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IRC16 - Proposed Session - #LiterarySpaces (Online Literary Spaces in India)

Posted by Sumandro Chattapadhyay at Dec 01, 2015 11:40 AM |
This is a session proposed for the Internet Researchers' Conference (IRC) 2016 by P.P. Sneha and Arup Chatterjee.



The last decade has seen a slow but steady emergence of online literary spaces in India, marked by the ubiquitous nature of the internet and digital technologies, growing mobile phone penetration and increased access to devices such as tablets and e-readers. By literary spaces we refer to online journals, magazines and blogs, as well as reading groups and discussion spaces focused on writing in English and Indian languages. These range from those exclusively focusing on contemporary literature to others that feature writing on news, culture and arts. These spaces raise some intriguing questions about the growth a new online or digital literary culture, which may be mapped through the evolution of reading and writing practices as very explicitly technologized practices, and the changes in the notion of text and textuality, scholarship and pedagogy, among other things.

Some examples of such spaces that have come up in the recent years are The Little Magazine [1], Muse India [2], Kritya [3], Coldnoon: Travel Poetics [4], Kindle [5], Almost Island [6], The Indian Quarterly [7] and among several others. Many of these journals have both an online and print presence, while some are purely online and seek to reach a diverse audience featuring different genres of writing. While many carry an eclectic mix of creative and critical writing, perceptions about readership on the internet often dictate the form and manner of writing that is featured. The much anticipated and debated ‘disappearance’ of long form writing is one of the questions that may be asked of the emergence of these literary journals, which have in some way re-imagined this form in the digital sphere and have been instrumental in its growth. So even as there are books on twitterature [8], there are interesting ways in which online literary journals have tried to define the space of contemporary writing on the internet in India.



This panel discussion proposes to examine this phenomenon of the growth of online literary journals to understand the imagination of the ‘digital’ in their practices of writing and publication, whether as medium, content or context, as a way to explore how writing and reading practices today have been shaped by these changes. This also includes questions on methods of literary analysis that may have changed with the advent of the digital, and from a broader perspective, the production of literary scholarship and pedagogy in India. Some questions that could be points of discussion are as follows:

  1. What is the pedagogical role, if any of digital/online journals? Are they simply cost-effective modes of production of knowledge or are they indicative of some other form discrimination? Perhaps a discrimination between what gets read and what does not? Is a voluminous archive of nineteenth century writings of the same pedagogical merit as a list of 100 Hollywood romantic comedies? If the former is arguably much more educational, why then is the latter the source of the greatest traffic? Is pedagogy then a misnomer, and a non-entity in the world of online magazines?

  2. Can the rise of online magazines be related with the rise of print culture and the subsequent rise of the novel? The novel was educational and, while English was still a very evolving language in the 17th and 18th centuries, the form helped both shape the language and educate the masses, bourgeoisie, and the aristocracy about the nuances of the still-nascent English language. Can a similar function be said to have been fulfilled by online journals? Or have they failed in playing this radical role of disseminating new language and new vocabulary, which is required to articulate new modes and conflicts within modernity--sexualities, queerness, televised elections, middle-eastern (Syrian, Palestinian, Israeli, Iraqi) mayhem in times of democracy, globalization, urbanization, travel, genocide, partition, terrorism, and so on? Are there any exceptions among the journals in being able to somehow fulfil the criteria of engendering a new language? What are the examples, if any? How popular are they?

  3. Is online literature less literary than print? Is it more amenable to news, while print continues to be literary? Or is this only a misconception? Is online literature prone to non-serious, or populist sources of pedagogy, which serve more to titillate through trolling, humour, half-baked information, gossip, or is it playing a serious role too in portions? Apart from those newspapers and journals/magazines which also have print components, which are possibly the portals that create viable, meritorious, and universal categories of knowledge? Or, invocation of 'merit' and 'universal' essentially a flawed mechanism to judge online literatures?

Addressing some of above questions through a study of two or more online journals, this session will attempt to open them up to a broader discussion on the nature and growth of an online literary culture in India, and the need for and significance of research in this area.






[1] See:

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[8] See:



Sumandro Chattapadhyay

As a Director at CIS, I co-lead the researchers@work programme, and engage with academic and policy research on data governance and digital economy. I can be reached at sumandro[at]cis-india[dot]org.