Milieux Member Spotlight: The Future of Literature and Other Questions Lai-Tze Fan Asks Herself

Lai-Tze Fan has always been interested in storytelling – what those stories are and how we tell them. One needs to simply look at her academic background to recognize her interest in the narrative: an undergrad in English, a master’s in English and Film, and a PHD in Communication and Culture.

“What is going to happen to literature in the future?” she asks herself.

Her PHD dissertation, “Pre | Digital Liminalities: A Hermeneutics of the Intermedial and Materiality in the Print Intermedial Novel,” questioned the presumption that the digital was going to make print obsolete. By moving past this binary narrative of digital vs. print, she realized there’s an expansive network of media working in storytelling.

While writing her PHD, she “realized that it is not print and digital at all… there is this network of different media” that are fighting back and carving out their own space. We often forget that print, radio, television and now the digital are all interconnected. All media must be considered when contemplating the future of storytelling.

“I think storytelling is such an integral part… of how we make sense of information on an everyday basis, even right now I am telling you a story.”

By 2015, Fan was close to finishing her PHD. Her next step was to further explore this network of different media she had come across. But, where and how? She decided to come to Montréal as a sort of reconnaissance trip. “Montréal is one of the digital humanities hubs worldwide” Fan tells me.

She was also interested in the work being done at TAG with regards to storytelling in different media forms. “I wanted to learn from people around here, people were working on the types of things I wanted to work on.”

In addition to digital humanities, Montréal is a mediated textual hub. What is the mediated textual? “An idea that there’s a lot of exciting work that is being done here with regard to literature studies, but taking it a step further and thinking of ways to experiment with it.”

It was during her visit to Montréal that Fan met Jill Didur, English professor at Concordia and Milieux member. She was intrigued by Didur’s just-released Alpine Garden MisGuide app. The app caters its information based on the user’s location (the Alpine Garden at Montréal’s Jardin Botanique). Such examples of “locative media” are becoming more and more prevalent, from exhibition guides at museums to citywide apps like Montréal’s Cité Mémoire.

Fan applied for a postdoc with Didur in 2016. Ecstatic when she was accepted, Fan looked forward to exploring the questions that emerged from her PHD. One year later, that’s exactly what she’s doing. Fan is tackling topics like app user interactivity, embodied narrative (the insertion of the app user back into space as a way to engage them), and the role of materiality in digital infrastructure (from resource mining to the iPhone assembly line). The “stuff that the screen is designed to not make you think about” she concludes.

Fan is working on the SSHRC-funded Insight Grant project Greening Narrative: Locative Media in Global Environments with Didur. The project looks at how locative media can offer new ways of discussing and learning about natural history, imperialism, and the environment.
She is a research member of Breathing Games.
Finally, Fan has accepted an Assistant Professor position of Digital Media/Culture in the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. The position starts in August, 2017. 

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