Writing the self: Some reflexive thinking on online E-Lit

Media Anthropology
8 min readMar 18, 2021


Online Spaces, Motivation, Autonomy:

I started writing on my blog in August 2015, and I remember my sole drive being that I was denied the opportunity to publish in print. I believe this is one of the most important driving forces for people writing online, since you get to speak your heart out and get people to read your work. I did not have to wait for someone to accept my work; I could just get it out whenever I wanted! That is the impulse which drives me to this date. If I am asked why I write the way I do — the answer is simple… I get a kick out of it!

In this context, with comparison to my experience, I want to understand in a broader context of our country as to why people want to write online? Is my drive of being denied the print, ‘universal’? or is it something unique to my experience? Hypothetically speaking, it can be that or it can venture in the area of experimentation. The online form allows you to experiment by bringing in a lot of multimodal elements which is definitely not possible in print. The flexibility and autonomy, I believe, are two of the most important factors contributing to the growth in this mode of creative production. I remember starting off with short essays which I could not really get across in other conventional forms. It was then followed by short tales which I was told that I could not write. Therefore, the act of defiance, I see, remains constant. I would not call them stories so much as micro narratives unlike the Instagram ones. I was very drawn towards psychology and tried to explore the facets of the human mind in different ways. Later, I remember exploring the power of satire. I used different festivals and events only to convert them in a kind of tongue-in-cheek narrative. Exploring further, in this domain, I found a niche: that of mock travelogues! I love to travel and take unusual pictures while doing so. You would not find me taking pictures of proper monuments but if I see a sadhu baba watching WWE (and yes it did happen), my shutter goes snap happy. After having compiled such curious pictures, I like to draw an imaginary literary landscape which exists in the pictures, yes, but as a totality its presence can only be felt in its absence. I wanted to explore this domain further, but the work is too much. Taking pictures, editing them, and coming up with a narrative with other supporting forms of media becomes too much for a single person to handle. That is even more why I want to explore how much a single person can do on their own.

This thing called E-Lit

Electronic Literature has come to be a major area of consideration and inquiry in the recent past. Computational aesthetics seem to be at the forefront of these born-digital cultural artefacts or narratives. But, the definitions are always under the scanner as these are fluid in nature. One thread of the same can be critiqued in the Indian context in itself, which personally is a favourite question of mine to ask. If we consider the computational aesthetics to be at the centre of E-Lit, then it presupposes a certain level of computational proficiency at all levels of creative production. Here, if we look at a country like India, with its massive digital divide and poverty, not everyone has access to that kind of infrastructure. Thus, what emerges is different from the other spaces and might visually resemble those published in print. But, ‘writing’ as an activity goes beyond the mere visuality of the end product. It is a tripartite negotiation amongst the author, the reader and the material. I write in Wordpress and convention tells me that it is a ‘blog’. Sure, it can be called a blog but I like to see it as another platform to write on. The connotations of blogging pertain to that of journal entries which is not very true in my case. Most of the projects of E-Lit or otherwise, that I see in the West, are team-based and funded projects which require a lot of infrastructure. My interest is to unearth how much the solo ventures can achieve, without any computational support, in a country riddled with massive digital divide like India. My research interest thus is absolutely intertwined with my creative work, and thus I find it somewhat necessary to talk about it.

My Writing: Process and Practice

In my 5 years of writing, I have been able to come up with 75 pieces till date which falls under various categories. I do not strive to put something out on a regular basis but let ideas come to me. That is why sometimes I have excess activity while at other times, I might end up writing nothing. I like to notice things on a regular basis but I do not always feel the need to write it down. I let the ideas swirl around in my consciousness and after a while certain strands evaporate while others gain weight and sediment at the bedrock of my mind. Once that happens, I understand that this idea is indeed worthy of being shared. Or, sometimes it is just plain and simple laziness. Once I have an idea, I make some bullet points and try to understand how and where I can incorporate different forms of media for it to be a little more multimodal in nature. But, I cannot go overboard with the media either! Most readers read on their phones with sub par data connections and a lot of media might mean the piece is not read in the first place. I started writing in the pre-Jio phase of blinking 2g internet, where I have had to copy paste the text from the website to inboxes of people just so that it is read! The digital divide is still palpably bad, and anyone producing content on the internet must keep that in mind. As far as the structuring of any piece for me is concerned, it is either very meticulous or I just go full ‘stream of consciousness’ voice-dictation mode! There is absolutely no in between for me. This is a weird Jekyll and Hyde thing I have in me which I particularly enjoy. The main challenge, in a platform like Wordpress is that of sustenance! Had I not shared my works amongst my peers and asked them to read, I would have had absolutely zero traffic. And I am not exaggerating when I say because reach is something you get when you have a paid plan and I am yet to purchase one. Therefore, whatever reach you get is absolutely by your own manual design. That is why, the act of writing, if intended as an external affair, does not end at jotting the letters down! The post-writing promotions become equally important. I write to be read, so this step is equally important for me. If someone intends it to be personal, they need not worry about this part. I have seen many of my peers leave online writing specifically because of the lack of reach. That gives all the more reason to have some peers who can help you and vice versa. But, in a massive country like India, with its rhizomatic nature of production, such streamlining is not always possible and that is why, I believe, an academic discourse might help get some people on board to start the ball rolling.

Subjectivities, and the Self:

The first question that popped in my head while trying to tackle the question of thinking reflexively is that of representation, balance, ethics, and objectivity. Here, before proceeding I should clarify a few terms: what are ethics and objectivity? And how are they related in this context? By ethics here I understand not being overtaken by emotion when using my own work as a sample for case study. The next is objectivity. Since the inception of time, thinkers have debated the notion of true objectivity. No matter how statistically driven one’s analysis may be, the human factor behind the data/analyses can never ever be eliminated. If that is acceptable then why can someone not talk about their own work or something relating to the self? A major problem will be that of self-glorification. If I talk about my own work, will I be able to resist the temptation of giving it some unnecessary importance? These are paradigms to be kept in mind when talking about the self or the creative production(s) of the self. If a dataset driven by someone’s own ideology can be used to prove a point, then why not someone’s own work? We come back to the same problem: that of incestuous self-glorification. One of the finest examples that comes to my mind is that of the great thespian Utpal Dutta. As he grew old, he could not see himself performing with less vigour. He adapted the identity of Iago and ruthlessly criticised himself. While someone can critique this act as a roundabout way of patting yourself on the back, but it is also vital that the criticism takes place. Therefore, the argument that I am trying to make here is that I could perhaps use personal narratives to provide a societal image or to provide a glimpse of the social image that might contribute towards understanding a greater picture. I, by no means intend to understand this as representative of the entire online storytelling culture but, what I mean to use it as something which might just help start a discourse. I am sure that there are many people like me who in their leisure started a website to share their voices. I want to bring those narratives in the forefront to understand who is telling those stories and what they are talking about. Writing can be recognised if people write about writing in a self-reflexive and critical way.

More on my work:

My drive behind talking about my work comes from this feature by dra.ft where I was featured on their Instagram page as an artist trying to work with the text.

Author Bio:

Samya Brata Roy (He/Him) is currently in the final semester of his M.A in English Literature from The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. His interests lie in and around digital narratives, materiality and the issues concerning accessibility.

He has been writing here: thepenarchist.wordpress.com for the last five years and has almost 80 entries at present. He leads the SIG on Digital Objects and Media at DHARTI (dhdharti.in), works as a transcriber with The Canterbury Tales Project and as a database contributor with Electronic Literature Knowledge Base | ELMCIP. He is also a part of Game Studies India and Media Anthropology Research Collective. Email him at samyabrataroy@gmail.com



Media Anthropology

Blog of the Media Anthropology Research Collective — South Asia