Friends and Followers: Character and New Media in The Contemporary Global Novel

Curley, Anastatia, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Chakravorty, Mrinalini, Department of English, University of Virginia
Luftig, Victor, Department of English, University of Virginia
Arata, Stephen, Department of English, University of Virginia

“Friends and Followers: Character, New Media, and the Contemporary Novel” examines the ways in which techniques of novelistic characterization illuminate the fraught project of engagement with others in the current moment. Mediated encounters are central to contemporary experience, and their mechanisms and meanings need to be more fully understood: how does technology present other beings to our attention, bring us close to those who are far away, or encourage us to perform selfhood? These questions, pressing for media theorists, are also central to the ways literary critics have long understood the novel, itself a venerable form of social media. My project, like the novelists whose texts I read, takes the similarity between novels and social media platforms seriously and considers how paying attention to this similarity might illuminate both forms. By highlighting the ways contemporary novels represent character, this project attempts to renovate character as a site of formal experiment in the contemporary novel. As well as offering a vocabulary for describing and acknowledging the complexity of character, though, it argues that this vocabulary is a tool for describing the infrastructure and operations of the contemporary media environment. Attention to the way literary character flickers between text and person helps us better understand a historical moment in which our encounters with other people are increasingly mediated—especially given that, as theorists of media have argued, social media platforms borrow many of the techniques of novelistic characterization. If social media encourages people to fashion themselves into characters, attention to the mechanics of literary character can also illuminate everyday life in the present moment. As such, each of my chapters takes up a technique of characterization, examining in turn flatness, charisma, collaboration, and complicity. In providing this conceptual vocabulary, my project illuminates both the operations of novel character and the media environment in which we engage with other people.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
global Anglophone, new media, novel, character
Issued Date: