently works at the United Nations. She has wanderlust and loves to travel. She loves to read European literature in her spare time. More of Ms. Rao’s work can be seen in the digital edition.