Will the next Shakespeare write in emojis?
Amy Butterworth explores the world of emojis and their potential engulfing of the literary world as we know it
The ever-iconic Gina Linetti from ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ made an attempt at incorporating emoji-speak into her verbal lexicon: “the English language cannot capture the depth and complexity of my thoughts”, she says. Thus, a ‘winky-face’ 😉 here and an ‘eggplant emoji’ 🍆 there helps Gina to better express thoughts that cannot be articulated through what she perceives as the constraints of modern language.
The 21st Century has been an epoch of instant gratification; rapid-fire visual hieroglyphic emojis convey a message that would have taken sentences to articulate – and perhaps language wouldn’t authentically grasp the right meaning. In the same vein, YOLO conveys a meaning far removed from it’s acronymic root – ‘You Only Live Once’ doesn’t quite capture the same rapid immediacy as a candid ‘YOLO’.
There’s something quasi-Derridean about the use of emoji in our language
There’s something quasi-Derridean about the use of emoji in our language – what does the ‘eggplant’ signify? And how can we explain that differentiation between an “🍆” and typing “eggplant”? (think, ceci n’est pas un eggplant). Derrida talked about how writing ought not to be seen as “a stony echo of muted words” but rather “a lithography before words”. Looking at this from its most literal sense, is he not describing the emoji? Considering the 2015 Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year being awarded to the ‘face with tears of joy emoji’ 😂 , an award given to only the most culturally preoccupied word of the moment encapsulating the ethos of the year, I cannot envisage a future in which emoji’s (and on the same topic, slang such as YOLO) are precluded.
Have we approached the death of writing? Perhaps partly, but resurrecting from the ashes is a style of writing far more nuanced and intricate than ever before seen – thanks to the power of social media. Of course, we’ve seen the adverse effects of digital neologisms on marketing – lest we forget the sacred Hillary Clinton tweet “how does your student loan debt make you feel? Tell us in 3 emojis or less” (absolute poetry). There’s also corporate Twitter accounts making sure they reach their emoji quota alongside desperately trying to shoehorn in the newest hottest teen lingo – say a silent prayer to the poor communications intern being asked to incorporate an “and I oop-“ into the latest company tweet.
You’re participating in the epoch of the deconstruction of language itself
Is there something hollow to all of this? It would be easy to discredit emoji’s as a reification of human emotion, a standardisation of human emotions into a finite number of symbols, a signifier with limited potential for nuanced understanding. I disagree. Gina from Brooklyn Nine-Nine has it perfected – it’s an enhancement of the language we all know and love, and a conveying of thoughts that language itself can’t articulate: it’s why we have visual art as well as literature. So “🙏” and “😘” to your heart’s content – you’re participating in the epoch of the deconstruction of language itself.