In the comfortable and dimly lit Warwick arts cinema, professors Sarah Moss and A L Kennedy opened the Festival of the Imagination with an informal discussion of literature in the age of social media.
The two, who are both accomplished writers, discussed the evolving nature of literature, captivating the audience with their dry humour, invaluable remarks and personal anecdotes.
The talk began with an acknowledgement by both of the difficulties of their occupation in this day and age.
The room filled with laughter when Sarah commented on the irony of the fact that she must spend money to buy apps that block the Internet access for which she payed only months before.
Conscious not to adopt a dogmatic or one-sided attitude toward social networking, both writers criticised the assumption that we live in a less focused age.
“This concern with our own attention span has been around for centuries”, averred Sarah.
“In the 18th century it was novels that allegedly posed a risk to the concentration of young people, diverting one’s attention from real life concerns.”
The debate eventually moved on to the topic of self-publishing. This new phenomenon has been seen by some to threaten to radically change the face of literature; challenging censorship and assumptions over what is worthwhile or readable.
Both writers rejected such hyperbolic claims, reiterating that it all works in similar business-like fashion. Just as conventional publishers look for what will sell, self-publishers are forced to weigh the hefty costs of hiring their own editor, copy editor and graphic designer against the potential success of their product.
“It is an exhausting process”, remarked Moss, “and very few are lucky”.
After the two had brisked through the varied topics of literary festivals, audio books and 50 Shades of Grey; and with time almost coming to an end, Kennedy recalled an event she attended some weeks ago: a marathon reading of Moby Dick at the Royal Festival Hall.
She compared it to a communal ritual, emphasising the sense of unity that emerged. “There were times when you could feel everyone breathing at the same time.”
“I think it’s essentially this collective breathing”,Kennedy begins, in a spirit of conclusion as people start to grab bags and coats in order to resume their hectic everyday lives, “that you want to make sure isn’t lost in a world of technology and distance”.