Author Matt Richtel has an interesting column in the Sunday NY Times about how modern technology has made some venerable literary devices obsolete. In an age of cellphones, GPS and instant messaging, could Shakespeare get away with the fake death in Romeo and Juliet or Homer the 20-year wandering of Odysseus?
But while I agree the days of the missed message are over, I’m unconvinced a skilled author couldn’t find new ways to exploit modern technology and recast narrative. As I wrote in a previous post, modern storytelling has exploited the narrative advantages of supernatural “Destiny” by appealing to pseudo-scientific treatments of time-travel. And cell-phones? Well, there is a key scene late in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire which takes perfect advantage of cell-phone disposability to set up the film’s payoff.
Yes, it’s much harder to keep key characters incommunicado in modern story treatments, but perhaps that’s a sign writers must explore new narrative techniques more urgently. I mean, Pyramus and Thisbe predates Romeo and Juliet by a good 1500 years, and Plautus used the hoary sitcom device of identical twins more than 2000 years ago; isn’t it time both were retired?
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