Call for Publications on
Variations: Journal of Comparative Literature
social media / Soziale Medien / réseaux sociaux
Social media has lastingly altered the way in which we use and perceive the internet. The enduring popularity of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter glaringly illustrates how “the entire set of ways people make themselves visible to the world, and make the world visible to them, has undergone a substantial reorientation with respect to new devices that capture and share” (Jurgenson 2019: 2). The visual dimension of digital communication, especially, has fostered a hope for the creation of a globally intelligible code of affect, able to surpass linguistic borders. In this light, the issue “social media / Soziale Medien / reseaux sociaux” of the comparative journal variationsseeks to put into focus the photographic, filmic and especially textual narrative forms of the Web 2.0.
Social media has come to exert a strong cultural influence on the content, production and reception of literature. It is no longer only reader-reception-theory that emphasizes how “affinity spaces” with “multiple interest-driven trajectories” impact processes of reception and privilege textual forms which correspond to the generic conventions of “digital narratives” (Vlieghe/Muls/Rutten 2016: 26). The shift in the technical “Dispositiv” (Gellai 2018: 4) has itself become the object of literary and essayistic texts dealing with the behaviors, ideologies and aesthetics of the digital age. Indeed, prominent works of present-day literature, such as Elfriede Jelinek’s essayistic playRein Gold(2013) or Thomas Meinecke’s “Twitter-Roman” Lookalikes (2011),negotiate the positions of internet-optimists and internet-pessimists (Hayer 2017: 75), insofar as they juxtapose the regressive, isolating and totalitarian dimension of online communication with its more ludic, emancipatory and unificatory aspects. Especially the paradigm change in digital poetry illustrates how in internet literature the motif of social media has become strongly linked to the value of connectivity. In his study Aesthetic Animism, David Jhave Johnston has called attention to the fact that the aesthetic and thematic focus of cyber poetry in the post-internet period is no longer concerned with the utopian values of “independence and vision”, but moves rather an “uncertain blend of platform and process” into the center of the artistic process (Johnston 2016: 57).
The range of possible aspects to be considered is wide. The following three groups of remarks can (but do not have to) be considered as possible entry points:
1) The diction of connectivity
Internationally speaking, Dave Eggers’ The Circle is without a doubt the most well-known novel on social media. However, next to Eggers’ bestseller, there exist a number of texts that deal with the theme of social media in an aesthetically innovative way: Sibylle Berg’s GRM(2019), Virginie Despentes' Vernon Subutex(2015-2017), Bernard Pivot’s Les tweets sont des chats (2013) or Wen Huajian’s (聞華艦) Love in the Age of Microblogging (圍脖時期的愛情, 2011). What unites these works is that they make narratively graspable the realms of experience shaped by a culture of ‘sharing’, ‘liking’ and ‘fake-news’. Especially interesting, in this context, are the narrative strategies employed in these and other works to negotiate aspects of connectivity, exchange, serialization as well as the writerly possibilities of the digital age.
2) Theories of digital authorship
Web 2.0 has once again raised questions about the nature of literary authorship. For instance, self-fashioning in social media has made it possible for writers to achieve visibility through strategies very different from those offered by traditional marketing channels for literary writing. Next to this, the changes in the literary field brought about by the digital revolution also call for a re-evaluation of user-generated-content, be it in the form of literary criticism or collectively authored fan fiction, produced in forums, imageboards and the like. Franco Moretti’s “distant reading” (2013) or the copy-paste-aesthetics of “uncreative writing” by the likes of Kenneth Goldsmith (2011) or Vanessa Place (vgl. 2015) are only two examples of how strongly the transformations in literature have come to impact traditional conceptions of authorship (on Goldsmith and Place, see Haensler 2019).
Public debates frequently center on the immense political volatility inherent to social media. Often, there exists a consensus that our society finds itself at a turning point. Essayistic writing often picks up on this notion of change, urging readers to be aware of the dangers of surveillance or manipulation newly exerted through social media channels. However, telling ambivalences emerge in the context of phenomena like the ‘Arab Spring’, the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong (2019-) or the ‘Fridays for Future’-movement in which social media can be (and often is) considered a positive force of social mobilization. As such, there is also much to be gained from inquiries into themes, stakeholders and spaces of political discourse in Web 2.0, apart from (or perhaps in combination with) literary and artistic forms of expression.
Variations is a journal for comparative literary studies, cultural studies, as well as media studies. hosted at the University of Zurich. The journal publishes contributions in English, German or French.
Abstracts for proposed contributions (300-400 words) on the topic of this year’s issue may be sent to the editors until 16 February 2020: firstname.lastname@example.org. The inclusion of a short bio-bibliography is encouraged. Proposed contributions will be selected on the basis of a peer-review process. Contributors will be notified about the acceptance or rejection of their proposals by the end of February 2020. Upon acceptance, the completed articles are to be sent to the editors no later than 31 May 2020 and must not exceed 32’000 characters. The issue will be published by Winter Verlag (Heidelberg) in the second half of 2020.
For more information, please consult the journal website:
Dr. Helena Wu, University of Zurich