“The feeling of oppositionality is compounded in an age when simply picking up a novel after dinner represents a kind of cultural Je refuse!” In his 1996 Harper’s essay, Jonathan Franzen railed against television and the digital media and observed, with a feeling of apocalyptic anguish, that reading literature now seemed an act of political and cultural protest. Before him, David Foster Wallace had dedicated his best-known essay—E Unibus Pluram—to the troubled relationship between writers and television; after him, in 1997, Michel Houellebecq would urge to “turn off the radio, unplug the TV,” and disconnect from the flow of information and advertising for a “révolution froide” that anyone could do; and, like Franzen, he would muse on the fate of readers, reading, and literature in the age of indefinitely accelerated information flows and the universal hypermarket.
Writers take a stand on a transition whose outcomes are unpredictable, but which will certainly affect, already affects, has affected, literature’s social function. Many seem to fear some kind of Apocalypse—Philip Roth was also worried that the novel would be a “dying animal” in the electric light of TV and digital devices screens—, but there are calmer voices too and exploratory reactions: Paul Auster seems to hope in human beings’ need for stories and in the novel genre’s adaptability; Houellebecq himself, even though he admitted, in 2013, some kind of Internet addiction, has included into his works some elements of transmediality; and writers such as Roberto Saviano use the social media to communicate with their readers on a daily basis.
The World Wide Web, in this sense, offers new opportunities for meeting readers. Anna Todd knows this very well: born as a fanfiction on Wattpad, her After series sold millions of copies. And Wattpad’s members include well-known authors, with some classics among the most read works. On Instagram, #instapoetry has made its appearance, Rupi Kaur surpassed four million followers, and Amanda Gorman was invited to Joe Biden’s inauguration speech. These forms of disintermediation, or neo-intermediation, can cause concern, as they do without traditional mediators such as literary critics and publishers, as well as for the market logics and the algorithms that seem to drive them, but first they need to be critically considered.
Many essayists have already undertaken the task, of course, and, for the most part, they have also taken a stand. With words not too different from Franzen’s and Houellebecq’s, Sven Birkerts and Nicholas Carr have suggested that a new kind of human identity might be appearing on the web and they have contrasted literary reading with the “intellectual ethic” of the web, while Martha Pennington and Robert Waxler, and Birkerts again, have described literature as a “counter-cultural force” and, in the wake of McLuhan, a “counter-environment.” But Clay Shirky, replying to Carr, has argued that we should be glad the web is fostering a growth in reading; sure, in the waves of change we could lose War and Peace and the Recherche, but that would be no great loss: who had ever really read them, anyway? Others, like Naomi Baron, have studied more methodically, and discussed more soberly, the changes in reading due to the growing importance of the world wide web and digital devices in our lives.
To these issues we will devote a monographic section of Enthymema which will be published in the 30th issue of the journal (December 2022). We call for contributions that dwell on the themes that were mentioned above, by discussing contemporary writers’ reflections on the relationship between literature and the web; the new tools made available to both writers and readers by the digital media; the forms of oppositionality or convergence between “book ethics” and “web ethics” (and the meaning such expressions might have); the future of the book as a support for linear and whole writing in times of liquid and fragmented textuality; and anything else that can contribute to a reflection on literature and the web.
Anyone wishing to contribute is invited to send an abstract of 750–1.250 words, in Italian or English, to the section editors, Stefano Ballerio (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Marco Tognini (email@example.com), by June 30, 2022.
By July 15, 2022, the editors will communicate which proposals will be accepted for review.
The complete text of the accepted proposals, in Italian or English, will have to be sent by October 15, 2022.
After reviewing and editing, articles will be published at the end of December 2022.