Whenever we send a text or a tweet, we are unwittingly using words in a minimalist way. At our next Late Summer Lecture, James Gilbert (University of Edinburgh) will show how modern technologies of writing are changing the literary scene by encouraging authors, and indeed all of us, to use sparing forms of language. This free public lecture will start at 17.30 on 31st August in Alington House, Durham. Free refreshments will be available from 17.15.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has been a significant authorial interest in English literature in minimalism, both in poetry and in prose. Emerging in the poetry of Ezra Pound and the prose of Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, the minimalist literary aesthetic has carved a unique vein through the twentieth and twenty-first century canons.
This minimalist aesthetic can arguably be seen as a narration of repression, in which narrators and characters express themselves by chronicling seemingly banal physical action and description in order to keep at bay an awareness of a deeper existential anguish that they are unwilling to address, as it would require a re-evaluation of value systems and convenient sources of self-preservation.
This is not a medium that exists solely within the realm of literature however; as early as the invention of the telegraph (a use of language that in Hemingway’s time was often referred to as ‘cablese’), we have sought to economize our use of words and language in expressing instruction, intention and even emotion. Arguably the most utilized forms of communication in the digital age; text messages, e-mails and tweets all hinge upon a similar economy of words in order to convey a message. What effect has this had on both English literature and our day-to-day utilization of the English language?
If a rapid adoption of minimalism is occurring in both oral and written communication in the English language, it is crucial to consider how this will affect the future of human speech and writing. To consider minimalist language as simply calm and declarative is to undermine the urgency which it implies by its very succinctness. Could we not in fact view its usage as an expression of uncertainty and anxiety? If we can, we must reevaluate its collective employment in communication as belying a period of significant trauma and duress. It may well be the case that we are living in an age of disorientation and disenfranchisement similar in some ways to that experienced by those at the start of the twentieth century during which this minimalist aesthetic emerged.
It will be the purpose of this lecture to explore how we define this current moment and both the literary and communicative minimalism it has cultivated, and how we can understand this further through consideration of historical influence in both of these realms.
Future lectures in the Late Summer Lectures series will cover themes such as breathing in science fiction, the quest for the Holy Grail, and folk tales of the Lambton Worm. Join the conversation on twitter via #LateSummerLectures.