iDol Worship in eLiterature

Posted on May 22, 2012


Do those of us who love #eLiterature love the content or the form?  Is it simply the idea of #eLit that is so sexy?  And are we no longer in love with the author’s creation, but instead finding a new way to worship the eReaders?  In the case of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, the print version offers no insight into meaning of the epic.  The responsibility is on the reader to either inherently glean meaning or do some research to find Eliot’s intended meaning.  On an iPad, The Waste Land becomes an illuminated eText.  Readers essentially have the Cliff’s Notes embedded in the poem, and suddenly it all starts to make sense to them.  So are they really reading the poem at this point?

In his blog post “Books in the Age of the iPad,” Craig Mod writes:

IT’S NO WONDER WE LOVE OUR PRINTED BOOKS — we physically cradle them close to our heart. Unlike computer screens, the experience of reading on a Kindle or iPhone (or iPad, one can assume) mimics this familiar maternal embrace. The text is closer to us, the orientation more comfortable. And the seemingly insignificant fact that we touch the text actually plays a very key role in furthering the intimacy of the experience.

I argue that we are not loving our eBooks so much as we are finding new reasons to adore our eReading devices.  This is, in essence, a form of idol worship.  We aren’t stroking the text, as Mod writes, but instead we are stroking the screen.  We are literally only touching the surface of the literature.  

The Waste Land app is very cool.  But when I say that  I am not discussing the poem, I’m discussing the ability of the device to deliver the con-/subtext of the poem to my brain in a pretty and fun way.  But it takes me away from the poem’s other devices, such as meter, syntax, etc.  That visceral experience is not as noticeable when interacting with the device (again, not the poem).  Could it be tweaked to allow for that?  I’m sure it can.

The point I’m trying to make is that classic literature, and “formless” literature, which Craig Mod calls pure text literature, can be retrofitted to work on eReaders, but perhaps is not best suited for an interactive format because parts of the literature are lost in eTranslation.  The author had not intended the words for any other medium, just like a Renaissance oil painter didn’t plan for their work to be mass produced via screen printing with all the depth and texture flattened, then sold at Pier One.  eLiterature, on the other hand, should refer to a genre written and designed exclusively for electronic interaction – without which meaning is lost.

Personal electronic devices such as iPads and Kindle readers are very new and we are always finding new ways to use them, almost to the point of exclusivity.  It could be a novelty that wears off, or it could become a permanent, growing phenomenon.  Either way, I’m not convinced it’s time to throw all print books out the window(s).