Rubik, the Short Story Cycle, and the Digital Age
In the 21st century, the demands of digital presence and the distractions of the internet simultaneously challenge writers wishing to represent contemporary life and threaten the attention readers are willing to give to literature. In this paper I argue that the short story cycle is a literary form that is capable of representing digital life and does so in a way that extends and expands the way that we read. I take Elizabeth Tan’s 2017 book Rubik as my case study and my analysis focuses on the way Tan uses two key features of the short story cycle form to represent and simulate life in the digital age. I begin with a discussion of how Tan uses the multiplicity of the cycle form to demonstrate the polymediation of life in the developed world and that the use of discrete, separate stories in the cycle allows for switches in voice and style which not only simulates the polyphony of digital life but also encourages us to contrast the different ways individuals use mobile technology to manage their lives. Following this, I demonstrate how Tan uses the connectedness of the cycle form to create hyperreal nested narratives in Rubik, highlighting the blurring of the boundaries between online and offline, between reality and simulation, and in doing so encourages active participation from the reader. Biographical Note: Emma Darragh lives and works in Wollongong, on Dharawal Country. Her writing has appeared in Cordite, Westerly, Meniscus, The Big Issue Fiction Edition, and TEXT Reviews. Emma has recently completed her PhD in creative writing at the University of Wollongong, where she is currently a sessional academic. Her thesis investigates the formal properties and thematic possibilities of the short story cycle in the 21st century. She would like to thank her supervisors Dr Christine Howe and Dr Joshua Lobb for their generous guidance.
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