Predictive text: the future of narrative fiction
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 10:40 by Don Sillence
This thesis examines the current state and future prospects of the historical formation commonly known as ‘the novel’, a particular expression of literature that formed around, and was fuelled by, a certain experience of literacy. Given that the concept of literature as a category is tendentious and intricately interrelated with other forms of media and diverse cultural practices, a broader category of ‘narrative fiction’ needs to be imposed. Predictably, the traditional novel then appears archaic and subsumed. From the point of view of an imagined future, this contention is key to understanding ongoing developments in literary representation. At the same time, it is notably irrelevant without an accompanying argument about the future of literacy. This thesis therefore posits both: that to understand the future of literature it is necessary to ask questions about the future of literacy, and vice-versa. As an organising principle, these questions are explored through three mostly separate or separated approaches to predictive knowledge about the future, presented as speculative, prospective and theoretical. The first, speculative, takes its arguments from the novel, spiralling outwards from otherwise straightforward questions such as ‘how?’, ‘why?’ and ‘what if…?’ In doing so, it moves from a historical view to a technological one, then to more fictional aspects and finally to an assemblage, a superposition, where potential outcomes are put together and summed up. The second, prospective approach endeavours to measure the size and shape of the issue, concerning itself with reading, literacy and publishing statistics. Drawing on these multiple avenues of inquiry, the thesis thus illustrates certain fundamental problems that the future must face. The final section, theoretical, draws conclusions from its interrogation of longstanding theoretical critiques: critical literacy, commitment and antinomy. These, in contrast, reduce the scope of what must be considered, allowing the thesis to reach some kind of determination. This unconventional approach is balanced, it is hoped, by its respectful recognition of an extensive tradition of similar questions being posed in different ways. What is novel about this thesis is that it seeks to provide synoptic answers to these questions at a moment in history, after the development of the internet, when a technological shift is likely to provide not only a new context for those answers but an intensified transcultural urgency to our human need to represent, communicate and connect.