Have the technologized mass cultural forms enhanced or impeded the scope of literary studies? Give a reasoned answer with examples.

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I would argue that technologized mass cultural forms have enhanced the scope of literary studies because there is considerable enhancement in the availability of literature and the ability of people to communicate about that literature. 

The effects of technology today have created as powerful a paradigmatic shift as did the invention of the printing press.  Most literature in the public domain is now truly in the public domain, available to all through efforts such as the Gutenburg project.  People who would not dream of going to the library or who have no library available have literature at their fingertips.  The Nook, the iPad, and the Kindle afford us the opportunity to read contemporary and classic literature with ease. Another technological shift that advances literary studies is the ease with which people can self-publish, allowing everyone a "voice." Literature is more available to more people than has ever been true in the history of mankind.  Now, that availability is only half the story, the other half being our ability to communicate about literature. 


Some people tend to inveigh against our technological advances, claiming that new forms of communication are "ruining" our literacy, and as a corollary of that, ruining literary studies, but technology actually has more people communicating in more ways than ever before.  One area in which they are communicating is literature, and this can only enhance literary studies.  We have an  incredible diversity of people "talking" to one another about literature, with people from all walks of life and from all cultures weighing in on literature with one another, through blogs, through electronic "book groups," and through social networking sites such as Facebook, which allows us to list our favorite books and include our perspectives on them.  Enotes itself is a good example of how technology has enhanced literary studies.  The question at hand and the responses that it generates allow all of us to do some meta-thinking on this issue, which surely is an enhancement we would not have been able to avail ourselves of even 20 years ago. 

There are those who would say that our technologies have given us a new lowest common denominator in literary studies, because so much of what is "published" is not really literature at all and because now that anyone can broadcast an opinion, we will find many opinions with no merit whatsoever.  However, I find the "democratization" of literary studies to be a good thing, a way of engaging and providing a voice to those not in the ivory towers.  All literary studies are subject to the test of time, and these voices will be as well. Furthermore, the political implications of this democratization are powerful ones, since the more people have access to literature and a voice to comment on it, the more likely it is that they will engage their voices in other ways.  The Arab Spring is a good example. 

 

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