Thursday, May 01, 2008

New Narratives

I'm so far away from literary matters this week, attending the Futuresonic conference/festival in Manchester. A celebration of art, music and ideas all with a "digital" side, I guess the one thing that does seem to be missing is the "literary" - or at the very least, a narrative strand, that could pull all this together. I'm sure there's a novel there somewhere based around a conference; though I kind of think there probably already is one - I just can't remember it. (Surely David Lodge's campus novels went there at some point?) The conference is about "social media", of which, dear reader, this blog is one. It's funny really, but inevitable, that writers have taken to blogs like fish to water, they are after all a written medium - but not for the first time, I'm quizzical about the absence of "literary matters" from any discussion of the digital future. Do writers just accept the new tools, and move on? Yes, there's plenty of hang-wringing around the Sony eReader or the Kindle, and I guess if I was an audiobook publisher I'd be wondering what the future was for their unabridged boxsets - yet the book remains an advanced storage and retrieval device, not easily replicable (at least not in fiction) digitally. Yet most of the discussions and events of the conference are stubbornly analogue anyway; people in a room (actually not interacting that much - the academics tend to dominate in a very traditional lecture theatre format - though this will be challenged a little this afternoon); gigs; clubs; art exhibitions; public art. Oh yes, there is, somewhere a blog, a Flickr group, a Twitter group, a wiki, a Second Life space; but I get the feeling that most people who wanted to be at the event would be at the event. Of course, one of the reasons why literature doesn't feature, or get involved, is how - with a few exceptions - "experimental" narrative or form is hidden within the stubbornly traditional literary scene. Yet I was there with colleagues from New Writing Partnership, and Lancaster Litfest, and we all feel, I think, that the nature of discourse is at least one thing that the "digital" agenda can address. But how to energise that discussion in the digital space - as opposed to the physical space of a symposium or similar - remains a question, that I don't think we'll answer until we at least make an attempt to. Whether writers, agents and publishers are wanting that - that's another question. I kind of think that we shouldn't be approaching discourse about writing in a linear way, journalistically, academically etc. but more dynamically, through some kind of narrative exposition.


Paul M. Cray said...

Lodge's deeply wonderful "Small World" is set around the late 1970s global conference circuit.

Adrian Slatcher said...

I'd a vague memory that one of them was - I couldn't remember which. Cheers.