Resonant connections: Twitter, the novel, and Diamedia Literary Practice

Purcell, Stuart James (2022) Resonant connections: Twitter, the novel, and Diamedia Literary Practice. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The research represented by this thesis was prompted by a keynote speech given by author Teju Cole in 2013, wherein he suggested that, in relation to experimental prose, Twitter is one of the futures of the novel. As a novelist already publishing literary works on the platform at the time of his speech, both Cole’s keynote and literary practice raised a number of pressing questions for literary and media studies, principal among which provides this thesis with its main impetus: if indeed Twitter is a future of the novel, as Cole asserts, then what does this mean in practical terms for the novelist, the novel, and Twitter? It is this central question that this thesis addresses, not only with regard to Cole but also the three other best-known novelists to have published literary works on Twitter: Jennifer Egan, David Mitchell, and Tao Lin.
While existing critical studies of Cole’s, Egan’s, Mitchell’s, and Lin’s Twitter-based literary practice have focused almost exclusively on their Twitter works without examining them as part of the author’s wider literary practice, this thesis places the novelist at the centre of the study and embeds Twitter literature in a broader context of literary practice, showing that the authors’ separate yet connected works on the Twitter platform and in the novel form constitute a prototypical form of literary practice inexplicable in existing critical vocabularies. Consequently, the thesis proposes a new term to conceptualise this prototypical form of literary practice: “Diamedia Literary Practice.” This is intended to refer to a type of literary practice where an author operates strategically, systematically, and symbiotically across and through print and digital media environments in the production of two (or more) literary works, where each work is written with the specific form and medium in mind but where there is also a meaningful practical, narrative, or thematic connection between the works.

Here, the prefix “dia-” is pointedly used to mutually emphasise both “across” and “through” media in response to the theoretical frameworks predominantly deployed in existing criticism of Twitter literature, which have represented only one of the two analytical perspectives applicable to literary practice in print and digital forms: either “across” or “through” media. In order to theoretically underpin this new “diamedia” formulation, the thesis makes use of Marshall McLuhan’s media studies. Born of his training as literary scholar, McLuhan’s media studies combine the critical modalities of both media and literary studies and, particularly through his tetradic “laws of media”, synthesise both “across” and “through” media-oriented perspectives, properly articulating Diamedia Literary Practice in its distinct, dynamic, and dialogic complexity.

Through the formulation of Diamedia Literary Practice and by utilising McLuhan’s media studies, the thesis indicates that Twitter is indeed a future of the novel, but one constituted by a more complex connection than Cole’s keynote initially implied and one in which the novelist is more explicitly engaged. More precisely, the thesis argues that Twitter is a future of the novel specifically in the sense that Diamedia Literary Practice suggests; that is, one in which the forms and media are resonantly connected, where the novelist publishing on the platform explores and leverages the tension between the two, and where there is also an ongoing, underlying dialogue between print and digital media. In its analysis of Cole’s, Egan’s, Mitchell’s, and Lin’s literary practice, it establishes that, for each author, Twitter represented a way of simultaneously extending an aspect of their novelistic practice, retrieving an obsolesced form originally linked to print media, testing the platform’s literary potential, and creating an experimental prose work on Twitter. These findings further emphasise the inadequacies of current critical vocabularies and theoretical frameworks, signifying, as the thesis ultimately argues, that the new critical perspective it demonstrates in answering the research questions extrapolated from Cole’s keynote, in formulating Diamedia Literary Practice, and in utilising McLuhan’s media studies, is necessary not only for the future of literary and media studies but is rather a necessary new critical perspective for literary and media studies now.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Stoddart, Dr. Helen and Barker, Professor Timothy
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-82764
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2022 09:56
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2022 16:42
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82764

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