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5 canon-breaking influences on modern literature

As a discipline, literature is vast, encompassing poetry, prose, and drama from across history, as well as the more modern disciplines of film and media studies. In the modern world, the idea of literature has taken on new meaning as new concepts and technologies have emerged with the changing culture. From internet memes and viral content, to ecocriticism and even the occasional zombie—enjoy a wander through a five captivating and eclectic topics in the world of literature.

How are internet memes and viral content forms of literature?

The internet is home to endless textual variation. Short texts and clips are uploaded and removed, hyped and forgotten under the ceaseless pressures and incentives of capitalist identity formation, as identities of all kinds are and constantly solidifying and liquefying. The web has generated a rich range of “recombinant” appropriations—compiled videos, samplings, remixes, reboots, mashups, short clips, and other material involving text, sound, vision—typically found (and lost) on web-based video databases. Can these remix clips be described as adaptations or appropriations? How do they relate to transmedia storytelling? And what do they tell us about participatory culture and “mashup textualities”? The use of “recombinant” (two strands of DNA combined) suggests that these texts and practices conjoin all sorts of material from multiple sources, much in the way that DNA is a key factor in transforming genetic material and organisms. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins famously initiated the adoption of biogenetic models into cultural studies, comparing genetic and cultural reproduction.

How has American literature been influenced by popular culture?

A relatively young tradition in world letters, American literature matured over a period that coincided with the rise of industrialization and the birth of consumer society. The field of American literature has always had to compete with mass and popular culture in the hierarchy of national tradition. Simply put, no American literary text emerged in isolation. Even among the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Henry James, the business of professional authorship was identified with the need to sell their work to as wide a readership as possible. In that sense, the individuals we now deem authors of classic American literature had more in common with everyday consumers than previous scholars have acknowledged. Indeed, it is among everyday consumers themselves that the study of mass and popular culture has expanded our view of “literature” to a welcome degree. No longer confined to the classics, the field now considers bestsellers, genre fiction, and a range of non-print media to be valid, and necessary, objects of study.

What is Ecocriticism?

Ecocriticism is a broad way for literary and cultural scholars to investigate the global ecological crisis through the intersection of literature, culture, and the physical environment. Ecocriticism originated as an idea called “literary ecology” and was later coined as an “-ism”. Ecocriticism expanded as a widely-used literary and cultural theory by the early 1990s, and is often used as a catchall term for any aspect of the humanities addressing ecological issues primarily as a literary and cultural theory (like media, film, philosophy, and history).

This is not to say that ecocriticism is confined to literature and culture; scholarship often incorporates science, ethics, politics, philosophy, economics, and aesthetics across institutional and national boundaries. Originally, scholars wanted to employ a literary analysis rooted in a culture of ecological thinking, which would also contain moral and social commitments to activism. As Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, editors of The Ecocriticism Reader, famously stated, “ecocriticism takes an earth-centred approach to literary studies,” rather than an anthropomorphic or human-centered approach.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 2007. Jon Irons, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

How are race and racism portrayed in post-colonial literature?

How has racism persisted in the production and maintenance of postcolonial cultural identity? More specifically, how have the notions of race and racism been conceptualized over the past several decades of postcolonial critical theory? The anti-colonial writings of Frantz Fanon and Albert Memmi, Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s poststructuralist turn in race theory (“Race,” Writing, and Difference), and the writings and lectures of Michel Foucault on biopolitics are just a few examples of the massive field of postcolonial theory over the past sixty years. These works have helped to posit racism as a negative and repressive structure, whilst simultaneously exploring racism as an aspect of governance within modern society as a whole.

Why are zombies important to adaptation theory?

Zombie apocalypse narratives represent a fascinating case of transmedia storytelling, since their characteristics as a genre are the result of a series of textual creations, flowing from the works of director George Romero and disseminated through novels, short stories, graphic narratives, videogames, apps for smartphones, and other films.

Modern audiences crave sequels, prequels, unfoldings, reformulations, amplifications, as well as the option to actively participate in the narratives as a reader, a spectator, or a computer game persona, all of which generate new narrative paths.

In this context, Julie Sanders’s accounts of “appropriation” and “adaptation” can be useful. Adaptations signal a relationship with an informing source text or original, and appropriations distance themselves “from the informing source into a wholly new cultural product and domain.” “Zompoc” texts are the perfect example of this adaptation theory, involving multiple elements of imitation, proximation, improvisation, and re-evaluation.

Featured Image credit: CC0 via pixabay.

Recent Comments

  1. Charles Yonkers

    To the last point, I wonder if the hit musical “Hamilton “ is just such an adaptation. It is based on the “texts” of the basic history of Alexander Hamilton, the Declaration of Independence, the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers, the Washington Administration, but the narrative form is totally fresh. Young people love it, and older students like me are enthralled and inspired.

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