The Future’s Here and it’s Digital

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I have already discussed some of the potential benefits of using Twitter as an academic platform to increase public engagement and impact. However, last night I used Twitter for an academic panel to critically discuss a novel with other PGR’s. I was invited to take part in a discussion that occurs on the last Tuesday of every month through the @BAASUSSO #bookhour event. This month the book featured was Ben Lerner’s critically acclaimed Leaving the Atocha Station (2011) and we were given several questions in advance to guide the 60 minute discussion. Three of us led the discussion and invited anyone to join in if they wanted to.

The list of questions we engaged with were as follows:

  1. In what ways is this a novel about the problems of translation?
  2. What role does intertexuality play in the novel? How do the inclusion of images in the body of the text, or the references to Ashbery, affect the reading experience?
  3.   In the panel, the narrator claims that ‘literature reflects politics more than it affects it.’ Is this a pronouncement on or a deflection of the politics of this novel?
  4. The narrator dwells on his artistic ambitions and makes passing reference (presumably deliberate) to Raymond Williams’ ‘structures of feeling.’ Does this concept inform the atmosphere of the novel?

To effectively discuss these points and to enable the discussion to be followed, we used A# for the question’s response (so Q1 had A1 in the response) and commented on the statements made that we wanted to engage with. The best thing about the process was the need to make our critical evaluation concise and comprehensible in a mere 140 characters. Before the consideration of the book began, I was concerned that this would be too limiting and therefore curtailing our ability to have an in-depth exchange. However, the 60 minutes flew past as we were able to offer insights based on the questions presented and comment on each other’s questions and statements. This seemed to create a web of ideas, shown in the screenshot below:

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This totally changed my experience of Twitter and I can’t help but think of the possibilities this has opened up to me. In particular, the utilisation of Twitter for teaching as a tool to allow the students to engage if they are less comfortable speaking as a group. It is fast paced and you have to remember to include the right hashtag and the right number (I did forget this a couple of times in my eagerness to make a point), but I can’t imagine this being an issue for the tech-savvy generation of UG’s.

I also think this could be a new way of engaging with papers at conferences and this is something I want to try to organise. Instead of the question and answer session that follows a paper, it makes sense to have people note their thoughts whilst the paper is being given, allowing the speaker to examine these comments afterwards, either to engage with there and then, or to spark a debate later in the day or after the conference. I know I would find it hugely helpful if I could access a chain of comments after giving a paper because it is very difficult to keep track of some of the interesting comments made in the Q&A; especially when the relief kicks in and the adrenaline crashes once the paper is over.

I’ll post a link to the storify of the discussion once it’s posted for anyone interested in 21st American Lit, Ben Lerner and issues of translation, sincerity, authenticity and the effect of intertextuality.

View the Storify


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