Dr. Kwabena Opoku-Agyemang and Dr. Shanmuga Priya/ Electronic Literature
-Samya Brata Roy
The DHARTI Speaks! is a series organized by DHARTI that will see Global Voices and/in Local Conversations on DH.
The first session of this series started with co-founder Dr Dibyadyuti Roy’s introduction on the ‘rhizomatic’ beginnings and presence of DH in India and how different it is from DH in the West. Co-founder Dr Nirmala Menon further added, how there was a lack of presence of non-Anglophone electronic literature in the mainstream and their hopes that a session of this nature could help propel the discussion. After the opening words, Dr. Roy introduced Dr. Kwabena Opoku-Agyemang, who was the first speaker for the session on the topic ‘DH and African E-Lit’
His talk started by emphasizing the fact that one needs to speak for one’s own self in order to tell their own story and that it is not different in the context of E-Lit as well. He then traced a brief evolution of African E-Lit and the how DH as a discipline has grown in Africa via workshops and summer Schools. The next section of the talk was more focused on categorizing the different types of E-Lit that were being generated in Africa. He divided it into 5 parts: conceptual poetry (which he termed as ‘uncreative writing), generation of false quotes on Facebook by inserting local words and attributing it to famous people (in a satirical vein of course), flash fiction, games like Anansi and Oware which brilliantly adopts the folk culture and last but not the least web based projects (which tackle things like the pollution problem in Accra, transportation in Ghana; both in their own way by creating narratives about it). Thus, he concluded his talk by contemplating on what the future holds and in what new directions can the domain of the digital be taken forward in Africa. It can be via hyperlinks, apps, archives or other interactive modes but whatever it maybe it has the ‘African’ in its core, that is it should use the tradition to take the modern forward and vice versa.
After the first session, Dr Roy introduced Dr Shanmuga Priya who was the second speaker for the session on the topic ‘Interlinking Indian E-Lit and Indian DH’. Her talked started with the acknowledgement that archival projects had existed in India way before DH came up as discipline where only few people worked with the tools. As far as Indian E-Lit is concerned, she says that there has been a steady growth recently but that was not always the case. The first generation of E-Lit she says was dominated by the sms novels, roughly from 2004–2009, which did not attract many eye-balls. In comparison, the second generation, which comprised of Insta poems, twit fic and terribly tiny tales were received much better. Then she pondered over the connection between E-Lit and DH and how it was initiated as an experimentation with DH tools to see if any creative output is possible at all. At this juncture, she cited You and CO2 which is an interactive narrative for climate change. Other examples like Hyper Poetry by IIT GN and PR Murray’s Darshan Diversion were also brought in. With the example of Narayan’s fictional story writing machine and the problems of ephemerality of the digital artefact, she concluded by briefly elaborating on the prospects and challenges that DH offers in the Indian conventional academic spaces that it has the potential to bridge disciplines, but the acceptance won’t come easy.
Dr. Roy, then, also touched upon the lack of stand-alone courses on DH in both the spaces and how it is crucial to accelerate the discussions. The Q and A mostly featured questions on the theory vs praxis debate in DH and about the political legitimacy of considering blogs as ‘literature’. While concluding Dr. Roy and Dr. Menon re-iterated about the needs for tracing the lines of the rhizomatic beginnings in post-colonial spaces like Africa and India and how an event like this helps streamline the conversation.
To reiterate, the main points that emerge out the conversation is that the nature of DH and E-Lit work that is being in India and Africa bear a great similarity with its unique quirks. Most of it is due to a shared colonial past. Therefore, the drive to decolonize and form an alternate discourse, be it via archival work or digital narratives, prevails more than anything else. At the same time, the haunting question is how and where? Interdisciplinarity, despite its attraction is challenging in these conventional academic spaces. So, how do these strands of thoughts be given space to bloom? Will the digital morph its way inside the traditional spaces? Only time will tell.
Samya Brata Roy (He/Him) is currently in the second year of his M.A in English Literature from The English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad. Academically/theoretically, his interests lie in and around the modalities of Digital Narratives, which he also tries to create at https://thepenarchist.wordpress.com/. Via Praxis he has got exposure in the field of Disability Studies by assisting in a research project. He pursues teaching via an assistantship and teaching slum kids. He is also associated as an SIG facilitator with DHARTI and as a transcriber with The Canterbury Tales Project.