Social Medias Shaky Place in Literature

According to Orson Welles, the enemy of art is the “absence of limitations.” Forcing yourself into a box, the confines of a postcard, haiku, any literary form with borders, really, is all good fodder for a writer. Anne Carson’s Short Talks work in parables; Joe Wenderoth’s Frosty philosophy comes in the form of Wendy’s customer comment cards…There’s just something brilliant that comes from struggling within the lines. But social media – character limitations, condensation of ideas to hashtags, the demand for immediacy in every new-age tech spasm – poses an entirely different, and debatably unnecessary, kind of limitation.

In a recent Publisher’s Weekly article, Rebecca Kauffman, author of Another Place You’ve Never Been, talks about her confusion when it comes to social media, especially the accounts of esteemed authors. Scrolling through Haruki Murakami’s Facebook page – which Kauffman remarks “does not immediately announce itself as publisher-run” – the heaps of quotes and Murakami praise comes off as egotistical. Every comment – written by a publisher or socail media team – is given in the third person, creating a distance between us and the author, a gap that social media was intended  to bridge.

Then there’s the issue with finding his (or any author’s, for that matter) Twitter account. This is mostly due to the absolutely insane amount of accounts that a single search generates. ‘Official’ doesn’t always mean it’s the author’s account; underscores and minute punctuation differences add to the clutter; finding an author’s real page can be an uncertain achievement. Why are we searching for them anyways, what 140-character kernel of wisdom are we hoping to find?

Kauffman goes on to discuss her own frustrations working in limiting forms, and the discouraging, but almost inevitable, harping on social perception:

(Social media is) not at all unlike when you’re writing fiction, and find yourself hung up on a certain scene, deciding if you should write “shit” because that’s what your character would actually say, or “bowel movement” because your mom will one day read your book, if you are so fortunate as to have it published. The answer is obvious, but obsessing about how a certain person (or the internet) will react to something you’ve written can interfere with your vision of the world you’re creating.

For many authors, like Kauffman, it just doesn’t feel necessary to decimate writing to cave man brevity, or bring on the social anxieties that come with setting up profiles. Sounds unrealistic in today’s age, I know, but unicorns like these – authors that lack social presence – do in fact exist. Emma Cline, author of the bestseller The Girls had no social channels prior to the debut of her book. She has a Facebook fan page now, but it remains publisher-authored and buoyed by reader engagement, not posts written by Cline. Gillian Flynn is another gold star example of an author with little personal social media presence. Her Facebook is rarely updated, she has no blog, and in an interview with Huffington Post, Flynn’s publicist admitted, “for fiction authors, trying to ‘sell’ their personality may not be as useful for getting someone to read their book for the first time—this isn’t a popularity contest, it’s about the reading experience.”

Flynn posts irregularly, roughly once a month or less.

You can argue, like the aforementioned authors do, that social media isn’t the food-and-water necessity to literature that it is to other industries. You can point to the handful of authors that explicitly claim anonymity to avoid the whole mess and tangle of it all. Authors like Elena Ferrante, who seek:

To remove oneself from all forms of social pressure or obligation. Not to feel tied down to what could become one’s public image. To concentrate exclusively and with complete freedom on writing and its strategies. – Ferrante

You could also argue that, alternatively, social media is pretty awesome: it connects authors (or authors’ publishers, more realistically) to readers, and allows us to keep tabs on release dates, collabs, workshops, and so on.

Despite a handful of upsides (for readers mostly), aversion to social media is not uncommon in the literary world. Scores of studies and reports have claimed that short form social channels and abbreviated forms (hello acronyms and emojis!) have a negative effect on writing skills, and can curb attention spans when it comes to reading longer forms. What today’s science jabber tells us is that Twitter and texting, unlike the similarly short Haiku, parable or Wendy’s comment card, doesn’t spark the same creative drive. Unlike the latter, the prior is hyper-focused on communicating a message free of cadence, acoustics, or poetic value. Furthermore, it’s immediacy, which turns five-minutes-ago into stale cereal, is counter intuitive to authors who want to create – and be inspired by – forms that endure.

In the opinion of Kauffman and others, why dampen with quill with bumper-sticker quality rhetoric? Orson Wells may be right in suggesting that creativity comes out of limitations, but the form of the limitation, the introspective writing it breeds, is equally important.


Featured image courtesy of TheRichest.