Killing Literature

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The computer will not kill the book, but liberate it. By relieving the book of its lexical responsibility, the computer will do for the book what photography did for painting two centuries ago; allow it to become a self-reflexive discipline, an investigation of medium and format and content and history whose resonance deepens and complectifies, spawning experiments and arguments, contradictions and unanticipated pathways to entirely new artistic possibilities.–Peter Frank from The Last Vispo

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For a few decades, I have asked myself, over and over, like a daffy automaton: where the hell is literature/writing going?  Where are the innovations?  Was modernism, with a capital M, the last gasp of innovation?

Of course, the so-called mainstream–and my friends–were quick to disabuse me of the notion that “literature is dead.”  But wherever I looked, I didn’t see much innovation going on. Indeed, whatever could be done with narrative ( the potentiality of narrative, so to speak) had happened a very long time ago.  Joyce basically killed traditional literature with Ulysses, but a lot of folks can’t see it. The same thing happened to poetry with the advent of free verse and the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets. And I totally understand.  Who wants to admit you’ve hit a proverbial dead-end, and  that, heaven forbid, ART IS DEAD? It’s damn depressing.

We’ve been scrambling ever since to prop up the corpses of prose and verse (literature), but to no avail. The traditional word-on-the-page narrative looks, well, so antiquated compared to the new vibrant electronic technologies that are developing now. 

And that’s why, I think, the quote above by Peter Frank makes so much sense. Let’s admit, finally, that traditional word-on-the-page narrative has been pushed to its logical end, and that we must find other ways to resurrect it. Or, even, destroy it!  It may be a different art form altogether.  It may not resemble what we have come to accept and recognize as “literature.”

Whatever the outcome, I, too, believe the computer is the key to our dilemma.  It offers us so much. It points the way forward.  It’s a tool we can use to innovate.  And that can’t be bad.