[-empyre-] Barrett on Stories that Flow

Hi everyone,
Having my own interpretation of "Liquid Narrative" (I hope to learn more
during the coming discussion) I begin with a story:

Stories that Flow

I spent most of the bitter winter of 2003-4 sheltered and alone in a
virtual space that I was building myself. Using the now dead Adobe
Atmosphere program I constructed my own interpretation of Istanbul?s Hagia
Sofia (537). I combined it with the something of the Alhambra (1338-1390)
and Pompeii (79) and put it in a semi-arid version of the open woodland
savannah where I grew up in eastern Australia (1982-87), complete with
European Bronze Age barrows and earthworks (2100-700 BC). Maybe it made no
sense, but it did look good (images of it can be seen here
It also opened my eyes to the way design and the cultural production of
space can make us think in certain ways.  Although I did not know it at
the time I was using sign systems I associated with images of particular
places to attempt to harmonize a series of ideas or messages. While I did
this I had to be conscious of the materials I was working with; how long
it took the browser to load, the proportions and scales in relation to the
avatars that would populate the space and who had copyright to what (it
was being published by a university). I paid particular attention to the
sequence and timing of how one experienced my world. Upon entry the avatar
found themself in a small round hut filled with blue light and a trompe
l'oeil of a horizon painted on the walls. I directed the avatar from here
by a triangle doorway that framed the view of the main pavilion which was
about 150 meters away. By starting from a confined visual field and slowly
opening it out I thought I would encourage user immersivity in the
experience. All this was attempted with narrative strategies that
considered the engagement of the interpreter with the materials of the
sign systems. Metaphors and representations of space are necessary for
this address to the user.

So how does it go from space to narrative? What is ?liquid narrative? for me?

There are two threads I am following here. One is the technologies that
are now being used to tell stories require authors to be aware (and there
is rarely a single author of a new media narrative), active and engaged
with verbal language as well as spatial, visual, aural, and design
systems. In terms of older narrative techniques, such as the
intertextuality of the novel discourse or the massively popular radio
plays of the 1930?s,  these elements were all translated into a single
media form (print or audio) and reproduced for their signifying function
within the dominate media. In the digital narrative artefact the older
form is re-presented (translated) but its original signifying form (sound,
perspective, film) is preserved.  In the new media artefact the narrative
process is now clearly going beyond the simple click and open technique of
early hypertext. Rather those experiencing the artefact are building it
themselves using what the "authors" (tricky term that one) have given
them. As part of this the narrative does not reside in one place, but is
gathered together from diverse computer servers, various media or from
dispersed files on a hard drive. Maybe the narratives are enacted over
distance by players controlled by secret ?puppet masters?  who follow
pre-arranged scripts as closely as possible when creating such mass
performances as ?I Love Bees? (2004). The database as narrative structure
has the potential to co-ordinate millions of authors in making stories
that are so cohesive they renew consensus reality as we know it (see DOPA
and Myspace).

The other thread that emerges from my present thinking is that with new
media technologies authoring has become a profound interaction or dialogue
between the material and the interpretations of a story. As N Katherine
Hayles states in her recent book, ?My Mother was a Computer?,

?Whereas the New Criticism of the mid-twentieth century isolated texts
from political contexts and technological productions, the New Materialism
I am advocating in this book and practicing in this chapter insists that
technologies and texts be understood as mutually interpenetrating and
constitution one another.? (Hayles 2005: 142)

Such genres as ARGs or narratives using GPS, DVD, or RFID as well as
networked texts or texts across media, fan fiction networks or role
playing narratives represent mutual embodiment of technology and
narrative. Spatial metaphors and forms are needed to realize the syntheses
of such media variant narratives. Maybe the closest we have come to this
before in the northern hemisphere is opera. Richard Wagner's The Ring of
the Nibelung (1876) has just been performed in its entirety in Copenhagen.
The Ring Cycle in Copenhagen took 14 hours to perform over 4 nights. It
involved a man in a fish tank, fireworks, sound, film, fire, lights,
buildings, and people singing to each other. Of course the audience did
not participate, unlike The Ring of the Nibelung computer game (should it
exist). In the southern hemisphere the Dreamtime stories of the Australian
Aboriginals involve a vast narrative scale. Huge geological and
topographical features were/are incorporated into imagery of the body as
well as cartography, ceremony, music, story, song, dance, visual and
sculptural arts.

Digital and other new media technologies allow us to take up stories that
flow like water through our minds, over our living spaces, soaking our
clothes and forming our lives.


Doctoral Student, Umeå University
Department of Modern Languages/HUMlab
+46 (0)90 786 6584
HUMlab.Umeå University.SE-901 87.Umeå.Sweden
Blog: http://www.soulsphincter.blogspot.com
HUMlab: http://www.humlab.umu.se/

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