Literature,like society has undergone various changes over a period of time.
Many greatthinkers are of the view that literature is mimetic i.e. it imitates societyand reflects the nuances of culture. Literature is often viewed as a criticalmeasure to evaluate and trace the social and cultural development of aparticular society. Humanbeings have an innate tendency to categorize and compartmentalise all that theycome across. This tendency too led tothe categorization of texts.
Aristotle’s legacy of dividing text on the basisof their textual content is what ruled the literary circles for ages to come.Alistair Fowler, too differentiated between literature and the other kinds oftext in his book, Kinds of Literature.Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher and literary critic, presented a novelidea that utterance should be the basis of categorization of genres. Over theyears, genres have come to be understood in two ways i.e.
similarity betweenlanguage and subject matter which will give rise to categories like poetry,drama, novels, short story and non-fiction as a genre. The second understandingof the term proceeds from the idea of analysing specific types of text withinbroad categories of composition such as the novel, poetry, film or television. Genresare a fluid entity. They are always in movement and in constant dialogue withone another.
They borrow from culture and inculcate various nuances of culture.Genres, like literature cannot be considered in isolation as they are alsoaffected by social conditions and events. One of the most important events ofthis century is the seeping of the internet in almost all areas of our lives.Genres and literary forms too have been affected by this event.Oneof the ways of understanding and categorizing genres is also based on thestylistic device of analysing the public’s reading habits. The onset of theinternet has greatly changed the reading habits of the existing population. Thefast paced lifestyle has led to a thinking in which the individual is eager toget his hands on information and not knowledge.
This idea of instantgratification has greatly affected the public’s reading habits.Traditionally,the stigma of self publishing books was too overwhelming for the author toovercome. However, the onset of internet has given rise to a lot of trends.Firstly, the existence of various websites like fictionpress, wattpad, and manyothers has allowed amateur authors to post their creative works for free.Helpful readers provide feedback and many of these sites also boast of bookclubs that discuss these works in detail. The works written by these writersand the reading habits of the audience has also transformed genrecategorization of that particular site. To explain this in detail, I willanalyse the transformation of the website, wattpad. A few years ago, thecategories were simply divided into fiction, non- fiction, poetry, classics,paranormal and historical fiction.
Over the years, they further divided thesecategories into poetry, general fiction, mystery/thriller, paranormal andsurprisingly a separate category of vampire and werewolf fiction. Publishing andreading habits are steadily linked as is visible from a famous example of theFifty Shades trilogy. Many perceive the series as degrading and detrimental toliterature but the global audience has enthusiastically gobbled the content.The author, E.L James found inspiration to self publish the series after theenthusiastic reader response she received from her online audience. Secondly,the easy access to self publishing tools and the reader’s broad-minded attitudetowards trying out newer kinds of writing has also had an impact on redefininggenres and literary forms.
In India, the Shivatrilogy by Amish Tripathi, initially self published, reenergised the genrein which myths were interpreted differently through fictional narratives. Tocreate curiosity and buzz about the book, he released a video on Youtube andmade the first chapter of the book freely downloadable to entice readers.The Palace of Illusionsby award-winning novelist and poet Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a retelling of the Mahabharata fromDraupadi’s perspective. The large scale acceptance of these images by theaudience has led to redefining and reshaping a genre that already existed butwith a few tweaks and turns. Anothergenre that has evolved over time is that of short stories. A short storycontains all the traditional elements of dramatic structure like exposition,complication, rising action, climax and resolution, but in a concentrated form.The consensus of deciding the appropriate length of the short story has alwaysbeen a matter of debate. Edgar Allen Poe suggested that a short story’s lengthmust be such that one can read it in “one sitting.
” This definition of “onesitting” has obviously undergone many changes over the years. Now stories withless than 1000 words are considered to be flash fiction. One of the firstauthors to indulge in this genre was Ernest Hemingway who wrote a six word story.
It was, “BABY SHOES:FOR SALE, NEVER WORN.”Thisshorter than short story saw the light of the day in 1976 through a play calledPapa, a one man play about Hemingway written by John deGroot. The excitementand fascination with the six word story died with the play. However, with theemergence of the internet and the increasing number of people coming online,the interest in flash fiction has revived. In 2006, Smith Magazine, an onlinestory-telling magazine launched a Six word Memoirs project asking readers toparticipate in a contest and share their stories in six words. The publicationof the same received such an enthusiastic response that they publishedsubsequent versions of the same kind over the years. Infact in 2015, an online festival encouraged even established authors tocontribute their six word stories on twitter.
Margaret Atwood, a noted authorand a well established literary figure contributed this:Longed for him. Got him. Shit.Flash fiction is anoff-shoot of the genre of short stories. They are both concentrated works ofart but while short stories elaborate on the plot points, works under flashfiction are more interpretive in nature. It has slowly started gaining morepopularity because of the amount of time it takes to read a story. This goeswonderfully in concert with the current population’s lack of prioritizingreading as a hobby.The reader’s reception has encouraged many websites and magazinesto launch this feature too.
The oldest journal that focuses exclusively onflash fiction, the semi-annual Vestal Review, also has a web presence. Otheronline flash fiction journals include NANO Fiction (also print), FlashFiction Online and Flash Fiction Magazine.Flash fiction has furtherevolved to create Twitter stories. The internet influence on genres is morereadily seen with this innovation. Twitter stories refer to a concept in whichpeople on Twitter make short stories of or less than 140 characters. However,this is no longer restricted to just Twitter.
Amateur authors trying their handat these stories have also shaped this genre. A website called Terribly TinyTales has received widespread recognition for promoting this genre. An exampleof the same is:”It was prostitution whenThey sold her.When they sold him,Called it dowry.” Severalwebsites and profiles on social media sites like onefortyfiction and a twitterhandle called Very Short Story have been created in response to the popularityof this genre. Several reputed newspapers consistently launch festivalsinviting authors to publish their Twitter stories.
The Guardian, a US basednewspaper launched a similar festival in 2012, inviting well known authors towrites stories in 140 characters. An example:”It’sa miracle he survived,” said the doctor. “Itwas God’s will,” said Mrs Schicklgruber. “What will you call him?” “Adolf,” she replied.-JeffreyArcher Theacceptance and popularity of a genre also depends largely on readers.
Todorov suggestedthat authors write on the basis of a system already in place and readers readin function of the generic system. However, with the explosion of the internet,this cycle has become a two way street. A variety of factors like a fast pacedlifestyle, a decline in reading habits, and the internet explosion has pavedthe roads for the popularity of this style. Rick Altman, a contemporarytheorist suggests that a cultural commodity such as a genre is “made” throughthe action of readers who harbour expectations about it.
EveryAge is often characterised by the popularity of one form over the others. Withthe way flash fiction has steadily started growing popular, it would not besurprising if it surpasses all other genres in the coming years.Theinternet has also facilitated dissemination of information, bringing culturescloser by promoting more understanding and interaction; this exchange of ideashas widely enriched literature as a whole.
Websites like Edx and Coursera offeronline courses for free for various subjects. The courses are run by respectedProfessors and professionals from reputed universities like the University ofPennsylvania, Stanford University, etc. The amazing feature about these onlinecourses is the level of interaction amongst the professors and the students.The students share their assignments on the forum and the professors providetheir inputs on some of them. Thissystem especially benefits literary courses because of the variety of theparticipants. Every interpretation and analysis is based on one’s backgroundwhich essentially has a cultural basis. When so many people with differentbackgrounds collaborate their efforts to read a text, the conclusions arrivedat are quite varied. It augments the experience of reading and analysing.
Forexample, an online class called Shakespeare in Community conducted by theatreartists, professors from University of Wisconsin and Pedagogy professorsencouraged the students to analyse Shakespeare’s plays from the perspective ofnot just a play but as if it was a part of our daily lives. Thereasoning behind this particular exercise is that the way we receive the textalso makes a huge difference. The mode makes a difference in how we analyse andcategorize the text. For example, reading a play in solitude, reading a playaloud and performing a play will all leave you with different meanings of thetext. Melissa Pereyra, an artist from the American Players Theatre provides aninteresting suggestion. She says that when one reads or perform the play, onemust pay attention to how the words feel in your throat and mouth.
For example,the word ‘greed’: when we speak it, our lips widen in a grin, and the same wordspoken by Richard II, a villain gives it a different meaning. He has to grin tosay it, which transforms his appearance and this further adds another shade tothe character. Oneof the professors emphasizes that Shakespeare wrote his plays for the workingclass. These people possessed a crude sense of humour, and it is for their sakethat the bawdy jokes find home in Shakespeare’s plays.
He advises the studentsto observe Shakespeare not just in texts but also in our surroundings. Bakhtin,suggested that genres evolved from speech acts. Primary utterances refer tothose which happen during conversations which are then codified, altered,absorbed and made more sophisticated when used in novels, official documents,etc.
These are called secondary utterances. This implies that the literarygenres evolve from non-literary acts. Shakespeare’swritings are relevant even today. His insight and knowledge about humanity hascontinued to strike chords in all generations.
By taking it a step further, theclass talks about incorporating Shakespeare in our daily life. By identifyingacts and instances Shakespeare has already written about, we can correspond itwith our surroundings. This can be viewed as a dispersion of the literary genrein society. We will be travelling from the literary to the non-literary genre.
This helps us to prove that genres are always in movement and hence fluid. Theinternet is not only an innovation but also a means of innovating. Socialevents of relevance have always had an impact on the literature of the age.
Theinternet is no different. It has affected literary genres and is in the processof transforming genres. Hence, Todorov’s claim that genres are porous andcontinuously in movement is proved by the above mentioned examples.