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Name: George Cox

PhD: American and Canadian Studies

Thesis Title: Digital Descendants: Literary Narrative from Print to Platform


Thesis Description:

Research Questions:

  • When employed to create a literary work, how do internet media reimagine narrative concepts seen in non-digital works?
  • Do these analogue antecedents influence their digital descendants?
  • What are the limitations of creating a literary work on an internet platform?

In this thesis, I identify three narrative strategies that shape digital literature on internet platforms - self-representation, the archive and the storyworld – and suggest that their actualization in digital works owes a debt to actualizations in previous offline texts. The narratives produced by distributed digital computing – what I will describe as interfacing with the internet – are not necessarily distinct enough to be thought of as ‘new’ media.  

As Ruth Page and Bronwen Thomas argue, narrative is an important heuristic method for self-representation online seen in the free identity play and calls to authenticity of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. This is certainly a recurring theme and principle of ‘Twitterature’. Yet, this idea of writing oneself into being can be traced back to the inception of the novel, and epistolary texts that featured similar calls for authenticity whilst coalescing individual subjectivities into a coherent whole. A pivot point can be identified in texts that instantiate the forms of online and social media communication on the printed page, which gesture towards works that are digitally-native in themselves.

 Another integral aspect of the digital work is the archive or database: what one reads online is often only a fragment of a much larger work that lies below the shallow surface of the screen. Moreover, digital works are often self-conscious of their place in a larger archive or network, and will rely on the affordances of these systems in order to communicate their messages. However, one should not overlook the database of words that pre-digital texts could draw from: the pages of a printed book. In particular, when thinking about performance poetry on YouTube, one should consider non-digital instantiations of these works in both print and embodied performance contexts.

Finally, storyworlds are significant structural and thematic narrative strategies that are more intrinsic than simply the setting of the action. Conceived spatially – as many interactive fictions are from the outset – the reader is encouraged to navigate a conceptual narrative map of the text, in order to reach a point of satisfaction that they have charted enough of the artefact’s pathways to constitute a holistic experience of the work in its entirety. Endings are arbitrary points that do not necessarily have to provide closure, as a sense of finitude is only provided by the limitations of the narrative charted for them to experience. The reader is, in effect, a tourist, traversing a digital storyworld until they have seen enough to move on.

A key context when comparing digitally-native works to their print precursors is what Zara Dinnen calls the “digital banal.” Over the past 35 years, there has been a notable change in how print literature represents digital technology: as digital media become more intrinsic to everyday life, and their mediating presence becomes more invisible, analogue forms such as the print novel struggle to represent the contemporary lived digital experience. 

Rather than perpetuating this ‘banal’ relationship of becoming-with media, I shall argue that the digital literature I examine “unsettle[s] the milieu of the digital economy […] to create estrangement – to remove ourselves from its comfort or to make its comfort strange” (Heckman and O'Sullivan). In this project, the self-proclaimed platforms that the contemporary digital creators are using (for example, Twitter, YouTube and Netflix) are far from neutral. They each have their own latent economic interests, ideologies and politics. However, the creators of these internet-based literary works are aware of the limitations of the forms and remain ambivalent about their emancipatory potential: it is a relationship of compromise, as opposed to outright resistance or complicity. As Heckman and O’Sullivan suggest, “for the literary to remain potent [online] perhaps its poetics must be confined to structures it might seek to subvert.”

Thesis Structure:

Section One 

Dazzling Collectives: Self-Representation, Twitter and Epistolary Fiction on the Internet

  • Chapter 1 - Analogue Antecedents: Dazzling Collectives in Print
  • Chapter 2 - Digital Descendants: Dazzling Collectives on Twitter
Section Two

Archived Bards: The Double Life of Performance Poetry on YouTube

  • Chapter 3 - Analogue Antecedents: Bards in the Flesh and in Print

  • Chapter 4 - Digital Descendants: Bards on YouTube
Section Three

Wrong Paths: Traversing Storyworlds in Digital Interactive Fiction

  • Chapter 5 - Analogue Antecedents: Navigating Print Interactive Fiction
  • Chapter 6 - Digital Descendants: Navigating Digital Interactive Fiction


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr. Graham Thompson (UON)

Dr. Anthony Hutchison (UON)


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

Conference Papers:


  • ‘Since these were only words, they tasted like excellent dark chocolate’: Scatology, Sex and Superficiality in the novels of Jonathan Franzen – “American Stuff”: American Literature Graduate Symposium, University of Cambridge. 14 May 2016.

  • ‘Interesting to the Manufacturer, the Dealer and the Smoker’: Resituating Whitman’s Three Young Men’s Deaths in British Smoking Discourse – 9th Annual International Whitman Week Symposium, University of Exeter. 4 June 2016.


  • 'A System of Sobbing Barter': Representations of the Internet in Contemporary American Literature - DigitalCulture, University of Nottingham, 20 April 2018.

  • 'Cats have small hands!': Whitmanic 'Becomings' on YouTube - 11th Annual International Whitman Week Symposium, TU Dortmund University, 28 May - 3 June 2018.

  • 'Quicksilver Creatures': The Internet and Emersonian 'Becomings' in Jennifer Egan's Look at Me and 'Black Box' - The Literary Self: from Antiquity to the Digital Age, University of Edinburgh, 4 - 5 June 2018.


  • 'Archived Bards: The Double Life of Performance Poetry on YouTube' - Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association National Conference, Washington D.C, 17 - 20 April 2019.

    2019 (Upcoming):

  • 'the feels on the bus go round and round': Performance Poetry, Community and YouTube Comments Sections - TMI: Sharing and Surveillance, University of Birmingham, 19 July 2019.
  • 'Whitman's Legacy in Viral Poetic Advertising'Walt Whitman International Festival, Walt Whitman Birthplace, New York, 9 - 11 August 2019.

  • 'Playing Deliberately: Walden in Videogames' - British Association of Nineteenth Century Americanists (BRANCA): 4th Annual Symposium 'Scaling the Nineteenth Century', University of Nottingham / Nottingham Trent University, 16-17 December 2019.

Public Engagement:


  • New Perspectives - Scaling the Sublime: Art at the Limits of Landscape, Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham. 15 June 2018. Talk on Martin John Callanan's artwork A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe).

Other Activities:


  • 'Posthuman Ethics, Pain and Endurance,' convened by Professor Rosi Braidotti. Utrecht Summer School, Universiteit Utrecht. 20 August - 24 August 2018. (Equiv. to 2.0 ECTS).

Event Organization

I co-organized with David Young the inaugural Digital Cultures Research Network Academic Retreat held in July 2019 at Riverbank House (Matlock, Derbyshire).


Cox, George. 'Event Review: Student-Led Midlands3Cities American Studies Retreat, 22nd – 29th June 2018' US Studies Online, 22 August 2018.


During the 2019 spring semester, I was a Teaching Associate for the UG American and Canadian Studies Year 1 course 'American Literature and Culture 2: Since 1940'.


Prizes and Awards:

Graduate School Travel Prize (awarded 2019)


Other Research Interests:

  • Nineteenth Century American Literature, in particular Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Transcendentalism
  • Contemporary American Fiction and Poetry
  • Digital Cultures




University email address:



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