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Political Revolution and The Act of Reading

Fahrenheit 451 focuses on the burning of books. In this fictional world, the owners of books and their homes are burnt and book ownership is seen as the root of unhappiness within society. During the period of the Enlightenment, books were a driver of change as new works like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense shaped ideas like liberty for the American public and led to American independence. More people read than did anything else during this period of change and political foundation for Western democracy. How is the act of reading linked to revolution in books like Fahrenheit 451 and what does this tell us about the importance of reading for the modern era?

  • It's not just reading, of course; it's sharing of information. Books are a great way to do that, especially when prying eyes might be listening and subtlety is key. During times of famous revolutions in history, the Internet wasn't a thing; when Fahrenheit 451 was written, the Internet wasn't a thing. Today, in countries where tyrannical governments keep firm control of their citizens, the Internet is restricted just as much as books were in Fahrenheit 451. In countries where the Internet is mostly un-regulated, everyone is making their best effort to sway public opinion in every direction - it may not lead to all-out revolution, but I'm sure one could make an argument for the influence this freedom of information sharing has had on major political events in the past 20 years or so. – noahspud 2 months ago

Newspeak, 1984, and Big Brother

Orwell’s 1984 ends with an in depth record of Newspeak, the language imposed upon citizens by the novel’s fascist government.
Examples are:
1) ‘renaming’ words (such as ‘concentration camp’ being changed to ‘joycamp’)
This is interesting to analyse in light of the social theories which speak of how language constructs reality – if we refer to a concentration camp as a ‘joycamp’ for long enough, does that change the way we think of it? (eg. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which suggests that the structure of language shapes the speaker’s worldview or cognition/ Wittgenstein’s famous ‘the limits of my language mean the limits of my world’/etc)

2) reconstructing words to make them ‘noun centric’, such as eliminating the words ‘cut’/’cutting’/etc, and making them ‘knifing’/’knifed’ and so on.
Not only does this reduce the number of words we have at our disposal, it also limits the flexibility of language. To give a basic example, ‘cutting edge’ is an adjective that highlights the word succeeding it – ‘knifing edge’ instead places the focus on the knife. In due time, it is likely that ‘cutting edge’ as a concept itself may become obsolete in the absence of the word ‘cut’.
These ideas are relevant in most linguistic analysis, but there may be scope to analyse them in the light of current corporate and social structures. For instance,
– ‘Sending a message’ is a phrase that has largely given way to ‘inboxing’ or ‘DM’ing. Does this restrict the way we think of communication at large? Is there a potential future where written communication becomes unthinkable without monopolies such as Meta intermediaries? What of ‘Googling’ or ‘Xeroxing’ (instead of ‘looking for information’ or ‘making a photocopy’)?

– Do the words corporates use modify our understanding of social structures? When Facebook switches the name for a user’s personal page from ‘profile’ to ‘timeline’, do we think of the personal page as less static and virtual, more a tangible piece of our lives?

– Censorship in both mass media and private social media. Instagram and Google by default blur out posts containing certain words and images (‘Safe Search’) – there is little regulation as to what these words/images must be. Is the possibility that by routinely hiding these terms and visuals, the user’s reality is reconstructed to erase certain perspectives and realities?

  • Thanks! Edited for clarity and given a specific thesis and some examples. – Janhabi Mukherjee 2 months ago
  • This is a really interesting topic! The complex linguistic concepts you note are ones that are not so readily and commonly explored in pieces that I have read about 1984, and I think they could make for a very fruitful article. This is just a bit more of a general question about where you see or intend these concepts to be rooted: is 1984 a lens through which you think your potential thesis should be explored, or was it just a springboard for more generalized questions? Either would still make for a great analysis! I was just wondering what role 1984 is meant to play in such analysis. – mmclaughlin102 2 months ago
  • Thanks! I honestly think either approach could be taken dependiong on what the author wanted to focus upon. I was thinking of it as more of a springboard (beginning with the 1984 dictionary and taking up questions of language, reality and social structures) initially. But usingit as a lens to focus on more specific examples or instances (eg. how do 1984's lingustic concepts play out in situations like the current multiple antitrust lawsuits against Google) could also be a fruitful analysis. – Janhabi Mukherjee 2 months ago

The Rise of Fast Fiction and its Effect on the Publishing Industry

With the growing popularity of platforms like TikTok, micro-communities like BookTok are influencing the reading/publishing industry. A recent example of this is Rebecca Yarros’ ‘Fourth Wing’ which released in April 2023. The sequel to this, Iron Flame, was released in November 2023. This is an unusually short time line for traditionally published work and has lead to some quality issues. A vast amount of readers have reported issues with quality in terms of printing (i.e. whole chapters missing, headers missing, etc) but also in terms of writing (lack of editing or depth in plot).

Is the publishing industry changing? Is it attempting to mimic the quick release model of indie authors in order to exploit the market and make more money?

  • Effect, not affect. – T. Palomino 3 months ago
  • Cool topic! I've noticed this in genres I read a lot as well. Since you bring up quality issues, perhaps the article could go into ways of solving these issues without "fast fiction" becoming as difficult to break into as traditional book publishing? As in, maybe the standards need to be tightened or watched more closely, but that looks different than how you'd monitor or tighten standards for a traditional novel. – Stephanie M. 3 months ago
  • I saw a tik Tok referencing this same idea and the effect that it is having on the publishing industry as well. Books are being produced more quickly than ever and overflowing the market. This practice is also more prevalent in certain genres. The concern is that instead of making new, meaningful contributions to literature (not that every book has to be serious or educational), popular tropes are being replicated for the wrong reasons. Instead of recognizing that the first author wrote the trope well, these ideas are being reproduced multiple times at a lesser quality. – AmyKryvenchuk 2 months ago
Taken by AmyKryvenchuk (PM) 1 month ago.

The Appeal of Nonsense Literature: A Remedy for a Mad, Mad World?

For many of us, our first exposure to nonsense literature in general came in the form of nonsense poetry. Authors such as Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seuss and Spike Milligan used non-sensical verse to subvert the power of language to label and own the world. Oxford scholars now suggest the origins of nonsense literature may be found in the 11th century, although there is circumstantial evidence to suggest an even older origin, possibly as far back as Aristophanes.

Nonsense poetry (and, by extension, nonsense literature in general) is now an officially recognised subset of the international language of literature, and elements have even crept into everyday usage. For instance, few people know that the oft-used word ‘nerd’ was invented by Dr. Suess.

In addition to the names listed above, Ivor Cutler, James Joyce, Rudyard Kipling, Jorge Luis Borges, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, François Rabelais, Flann O’Brien, Velimir Khlebnikov and Sukumar Ray (to name but a few) have all used either nonsense or nonsensical structure in their works, as have Bob Dylan, David Byrne (Talking Heads) and Syd Barret (Co-founder of Pink Floyd).

Discuss how the anarchic power of nonsense writing can be liberating, both to the author/writer and to the reader/audience. Choose whatever examples you wish and show how, by breaking the established rules of grammar, punctuation and capitalisation, nonsense can also sometimes even act as a remedy for a mad, mad world.


    Coding, Bait, and Representation: Different Forms of Queer Media

    Analyze different ways that queerness has been tackled in literature over time, with particular attention paid to the shift in recent years away from queer coded characters to queer characters whose sexuality/queerness is explicitly stated and explored in the text. One of the most direct ways to look at this is through fairy tales. Many fairy tales when read through a queer lens reveal a rich queer subtext, even if they were not written with this intention. On the other side of the token, in modern times it’s common to write explicitly queer retellings of fairy tales, which bring that subtext to the forefront and make it textual, rather than regulating it to a subtextual reading. (This could be applied to storytelling as a whole, but it would be useful to narrow it down to one specific medium like classic vs contemporary literature. It could also have examples from TV & anime/manga).

    An article on this topic could also spend time on queerbaiting, which in some ways occupies a unique middle ground: characters that are queer coded enough for queer viewers to find them compelling and therefore a profitable audience, but not so explicitly queer that the writers ever have to commit to that reading (the show Supernatural comes up a lot as an example in these sorts of conversations). With many stories, it is worthwhile to go back and read them through a queer lens due to them containing rich queer subtext that wasn’t able to be made explicit in the time it was written (Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde and the Awakening by Kate Chopin comes to mind). However, when it comes to modern stories where censorship is less of a valid obstacle, this reliance on queer coding without explicit confirmation becomes baiting when done intentionally. (There is plenty of grey area when it comes to unintentional queer coding and where that line is drawn.)

    Additionally, this could also explore which types of queer characters are most needed in media today. While queer coding in classic literature is very important to look back on, now that explicit queer narratives ARE more normalized, it feels reductive to go back to storytelling that keeps all of its queerness beneath the surface. Nevertheless, a counterpoint to this push for explicit queer narratives would be that, at times, this type of storytelling can become heavy handed. It may be an issue where everyone’s ideal form of queer representation is subjective.

    • I think it's also worth noting that queerbaiting is often referred to as a marketing tactic - some media will sell the story as being queer, but not actually show this during the piece itself (eg a social media account posting a pride month post featuring a character or two, but these character's queerness doesn't actually get mentioned in the piece of media at all). It's a term that gets a lot of use, and some people seem to use it in very different ways with different meanings. Regardless, I do like this topic idea. – AnnieEM 9 months ago

    Beyond Gratuitous Sadness: Unmasking Trauma Porn in Film and Literature

    Discuss how to discern genuine quality from exploitative storytelling. Gratuitous sadness in movies and books is a contentious issue, with some works blurring the line between genuine emotion and exploitative storytelling. To determine if a movie or book is truly good or just trauma porn, readers and viewers can look for key indicators. Examining the intent behind the portrayal of sadness, evaluating the depth and complexity of character development, and considering the impact on the audience’s emotional well-being are crucial factors to consider. For example, novels like "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara and the 2023 movie "Close" by Lukas Dhont, have sparked debates on the fine line between authentic emotional storytelling and gratuitous trauma exploitation. Understanding these nuances can help discern between quality storytelling and sensationalized trauma porn.

    • I think how you define "genuine quality" and "truly good" should either be elaborated on; or, the effects of gratuitous sadness should be judged according to a less subjective measure than goodness and quality, for example, by authenticity – Yusra Usmani 11 months ago
    • A good place to look for uses of 'trauma porn' is within the BooTok world, particularly when it comes to the dark romance genre. An example of this is 'Haunting Adeline' which exploits conspiracy theories, sexual assault and stalking. This book is on the USA Today Bestsellers list and only moving up the ranks. It is definitely an example of exploitative storytelling. – morgantracy 3 months ago

    How will the Manosphere influence Self-Help Books?

    The manosphere movement, which propagates misogynistic and discriminatory views under the guise of men’s empowerment, has the potential to negatively impact the reputation and content of the self-help book industry. One danger is the appropriation of common self-help concepts like building confidence or setting goals by manosphere advocates, who then apply these principles in toxic ways to reinforce regressive attitudes toward women and gender roles. As a result, some constructive self-help ideas risk becoming tainted by association. Additionally, if manosphere ideology creeps into the mainstream, it spreads an insidious narrative that relationships are transactional, women use their sexuality as leverage, and traditional notions of masculinity are ideal. This worldview could filter into otherwise positive self-help books, contaminating them with embedded toxic assumptions.

    The manosphere also relies heavily on junk science and evolutionary psychology theories to justify their beliefs about female manipulation or male dominance hierarchies. The use of such pseudo-science as evidence in certain self-help books lends an air of credibility to these harmful ideologies. Self-help books appeal to vulnerable audiences seeking life improvement. Manosphere influencers may capitalize on this demand to attract followers and indoctrinate them with extremist, discriminatory attitudes toward women disguised as empowerment.


    Are Detectives the Main Characters in their Own Stories?

    An interesting trend in mystery fiction is the "outsider" nature of the classic detective. These characters – Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Adrian Monk, Shawn Spencer, Scooby Doo, etc – seem to exist for the purpose of helping other people’s stories reach resolution. Although they are often the perspective characters in their stories, it can be argued that the main characters are the victims and the perpetrators of the crimes being investigated. Those are the characters who are causing events to happen and having events happen to them.
    Consider the stories where a detective finds themselves in the middle of a mysterious situation they were not hired to investigate, and yet they decide to root out the who, how, and why for the net benefit of everyone else.
    An article on this topic could explore why detective characters are so often written this way. Why does this affect the mystery genre in particular? Is this a net benefit or problem with the genre?

    • This is an intriguing way to look at detective stories. When discussing the affect the conventional detective point-of-view has on mystery stories, as well as to what extent this benefits the genre, it could be interesting to mention the few mystery stories that do not position the detective as the focal character. Off the top of my head, the only detective story I could think of that does foreground another character over the detective is the first Knives Out film by Rian Johnson. [MILD SPOILERS FOR KNIVES OUT] The second half of the film is told primarily from the perspective of another character, with the detective Benoit Blanc not even appearing in some scenes focused on the other character. Within the context of the film, this shifted focus is supposed to subvert expectations of the mystery genre, as the story follows the other character’s efforts to avoid the detective finding out what they did. – Magnolia 9 months ago
    • I think this is a potentially interesting topic. In terms of other detective pieces that could be discussed are the detective tv series Columbo (and others like it, like the more recent Poker Face), where the detective sometimes turns up a little late in the story. The beginning focuses on other characters, other stories. – AnnieEM 7 months ago
    • I find this to be a very interesting topic for various reasons 1) The perspective of the detective as outsider who becomes the insider by choice mirrors the process the reader goes through; she after all steps into the "situation"/the fiction by choice (picking up the book/movie/TV show) and 2) the idea of net benefit has a lot of potential: I think noahspud uses the idea in two ways. First, it is suggested that the detective decides to solve the mystery with a net benefit for everyone else. Moreover, it is also suggested that the detective as a main character in their own story "gains" something by being involved, so the detective is really part of the net-benefitting? Secondly, insofar as the reader develops parallel with the detective, she "benefits." Of course, the reader can also develop beyond the detective, in which case she also benefits (albeit differently). It would be interesting to explore how these benefits look if we were to take different literary examples. I am thinking in particular of the recent season of the TV show Endeavour (a season which had a huge audience across various countries), which takes its audience through a significant emotional and ethical journey alongside the main detective but in such a way that the detective always deflects from total identification with him. I look forward to reading someone's article on this topic, and appreciate the ideas. – gitte 7 months ago
    • I think this topic could be properly expanded by looking at the crime genre more broadly, and how various elements or components of the genre have been explored to give the genre its vast diversity despite its genre unity. From the top of my head, crucial components would include the crime (event), the setting, the criminal, the victim, and the detective(s). A detective story can be written event-centred to not have main characters. Otherwise, an author could choose to make the detective, or the criminal, or the victim the main character. These options in a way create the subgenres within crime fiction, such as the classical mystery, or noir, or gothic/horror, or psychological thriller. – lgorejones 1 week ago