Re: [-empyre-] Barrett on Stories that Flow

Dear James,

thanks for your post. It opens a lot of possibilities, and I will
start with the first thread you mentioned:

Probably the move from analogic / electronic to digital — print to
digital, audio to digital, cinema to digital, video to digital, etc —
is the prelude to our proposed discussion, since the very idea of
digital languages points to a tension of old and new, which is always
suspicious of being "looking to the present by a raw-mirror", as
McLuhan once said. Using the concept of "liquid narratives', instead
of "digital narratives", is meant precisely to avoid a simple
understanding of this process of moving from one cultural form to

Janet Murray describes this tension between old and new, in "Hamlet on
the Hollodeck":

"One of the lessons we can learn from the history of film is that
additive formulations like 'photo-play' or the contemporary catchall
'multimedia' are a sign that the medium is in an early stage of
development and is still depending on formats derived from earlier
technologies instead of exploiting its own expressive power".

Despite the fact that history is not as linear as the quote might
suggest, Murray stresses an important point, when she observes how the
previously described "derivative mind-set is apparent in the
conception of cyberspace as a place to view 'pages' of print or
'clips' of moving video and of CD-ROMs as offering 'extended books'".

Hayles notion of 'mutually interpenetrating' phenomenons, in the quote
you posted, is probably more precise in pointing to the overlapping of
known cultural forms and unkown cultural forms that we deal with, as
technology opens new possibilites up.

The database is a good example, as you also mentioned. It organizes
its components by spatial relations (on the paradigm axis), instead of
organizing them by temporal relations (on the syntax axis). From that,
maybe it would be possible to claim that the 'narrative structure' of
the database derives from spatial relations, even though we would have
to think of a logical space of connected coordinates, instead of a
physical space. So I would rephrase your question:

How do we move narrative onto space, given that the most intriguing
ways of telling stories nowadays are often dependant on database
technology or on spatialized environments?

And add to that:

don't you think that one of the aspects of contemporary narratives is
that they are space-bound and not time-bound any more?

On 6/1/06, James Barrett <> wrote:
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: HUMlab:

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Marcus Bastos

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