In Literature 2 students are working collaboratively to explore digital forms of writing, such as blogs and social media, and to analyze how these textual forms are able to engage with content in ways quite different from the literary, print texts we’ve read so far this year.

We began by reading and discussing Banana Yoshimoto’s novella Kitchen, about a young Japanese woman struggling with grief, creating new family ties, and finding solace and joy in her love of food. Students then broke into small groups to analyze how one particular topic works with the novella form. They also chose a particular digital form to explore, one which also engages with that topic. One group is researching blogs about cooking and the ways in which food brings people together; another is exploring Quora, an interactive question-and-answer platform, and looking at posts about loneliness; another group is focused on digital archives of song lyrics about sleep; and the last group is considering informational articles on death and loss offered through grief resource websites.

Rather than researching the topic (grief, cooking, etc.), students are researching the form. They are analyzing the formal and generic markers that mark the form as what it is. They have noticed, for example, that blog entries are titled, include visual images in addition to text, and offer a section for comments from other users, and that grief resource articles make use of lists and simple syntax to create a succinct resource for those dealing with loss. Each group is considering how these formal elements, in contrast with those of the novella, interact with the content presented. What assumptions or values does each form contain that affect how it can engage with a particular topic?

Quora, for example, includes short answers in response to specific questions, and users are able to participate in various roles—write a question, write an answer, read without writing, and vote on answers they like. What does it mean to consider questions of loneliness through this type of interactive community, together with other people? Or, what experiences of grief can a first-person literary narrative explore that a fact-based informational article cannot, and vice versa?

Each group will prepare a presentation to the class in which they’ll articulate their findings. Students are building their ideas collaboratively, discussing in person and also through shared Google Docs. Our investigation of form and digital texts this block will help prepare us for the dystopian novel we’ll read next block about the social and political ramifications of an increasingly digital world.

-- Sydney Cochran