When literature collides with a new media technology, the resulting works are often dismissed as frivolous, opportunistic, or trivial. But this critical instinct often neglects the influence of media ecologies on the forms and contexts of literature, and on the many works of interest arising from such collisions.
Literary engagements with social media have varied in success and imagination. The most compelling have relied on a formal or conceptual deployment of the medium that encourages the reader to reflect on fundamental questions about literature and poetics. Indeed, Jonathan Franzen’s vocal denunciation of Twitter (as, variously, “unspeakably irritating,” and “the ultimate irresponsible medium”) is a telling signal of social media’s avant-garde literary potential.
The unselfconscious and spontaneous use of Twitter for literary ends has undoubtedly Romantic precedents: where today can we find a more appropriate repository for the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”? But literature on social media also presents echoes of other movements: the Oulipian value of constraint, the Projectivists’ organic and processual aesthetics.
Social media has brought new perspectives to perennial literary topics such as authority, celebrity, and irony. An author’s social media feed can at once be a publication, a commonplace book, and a timestamped archive. This paper examines literary engagements with social media which pose a range of pertinent questions about the status of literature in the digital age and which gesture towards a distinct poetics of social media.