Social media and the internet could now be seen as our workbooks, where we can test out ideas that we later refine in print or book form. I have drafted and conceptualised several essays in the comments section of other people’s literary blogs (an essay on the Wire published in this journal originated in a thread on James Bradley’s City of Tongues blog). But I want to suggest here that Twitter can be the work as much as the workbook, recalling video-game academic Espen Aarseth’s useful distinction between ‘ergodic writing i.e. writing still emergently based in evolving energy, and canonical writing e.g. unchangeably published’.
Teju Cole joined Twitter in 2009 but didn’t really take to it until 2011, when he was beginning work on a long nonfiction book about his native Lagos. While researching in Nigeria he began to tweet as part of a project he titled Small Fates, an imprecise translation of the French faits divers, referring to compressed news items, typically just a single sentence in length. Cole suggests that the original faits divers influenced the writing of Flaubert and later Gide, Camus, Le Clézio and Barthes. On his website, Cole mentions twentieth-century French journalist Félix Fénéon as a master of the form.