Twitternovels – More Twitter than novel

On: September 11, 2013
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About Stella Rieck
After having finished my BA in English and Comparative Literature at the University of Glasgow, I am currently enrolled in the New Media and Digital Cultures MA program at the University of Amsterdam.

   

“Paradoxically, it is this very immutability of paper which is now increasingly proving to be an advantage rather than a weakness, particularly in the context of an ever-changing (thus ephemeral) digital publishing world.” (Ludovico 10, 2012)

Though this by no means is a blog post heralding the olden days, when literature had not yet gone digital, it is worth investigating how Alessandro Ludovico in Post Digital Print could come to the conclusion that the good old book, still in 2012, has something to hold out against digital forms of literature. A possible approach is to look at the phenomenon of the “twitternovel”, as one representative of the spectrum of microblogging. A short peek at two writers trying their luck with this genre helps to pinpoint some of its difficulties. In fact, the term twitternovel raises expectations that the medium, Twitter, as such can simply not fulfill. I suggest therefore that a change in terminology and expectations allows for a more fruitful engagement with the new literary forms emerging on Twitter.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a novel as “a long fictional prose narrative, usually filling one or more volumes and typically representing character and action with some degree of realism and complexity” (OED, 2013). In a more general sense important factors that make up a novel are character and plot development over a larger space of time. Clearly, with these ideas still in mind Jennifer Egan and Steven Soderbergh went at writing their “twitter”novels.

When Steven Soderbergh, trying his hand at authorship, decided to publish a novel via his Twitter account he “[built] up a bunch of stuff and [blew] it out all at the same time”. He is not sure “if that’s the way you’re supposed to do it, but that’s the way it’s happening” (Soderbergh, 2013). Even though there is surely no one way a Twitter novel is supposed to happen, Soderbergh’s way of going about it, makes a problem apparent that resurfaces in the twitternovel project by Jennifer Egan. Both attempts show that connected with the concept of the novel are ideas of planning character development and plot long before publication. But if you write the whole novel before you tweet it, why use Twitter at all? Jennifer Egan makes this nonsensical use of the medium even more apparent in her approach: Being fascinated by the idea of the twitternovel, but still writing her books by hand, she decided to use a special Muji notebook which features eight small boxes on every page. Now Egan could go about meticulously preparing her twitternovel in paperform (cf. Lamont, 2012). This self-inflicted method of using Twitter, almost as an impediment to writing your novel, results in the “medium [not being] integral to the work itself, and [ending] up as nothing more than a quirky/clunky method of delivery” (Crown, 2012). Furthermore, as Tiny Camels writes in her blog , this form of “Twitter serialisation doesn’t take account of how people use the site, how it ebbs and flows in their work and social lives” (Gibbs, 2013). Clearly, both Egan and Soderbergh write their novels irrespective of the fact that their tweets will only become part of a larger set of messages making up their readers homepage. Trying to translate the concept of the novel one by one into Twitter, rather than working with the medium, both authors work despite it.

Coming back then to Alessandro Ludovico’s  statement at the beginning of this entry, the book still represents a premium choice of medium, when wanting to cling onto the traditional format of extensive plot and character development that define the novel. However, there are at the same time possibilities to approach digital fiction much more fruitfully. In the afterword to Post Digital Print Florian Cramer introduces the idea of the “bookwork”, coined by Ulises Carrión, a Dutch intermedia artist. In this concept the book functions as a containment for any combination of words or even other signs (cf. Cramer, 165). With this wider notion of a “bookwork” in mind and a critical engagement of how Twitter functions and which forms of literary output are best suited to it, writing on Twitter has already and will continue in the future to rear interesting results.

Bibliography

Ludovico, Alessandro. Post Digital Print – The Mutation of Publishing since 1984. Eindhoven: Lecturis, 2012. Print.

“Novel”. Def. 4b. Oxford English Dictionary.2013. Web. 06 Sep. 2013. <http://www.oed.com.proxy.uba.uva.nl:2048/view/Entry/128757?rskey=Vhzkd9&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid>

Soderbergh, Steven. “Steven Soderbergh Talks Post-Retirement Plans, Painting, Twitter, BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, Comic Book Movies, and More”. Collider. By Adam Chitwood. Collider.com,2013. Web. 06 Sep. 2013. <http://collider.com/steven-soderbergh-retirement-behind-the-candelabra/>

Lamont, Tom. “Jennifer Egan: How Twitter inspired my ebook”. Guardian, 20. Dec. 2012. Web. 06 Sep. 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/30/jennifer-egan-ebook-novel>

Crown, Sarah. “Twitter is a clunky way of delivering fiction”. Guardian Books Blog, 25 May 2012. Web. 06 Sep. 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/may/25/twitter-feed-clunky-delivery>

Gibbs, Jonathan. “Damn Hemingway’s baby shoes: some thoughts on twitter fiction”. Tiny Camels Blog, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 06 Sep. 2013. <http://tinycamels.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/damn-hemingways-baby-shoes-some-thoughts-on-twitter-fiction/>

Cramer, Florian. “Afterword”. Post Digital Print –  The Mutation of Publishing since 1984. Einhoven: Lecturis, 2012. Print.

 

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