The Evolution of Expression

Is literature evolving?

That’s a stupid question, I suppose. All art forms evolve with time and the societal context in which they exist, but I find myself wondering if literature is evolving a great deal more than the intelligentsia would like to admit. Specifically, I wonder about it’s function of maintaining a record of society. Tillich said that, in it’s artistic expression, a society conveys it’s spiritual substance. While I question his concept (as I understand it) of “ultimate concern,” I agree with him on at least the level that a culture’s artists communicate what is prevalently on the collective mind of that culture. That being the case, and depending on the definition of art that one would like to use, it is suddenly easier than ever in our Web 2.0 culture for anyone to contribute to the permanent record in which our culture will be remembered generations from now.

This comes to mind, among other ways, through a comical connection I had a few moments ago with a family member on Twitter. To eschew a great deal of backstory, the haiku has recently been a subject of casual attention for me, and I was experimenting with writing two haiku this afternoon. Of course, I tweeted that I was doing this (Why, you ask? It’s sort of like a “Jeep thing;” if you don’t do it, you wouldn’t understand). This prompted a family member to tweet a joke back at me in haiku form. I replied. Then he tweeted in iambic pentameter. We were joking about the limitations that Twitter would theoretically place on writing poetry. Similarly, a recent venture came to my attention called twit_play, “a story told entirely through Twitter updates.” The concept is essentially a play told through tweets. These sorts of expressions are experiments for me at first blush, sort of a social “what if?” game played out to satisfy hobbies and pose interesting social questions, among other things.

What if they’re more than that, though?

Suppose for a moment that your tweets are a part of a literary collective of sorts, in the sense that you’re answering the question, “what are you doing?” moment-by-moment. Sociologically, a collection of tweets appearing on Twitter’s public timeline from individuals in the same country from a defined period of time could prove a reflection of the social consciousness. Many users of Twitter post reflective and, yes, poetic updates to the micro-blog, lending to the possibility that this could be a sort of new literary genre, generated in real-time, reflecting the thoughts of a culture as it exists right now.

By the same logic, then, bloggers are contributing in the same way, reflecting in detail their thoughts and reflections on various topics and considerations that are deemed important at a given time period in a given culture.

If, then, the interactive Internet is generating a new art form as it streams words, images, audio and video from our shrinking world instantly, thus reflecting the consciousness of humanity at any given moment, then we are all artists easily capable of contributing to this giant work.

Now, this theory would naturally prove irritating to many an artist, especially those who only recognize work in a hard, tangible form. There are those who think the way Ray Bradbury thinks as he is quoted in a recent New York Times article: feeling that the Internet is unsubstantial, floating in the air somewhere, and unreal.

These are two extreme ends of the spectrum, and I’m not sure I’m ready to subscribe to either of them as of yet. I think there is more than a strong likelihood, however, that we are observing the next shift in modality of artistic expression. My concern is that, as we watch a new form of expression evolve, we must be cautious to not permit it to detract from those forms of expression that preceded it. In the same way that film became it’s own medium by standing on the shoulders of the stage, so digital word-play must recognize it’s literary parent as it grows into adulthood.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.