Societal Literature: Chain Letters, etc.

 

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There was an interesting article on Slate.com today that discussed the history of the chain letter, that dreaded and compelling piece of mail — or email — that we’ve all received at least once in our lives.  The article gives some intriguing stories about the first chain letters and notable chain letters throughout time.

This article made me think about all the kinds of societal literature that exists in our lives. Societal literature would encompass text messages, emails, Facebook comments, Tweets on Twitter, blog posts, ads or commercials, graffiti, and large-scale performance art or exhibits like ‘The Gates‘ — a site-specific art project — in New York City. All of these are ‘texts,’ so to speak, that we observe in our lives and analyse without even thinking about it.

During my time in college, I’ve had several professors introduce this concept to me — that things we wouldn’t necessarily think of as literature could be literature. I can understand why people would be trepedatious about  labeling something like a misspelled text message under the umbrella of ‘literature.’ But things have always been that way, there have always been new types of technology encroaching on our lives.

Two hundred years ago, professors and intellectuals were worried about the scourge that postcards and typewriters would have on the quality of our language. The exact same situation is taking place with text messages and Twitter. I can’t say that I appreciate when words are hideously misspelled or abbreviated in texts, and I don’t have a Twitter account, but I can see the merit of those modes of technology. They facilitate a new exchange of ideas and texts that we never could have imagined. They open up our language into new avenues that can only be beneficial in the long run.

What is your opinion on the idea of societal literature? Do you think we can consider these types of things — texts, emails, blogs, ads, graffiti, etc — as a form of literature in our fast-moving society? In addition, have you ever received a chain letter? What do you think is so compelling about them that makes us pass them on?

— Honeycomb Editor, Mary Egan

2 thoughts on “Societal Literature: Chain Letters, etc.

  1. Anna October 11, 2010 / 11:20 pm

    I receieved many texts back in the day, actually forwards that would say…”if you don’t send it to x number of people this will happen to you.” I tried to kepp up with this for a while, but after some time it became so redundant, and I didn’t have time to keep up with it, if I only knew what facebook would bring on next.. people, friends getting mad at you because you didn’t reply to a post in a certain amount of time..but that’s another topic. So back to the chain letters. I told my friends who were sending them that i don’t want to receive them, not only because I didn’t have that many text messages, but also it was becoming so annoying and kind of scary at some point! I did not want to know what would happen to me if I wouldn’t forward the text in an x amount of time! Now I am free of these “filthy” text messages, and I am happy to say so. I do kind of miss getting the old fashioned chain letters in the mail.

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