Re: [-empyre-] Liquid Narrative Topos

Liquid Narrative Topos

>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?

As I have been recently reminded by re-reading Gerard Genette, ?Narrative
does not ?represent? a (real or fictive) story, it recounts it ? that is,
it signifies it by means of language ? except for the already verbal
elements of the story (dialogues, monologues).?
So upon your mention Marcus of ?digital languages? I nodded in agreement.
But there seems to be a difference with the narratives discussed by
Genette in ?Narrative Discourse? and ?Narrative Discourse Revisited? (from
where the quote comes) and the narratives recounted with digital languages
(media, sign systems, signifiers) using such techniques as database
technology or spatialized environments. This is perhaps part of ?a tension
of old and new? mentioned in your post. I propose that this
tension/difference is the subjective state/s of the person/s experiencing
the recounting. One of the features of this subjectivity is the immersion
into a spatial recounting as part of their entry into or engagement with
the narrative. But the narrative cannot only be spatial and must involve
symbolic meaning. These systems of meaning are based on memory, culture,
social categories (genres) and the aesthetics of form (I am sure there are
more). Once we recognise something as meaningful in space we assign it to
a time. This time structure may now be non-linear, collaged or of great
speed. In negotiating a spatial narrative there exist structures that
force time into the equation: how far things are from each other, the
order in which they appear, and their associated historical context as we
perceive them. These are often spatial arrangements but they force the
interpretant to enter into the time structures of the narrative
(chronotopes). One of the major forces for time in regards to narratives
using internet as a media are the global time zones which can disturb
events being synchronised in online story play. But, having said all that,
it is by constructing spatial configurations that the digital storyteller
manufactures time. These forms of time are not necessarily compatible with
the time the interpreter inhabits in their own negotiating of the
narrative (hence the feeling of a computer game session taking 5 minutes
when it has been 5 hours).

The movement of narrative onto/into space is happening all around us.
Let?s start with a pre-digital example and a favourite of mine, Constant
Nieuwenhuis ?New Babylon?:
?In New Babylon, where the nature and structure of space changes
frequently, one will make much more intensive use of global space. The
volume of social space and of social activity in space has two
consequences: the space available for individual use is greater than in a
society with a sedentary population; yet there is no more empty space,
space unused even for a brief time, and, as one makes creative use of it,
its aspect changes so much and so often that a relatively small surface
offers as many variations as a trip around the world. Distance covered,
speed, are no longer the yardsticks of movement; and space, lived more
intensely, seem to dilate. But this intensification of space is only
possible due to the creative use of technical means -- a use that we, who
live in a society where use has a finality, can hardly imagine.?
This sort of space is difficult to imagine but it does not feel so strange
in a world were ?the creative use of technical means? has given us so many
examples that ?a relatively small surface offers as many variations as a
trip around the world?. The piece by Sheldon Brown ?Mi Casa es Tu Casa?
( presents us with a space
that is interactive and immersive as well as being perforated by
narratives that stretch between Mexico City and Los Angeles. As well as
the dialogues over distance (and today one of the most contentious
boarders in the world) the children who enter into ?Mi Casa es Tu Casa?
interact with augmented reality objects and use them to communicate with
each other. I am certain that narratives emerge out of this interactive
network. The spatial configurations of its design and recounting alter
present genres of time and space.
To look at this the other way, putting space into/onto a story I would
like to mention a project I was involved in. Once a year in the winter the
Sámi people of northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsular gather at
Jokkmokk in Sweden.  For the 399th Sámi Winter Market in 2004 HUMlab sent
a team to live blog the event and attempt to recount it in as accurate
manner possible via the web. ?Jokkmokk 2004?
( gained a lot of attention around
the world and the blog was visited by thousands. But many of them came
from the local Jokkmokk area, as watching themselves in the story we were
making. As well on the final night of the market, due to the increased
demand with all the market visitors, the mobile phone net crashed taking
the internet with it. So space inhabits itself. We cannot separate the
digital materials of the narrative from both the space they recount and
they inhabit. Time moves fluidly between and around these; narrative space
(recounted in the story) and actual space (the website and its technical
requirements - materials) intersect with each other. So, yes, ?one of the
aspects of contemporary narratives is that they are space-bound and not
time-bound?. I am not sure if this is the absolute situation as I think
time has rather broken up and now inhabits a narrative on many levels.


> 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
> other.
> 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
>> 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.
>> /jim
>> --
>> Doctoral Student, Umeå University
>> Department of Modern Languages/HUMlab
>> +46 (0)90 786 6584
>> HUMlab.Umeå University.SE-901 87.Umeå.Sweden
>> Blog:
>> HUMlab:
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
> --
> ---------------------------------------------------
> Marcus Bastos
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum

Doctoral Student, Umeå University
Department of Modern Languages/HUMlab
+46 (0)90 786 6584
HUMlab.Umeå University.SE-901 87.Umeå.Sweden

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