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Literature in the 21st Century

define literature 21st century

by Ivo Oliveira  and Mithun Selvaratnam .

The crossroads of literature.

What do we talk about when we talk about literature? In the modern parlance, the term is associated with its academic context, referring to the enduring works of fiction, philosophy, history, etc. that have been studied for generations and shaped the foundations of our thought. Yet literature by its definition includes any and all written works, a fact that has never been more relevant than in our current Internet age, when the written word is more accessible and democratic than ever before.

The “death of print” has been much heralded over the past decade, precipitated by the rising accessibility of devices like tablets and smartphones that have made the electronic medium cheaper and more universal. Book sales, as well as magazine and newspaper subscriptions, have diminished, but our appetite for information has grown larger and more impetuous.

Major journalistic sources, which have always thrived off a mixture of concision and theatrics, have adapted to this shift. Twitter has created something of its own literary form, offering the use of hash tags to help convey a message within 160 characters. Blogs have afforded both individual writers and organizations, established or not, the opportunity of free publication. The hyper-textual nature of the Internet, aided by now ubiquitous social media, helps keep discussion flowing both around the world and around the clock. Online forums, which once belonged to a niche of dedicated computer enthusiasts, have been incorporated by most major news sites.

More “traditional” forms of literature, including novels, plays, and poetry, have been less successful in conforming to new technology. Various forms of “electronic literature,” including hypertext (interactive fiction), animated poetry, and even SMS (text-message) fiction have grown yet still exist within a small niche.

The dynamics commanded by the continuous change of technological progress, the incredible rate of advancement and the rapid shift of values which run pari passu with it, have kinesis as their key characteristic: a circulation of information and people where almost everything is dissolvable and dispensable.

But we have lost the optimism of the unifying potential of this kinesis. It has altered any notions of romanticism. Such a literary exercise is seen most in how authors have dealt with a post-9/11 world. Terrorism, clash and binding factors between civilizations or populist and cheap criticism have dominated these early years of the 21 st century.

Science fiction, therefore, has been rising in all its glory. This is because the dialectic between the world and the materiality of language which “describes” it centers its attention on the multiple fragmentation of a cultural “I”. The actant and his metamorphoses, in parallel with technological advancement, become a decanted discourse. It fights against its obsolescence by swapping our economic and social fabric with the unfamiliar. This destiny has actually been weaved since the 1950s.

The rise of science fiction is not disconnected from what the Theatre of the Absurd had already implemented. Entangled between the boundaries of modernism and post-modernism, Camus’s concept of Absurd, Beckett and Ionesco, among others, depart from the promises of a better man, his axiomatic language, and run through existential discourses on his failure and consequent world view. Kerouac’s “Beat Generation”, along with William S. Burroughs, dealt precisely with the roots of this fragmentation.

Therefore, although literature has to change with society, authors are still trying to address immutable human questions in new ways and reconcile them with the ever-changing technology that surrounds us.

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21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World

Introduction to World Literature

By Katrina Melissa Cruz

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is a German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic, and amateur artist, considered the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. The idea of World Literature came from him as his interest to Chinese literature, among others, flourished. Goethe searched for an alternative to both metropolitan culture and German nationalism since the German artists and intellectuals responded to the metropolitan culture, which is French literature, through nationalist initiative. Goethe found the solution to be world literature .

World literature started out to be an ideal or ambition. Goethe said, “The era of world literature is at hand, and everyone must contribute to accelerating it.” Centuries later, this statement remains to be true. World literature is a market that must be sustained as the circulation of literature is somehow still experiencing some challenges and debates such as the considerations to be taken note of when letting a work be included as world literature and of course, regarding the issue of translation. The challenges on circulation, however, are not as grave as the recent years. Today in the 21 st century, because of technology and freedom of expression, as well as our growing need for information, we continue to accelerate world literature as more and more people contribute to it.

There are many factors for a literary piece to be qualified as World Literature, let alone to be called “literature”, per se. World literature is used to refer to the sum total of the world’s national literatures, but usually it denotes the circulation of works into the wider world beyond their country of origin. To be considered world literature, it has to speak to people of more than one nationality, hence it transcends borders. Often used in the past primarily for masterpieces of Western European literature, world literature today is increasingly seen in global context because in the present time, countries are experiencing similar situations and somehow, they are all linked together. Literature went through profound changes in the 20 th and 21 st centuries, partly in that of  technology, communication and warfare.

As we went through World War II and the rapid expansion of technology and communication, artists are more likely to share new ideas and express themselves than they had ever had in history. There is more freedom then until now. Experimentation in writing from the early century continued, and as writers had more access to ideas from other cultures, they had more with which to experiment. And now, when ideas are shared in an instant, writers have a nearly unbounded ideas and topics from which to choose and the freedom to question any assumption.

The early literary genres that were developed are still being studied and read until today such as poetry, drama, fiction, essay, and epic. From these genres, as we live in the internet age and the continuous blooming of technology happens, literary genres continue to develop and grow, and they are not limited to the above mentioned. In addition, 21st century literature is in progress and thriving now along with the genres to be able to accommodate the present resources and lifestyle we have, especially for the students who now have a different learning process and resources.

In the modern vernacular, 21 st century literature is associated with its academic context, pertaining to the enduring works of fiction, philosophy, history, etc. that have been studied for generations and molded the foundations of our thought. Yet literature by its definition comprises all written works, a truth that has never been more applicable than in our current internet age, when the written word is more accessible and democratic than ever before.

The 21 st century reader grew up using technology as a primary learning tool and this made them skilled in navigating and interpreting digital formats and media messages. They have literacy skills which consists of technological abilities such as the use of the keyboard, internet navigation, ability to communicate and interpret coded language and decipher graphics. 21 st century literature deals with current themes and issues and it also reflects a technological culture, it also breaks traditional writing rules; hence, themes and issues we are going through now are freely written, expressed, and conveyed through technology. For this reason, genres such as IM and blog format books, digi-fiction, doodle, creative non-fiction, manga, and graphic novels, among others are emerging.

Students, readers and writers alike need to develop proficiency with the tools of technology and build associations with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally. They also need to design and share information for global communities to see various purposes. They must manage, analyze, and synthesize a manifold of streams of synchronized information. They should create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts. Hence, the internet serves as a tool for efficient expressiveness and sharing of ideas and information. Social media, blogsites, and marketing sites such as Amazon and Rakuten that freely lets people publish their works as electronic books enables and encourages us to bring out our creativity. They are avenues for people to write and read different kinds of works with various relevant themes and issues happening around us and they become part of the 21 st century literature.

It is essential for the students’ awareness to be raised, as well as their interest to the social and cultural conditions we have now. It is important for students to be more socially and culturally conscious of what the world needs to be able to shape what is in store for the future and with the help of technology, as long as they get to use it well with the help of education, they may be able to do so.

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