Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Literary devices

I do hope that, like me and some members of my household (my wife, certainly, but I'm not sure about the cat) you enjoy the snippets of book gossip, news and brief discursive observations that comprise The Week in Books in the Saturday Guardian.  For those less familiar, this feature can be located in section 17(b) of the paper, the Review.  Last week's Week included an amusing and significant piece by John Dugdale on the mobile 'phone.  This was prompted by the device celebrating its 40th birthday (I know - how does it retain that youthful blush?) and examined the relative absence of the mobile (and 'the texture of urban life in general in the digital era') from contemporary literary fiction, together with the problems that including these elements might cause for narrative and plot.

This reminded me of the issues often raised by Kurt Vonnegut regarding the relationship between fiction, technology and literary respectability. Vonnegut was writing from what I believe cultural critics like to call a contested space between the (perceived) nations of popular, literary and science fiction.  Vonnegut had an inimitable way of making wildly and knowingly generalised observations about complex situations that still had penetration and trenchancy.  In an essay on Science Fiction for example, he observes, in this kind of assumed, ironic faux homespun style that: The feeling persists that no one can simultaneously be a respectable writer and understand how a refrigerator works, just as no gentleman wears a brown suit in the city.

Does this attitude persist? Although I am far from being the best-versed person I know in contemporary literary fiction, I have gathered a definite impression that heavyweight writers are far more willing to explicitly tackle biological and genetic aspects of science and technology than electronic, mechanical or other varieties.  I would be only too happy to wither under a volley of counter-examples, if you'd like to use the comment feature, or e-mail me at davidlbirkett@hotmail.comm and allow me to post your remarks as a comment. To be honest, I am shamelessly craving more blog comments at the moment, as there's a terrible draught whistling through that space.  These old laptops, ay? Still, they have character.

In the meantime, I have let the idea of mobile 'phones run like a largely-crazed ferret through the world of literary classics, and come up with the following:

Mast of the Mohicans

Text of the d'Urbervilles

Appsolute Beginners

Samsung Agonistes

Lord of the Ringtones

Sex and the Signal Girl


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