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The Pequod
Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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New Essay

Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Contemporary Fiction Research Seminar on Literature and Social Media

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I'm really pleased to have been asked to present a paper at the Contemporary Fiction Seminar in London next week. Judging by the event archive, and by the traffic that I've seen buzzing around Twitter during and after other seminars in this series, it's a really exciting place to discuss all things contemporary literature; I'm looking forward to experiencing it in person.

Next week's panel will be on literature and social media: papers. We'll be discussing twitter stories, mobile phone novels, fan fiction, as well as the ways we encounter social media in recent print and screen fiction. The abstract for my own paper is below; other presenters will be Dr Casey Brienza (City) on "Manga as Social Media" and Dr Bronwen Thomas (Bournemouth) on "Twitterfiction as an Emerging Narrative Form."

If this sounds like your thing, do come along to the Court Room, Senate House, on Wednesday 20th November, from 18.00.

How Communication Technology Structures Fiction: On Letters, Instant Messaging and Mobile Phones

Given that communication technologies deeply affect our social relationships, it is natural that fiction which claims to some degree of realism will reflect the technological environments in which its characters and plots are enveloped. However, beyond merely ensuring a work’s credibility by reflecting the actualities of daily life, this paper argues that technological contexts deeply influence the structure of fiction and the aesthetic methods that writers can employ. In particular, by drawing on the particular technical performance of technologies (their reliability or unreliability, speed of exchange, interconnectedness etc.) authors can conceal as realistic experiences what are in fact aesthetic or plot devices. Correspondingly, new technological contexts alter the structural options available, so that certain means of disguising the fictitiousness of a text are no longer available, whilst new options take their place. Through three short case studies of different types of communication technology, this paper will demonstrate how plot and character may be portrayed in a way that seems realistic, but that is in fact determined by the practical specification of the particular technology that underpins the narrative. Jane Austen exploits the flaws of a postal system in which letters get misdirected to produce a moment of high drama in Pride and Prejudice that nevertheless seems entirely feasible. Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary draws on the quickfire interchange of instant messaging to present a comic novel that nevertheless seems like an authentic diary account. Steven Moffat’s television version of Sherlock uses mobile phones as a means of information-gathering to legitimate what might otherwise seem to be Holmes’ quasi-supernatural powers of deduction. Fiction does not simply reflect technological contexts realistically. Rather, technology has a structural influence on fiction, determining the mechanisms of realism that can be employed.

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