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> News > IN CHINA

Seminar probes literary landscape in digital era

WANG GUANGLU | 2021-07-08
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A recent seminar on literary creation and literary criticism in the digital era in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province Photo: Wang Guanglu/CSST

NANJING—A forum on literary creation and criticism in the digital age was recently held in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Scholars conducted extensive dialogue on literary creation, literary criticism, and literary dissemination in the digital era. 

New research topics 
The advent of the digital age has had a profound impact on human lives, said Zhang Zhen, vice chairman of the Jiangsu Provincial Federation of Philosophy and Social Sciences. For the study of literary creation and literary criticism, the digital age not only poses multiple challenges, but also creates fresh opportunities. 
Wen Panya, deputy secretary of the Party committee of Nanjing University of Finance and Economics, pointed out that the new round of scientific and technological revolution has profoundly transformed the world we live in and raised a host of major research topics for every discipline within philosophy and the social sciences, including literary creation and criticism. 
Gu Qin, secretary of the committee for discipline inspection at Nanjing Xiaozhuang University, said that the internet era’s omnimedia has changed production methods, dissemination channels, and evaluation systems for literature and art, with its influence rapidly spreading to the mass culture market. New media makes reading faster and more convenient, but also more fragmented and superficial. 
“Digitalization enables a richer and more diverse literary life, but literary works may be created without sufficient artistic literacy and precision,” Gu said. Literary creation and criticism in the digital age, as well as phenomena arising therefrom, all deserve closer attention and in-depth research. 
According to Zhang Guangmang, a professor from the School of Liberal Arts at Nanjing University, people often use such terms as “new media era,” “self-media era,” “omnimedia era,” and “cross-media era” to outline, express, or describe current literary contexts. In essence, by saying “new media age” and other similar terms, speakers believe that literature’s independence has not disappeared. In their eyes, the new media age brings challenges as well as opportunities for literary development, and literature’s value rationality will still have enough untapped potential to make instrumental rationality work for us. 
“However, the means of social production and social existence have already changed in the digital age, which means we need to view the digital era from the perspective of human existence itself, and explore the relationship between the digital age and literature,” Zhang Guangmang noted. 
Ways forward 
Literary creation and literary criticism in the digital age should adhere to a humanistic spirit and update creative concepts and research methods, Zhang Zhen added. Writers should observe the new reality of the digital age and adjust their understandings of the world, so as to accurately grasp the digital age on a spiritual level, with new literary forms to express the new social and spiritual reality of the digital age. 
In terms of research methods, Zhang Zhen said that literary creation and criticism research should fully leverage digital technology, extensively draw on multidisciplinary research paths such as quantitative history, computational linguistics, library and information science, ultimately realizing the integration of digital technology and literature. 
On the other hand, even though the digital age has highly generalized the dominance of technological rationality or instrumental rationality in contemporary society, literature, as a way of thinking and expression that has always been difficult to harness using technology, has increasingly demonstrated valuable critical analysis in the digital age. 
“In an era when programmed algorithms replace value judgments, the humanistic spirit contained in literature provides an alternate voice in the digital age, which should be a value we always prioritize,” Zhang Zhen said, suggesting that in light of booming digital trends, literature should not merely write about or record an era, but also reflect on it. 
Wen said that in the changing course of real landscapes, literary fields, and disciplinary transformations, Chinese literary researchers must respond to the needs of the times, consolidate foundations for development, and build an ideological system, producing literary research results that align with the era, achieve integration, and grow innovatively. In this process, various technologies bred in the digital age and the new technological revolution should undoubtedly be absorbed, and applied to deepen and broaden literary research. Technology can advance literary research within the digital humanities through facilitating a database of literary works, and a corpus of Chinese literature’s history and literary theory’s development history. 
“If there is a great distance between current literary creation and the essence of life, then literary criticism is farther away from the essence of life, and more separated from life’s vivid substance,” Zhang Guangmang continued. In the digital age, literary creation and literary basis encounter the same serious threats to survival. Against this context, it is a tough task to comment upon and consider relationships between literature and the times, as well as those between literature and the truth of life.