Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Future of Literature?

The last post reminded me of this post from November 2005. In my effort to re-post relevant blogs, here it is again:

A British mobile phone company is rolling out their plan to make classic works of literature accessible and accessible by turning them into text messages. The complete works of Shakespeare will be available by April. However, the works lose a little something in their adjustment to modern technology.

Shakespeare thus becomes:
“Romeo, Romeo – wher4 Rt thou Romeo?”
“2b? Nt2? ???” (that’s from Hamlet in case you missed it)

Milton’s Paradise Lost becomes:
"devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war."
("The devil is kicked out of heaven because he is jealous of Jesus and starts a war.")

Austen does not fare much better with Mr. Darcy described as “fit&loadd” for “handsome and wealthy.”

A University College London English professor consulted on the project and said that “The educational opportunities it offers are immense,” and that the compressed format of text messages allowed them to “fillet out the important elements of plot.” “Take for example the ending to Jane Eyre—‘MadwyfSetsFyr2Haus.’ (Mad wife sets fire to house.) Was ever a climax better compressed?”

What is sadly missed, of course, is that great literature is much more than a compressed set of plot points. The purpose of literature is to read it, not to summarize the narrative. As Flannery O’Connor explains, the way a story is told with its unique choice of syntax, imagery, and use of language IS part of the theme and the purpose for the story. One could also sadly lament the loss of grammar and spelling skills. Art and beauty are not meant to be pragmatic.

The stated idea for this text messaging project is that this will be a valuable tool for studying for exams and a useful memory aid. I never realized that we would actually find ourselves in a situation in which students looking for a short-cut would find Cliff Notes or Spark Notes too much to read.


Austin Storm said...

Your comments are all good, but when I read about this "project" back in the day I rated the signal to noise ratio pretty low. I can't imagine anyone being interested in this... besides, more and more phones are getting qwerty keyboards and automatically correcting users' spelling and grammar. Text message lingo is not what it used to be, and that's a good thing.

Greg said...


Thanks for the comment. How's the book business?

One of the points is that medium influences message. Text message lingo will never be weighty enought to convey profound truth.