Re: [-empyre-] More controversy

Hello all, I apologise for my lack of response but juggling is a research
student?s second most valuable skill. I wanted to take up some of the
points made in the last entry for the list by Dirk, as I agree that some
of them more are ?more controversial?.

I would contend the implication that liquid narratives (as I understand
them) are confined to be associated with digital (or any other form) of
technology. What we are participating in is a shift, or perhaps an
appropriation against certain dominating ideologies found in many mass
narrative forms. From the example Dirk gave, the Wikipedia, trail out many
lines of resemblance and precedence in regard to this shift. For instance
the Encyclopédie edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert
(1751-1777) was collaborative, and extensive:

"The Encyclopédie was a collaborative project, the work of a "society of
men of letters," as its title page declared. By the time the last volume
was published, more than 140 people had contributed articles to its
pages." (

Of course what is the difference between the Encyclopédie and Wikipedia is
not so much the form or content (in relative terms, in Diderot's words, to
"change the common way of thinking"), what is different is the access. The
wiki form, packet switching and the World Wide Web has given the
possibility for anyone (not just men or those ?of letters? (read: Men) to
get a foot in. There are barriers at work in the Wikipedia structure as
well. Looking outside the structures to contexts, resemblances and
precedence, reveals barriers and assumptions behind structure. I
understand blogging as a networked presentation of self. But how can we
draw ideological assumptions from ?the thing itself?? It is only when a
textual form is taken up and set into some sort of motion that ideology
(and power for that matter) comes into play. Linking is a structure. Is it
really that radical? But following a link may change something. The link
itself however is an unopened door (it may not even work).

The term ?primal reality? disturbs me in relation to the flow of data. By
this do you mean realism? As defined by our friend the Wikipedia:

"Realism is commonly defined as a concern for fact or reality and a
rejection of the impractical and visionary."

Or (in the contexts of the arts humanities)

"Realism in art and literature is the depiction of subjects as they appear
in everyday life, with minimal embellishment or interpretation. The term
is also used to describe works of art which, in revealing a truth, may
emphasize the sordid or ugly."

I do not think the majority of recounting or representation found in much
digital media forms (games, art, virtual worlds, even blogging) today is
primarily concerned with ?fact or reality? (outside those used in
education) and relies much on the ?impractical and visionary?. The
?depiction of subjects as they appear in everyday life? could describe
surveillance cameras, but most people know that cameras are present when
they are and so alter their behavior accordingly (see the NYC Surveillance
Camera Project, camera locations maps
I think the emphasis in much new media narrative is on immersivity
(engagement) and flow. These are not necessarily connected to realism. One
example I have come across with deeply immersive flow in non-realistic
virtual environments is the Digital Space Traveler program
( server seems to be down at time of
writing). This fairly old (Creative Commons registered) program relies on
facial gestures from avatars that are visually represented as a floating
head in a designed 3D space that uses real time voice communication from
Screen shot:

Talking to a facial construction capable of emotional signifiers and
needing such conversational strategies as turn taking are part of the
Traveler experience. These realisms are not actually present themselves in
the structural materials of the recounted situation, but rather are bought
to the exchange by the participants and inserted into the machine. This is
perhaps an example of the cyborg revolution written of by Donna Haraway in
the Manifesto 15 years ago

To now take up the metaphor of Flow. Flow has less to do with the medium
of immersion (?as our data networks get more powerful and data exchange
speeds get higher?) and more to do with the subjective states asserted by
it. A powerful network is only powerful in relation to other networks. As
speeds increase in computing, programs are developed that demand faster
processors, so it is all relative. ?Power? does not equal flow in human or
narrative terms, only for the packet signals sent. Narrative needs uptake
by humans and if it is moving at the speed of light we cannot yet manage

Dirk?s ?The object of study? sounds like it could have come from Diderot
and d'Alembert. A network is not an ?object of study? but rather  ?The
ideological becoming of a human being?is the process of selectively
assimilating the words of others?One can return to one?s own ideological
horizon and situate oneself socially, temporally, and spatially in
relation to other subjects in the social world. The other, therefore
exists in a dialectical relation to one?s own consciousness as both
subject and object, and is therefore an inseparable component of our being
in the world.? Gardiner Michael, The Dialogics of Critique: M M Bakhtin
and the Theory of Ideology p39. In the same sense ?extracting the
narrative from the text? (as Dirk suggested) is not really how it is done,
otherwise everyone would have the same idea, understanding or
conceptualisation of a text if it is only approached under the ?right?
conditions. This is far from the case in the 21st century. We should not
waste energy creating boarders and controls when the opportunities
afforded by what is here loosely termed ?liquid narratives? has the
potential for developing further the ?ideological becoming? of all human


> Here are some things i can think of that might be "more controversial" in
> a
> discussion of "Liquid narratives" from my admittedly somewhat limited
> (textual and poetical) perspective:
> - the introduction of a metaphor to dicuss the use of text in works
> intended
> to be rendered on screens should perhaps be valued on its explanatory
> potential. If it doesn't make more clear what we are dealing with the new
> term only obfuscates, which can be nice (fertile) for artistic purposes
> but
> doesn't aid the theoretical discussion if such a discussion is aimed at
> reaching a consensus that could serve as a starting point for further
> investigations.
> (For instance the "page" metaphor as it is widely used for the content
> rendered after 1 rendering command obfuscates our theoretical discussions
> because it tends to favor a characterisation of screen text as inherently
> hybrid because people believe it looks like a page (in a book or magazine)
> so it makes it easier to mistakingly ascribe some characteristics of the
> book(magazine etc) to the screen work.So while screen texts may in fact be
> inherently hybrid because it treats image (sound, video,...) code on the
> same level as text code, this process of hybridisation has nothing to do
> with the page metaphor which is nothing more than a usability mistake just
> like the desktop metaphor was a usability mistake adapted by most
> operating
> systems.)
> - the use of this particular metaphor reminds me of a similar use
> regarding
> "data that are present in large quantities in networked environments":
> people tend to talk of 'liquid data' to further the argument that as our
> networks get more powerfull and the data exchange speeds get higher  we
> are
> supposedly moving in a new era when the discrete, digital flow of data
> becomes liquid and equals the analog of (primal) reality. Sure we are
> moving
> in a new era, we always are, but this I think  is basicly an example of
> what
> Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness: one fictionalizes
> one aspect of reality into an object (liquid) having such and such
> characteristics, next one finds the same charecteristics in another aspect
> of reality and then one concludes both can be named or at least referred
> to
> in an equivocal manner.
> In fact the word "flow" when talking about data exchange could do with a
> little critical scrutiny too because what actually happens is in no way
> comparable to the flow of water in a river, unless ofcourse one has the
> knowledge of a certain theory of everything that could describe a river
> flow
> as the extremely rapid and multidirectional request-response exchange of
> one
> atom or quantum to another informing each other in discrete converations
> that might go like "hey you up there?-er yes?-how's things where you are?-
> fine, do come up here, i'm moving now - ok, thanks, i was moving there
> anyway".
> Sure this sounds stupid and silly but that's exactly what bothers me
> regarding the use of metaphors, because one of the things that i learned
> as
> a philology student was that it is extremely important that one makes a
> correct and falsifiable formal description of the object of study, because
> otherwise the discussion of a play by Shakespeare for instance  might be
> clouded by a lack of knowledge of what is in fact Shakespearian about it
> and
> what is part of the romantic legend or the reception (tradition of
> reception) of the text.
> - so instead of trying to formulate an approach of "narrative practice in
> the digital age" on the rather contingent influence of some metaphors on
> an
> ill-defined object of study i would prefer to approach it by formal
> characterisation, try and find out how these practices would necessitate
> rewriting some of the elder concepts in narratology (Greimas and the like,
> i
> don't remember much of it although i do seem to remember they were quite
> useful in a systematic description of narrations), so you could come up
> with
> a sustainable theory of for instance wikipedia being a prime example of
> narration with extensive use of hyperlinking, how explicitly fictional or
> artistic narration tries to differentiate itself from normal www-files
> (files that do adhere to the information retrieval system that the
> internet
> is), if, how and when such strategies fail, the enormous influence our
> screens have in making a workable text presentation near impossible ( i
> always find it rather incredible to notice that very very many people
> making
> works for screen with text in them still refuse to acknowledge that:
> - we always read a screen-text in spite of it being highly uncomfortable
> - most of the text written for screen never gets read ( i imagine some
> hard
> numbers/statistics on what actually gets read in blogs for instance would
> surprise many)
> - the small part of text written for screen that does get read gets read
> totally different from text presented in books
> - it is still, in spite of a rather spectaular improvement of screen
> quality
> over the last few years, nearly impossible to built up and maintain a
> narrative drift through text alone that can take the reader along for
> longer
> than the usual three seconds
> -all of the above goes for the 'reader'as it is mostly envisagd as target
> audience for the works, so the fact that i write this in plain text in an
> email doesn't contradict it in any way, every one of you is a very
> specialised reader who has learned to ignore the pain of reading from
> lightsources
> - ignoring these facts has a tremendous impact on any theoretical
> discussion
> of digitally presented narritives because even if one could approach the
> ideal of "liquid narrative" as i perceive it in this discussion (i think
> any
> approximation would likely be rather illusionary and based on the
> immersive
> effects of sound and visual stimuli outside of the narration, i mean we
> all
> know (how) video-clips "work"), almost none of that would be located
> within
> any liquidation (sorry for the pun) of text itself
> - another aspect of text, this time from the pov of the author, that is
> easily overlooked is the lack of physical inscription of text and hence
> the
> lack of material reference of the text and hence of narration. You might
> put
> this of in a common sense way by pointing at the text and saying hey you
> can
> see it can't you, but from a cognitive science point of view having a
> material presence of a unique print of a text in your hands literally
> makes
> a world of difference, since the reader has a verifiable way of telling
> she
> is actualy extracting the narration from the text as she reads it/ puts
> the
> book down.
> - all of these remarks goes for academic research as well, er i don't want
> to get too controversial here but i do notice some strange effects of what
> i
> would call a fictional literacy based on meta-referencing, something quite
> similar to blog-culture where the increase of "traffic" is confused with
> the
> value/ideological influence of the thing itself
> - the alternative to the metaphorical aaproach i find most promising is a
> continuing focus on the limits of available technology regarding
> narration,
> because such a focus would almost automatically clarify what has already
> been achieved in "digital narration", which is ofcourse quite enormous.
> For
> instance if you state as a hypothesis that the limits of a screen work is
> that it is limited to being a representation of humanly readable code
> through the use of machine readable code, this might be a more rewarding
> hypothesis than saying these screen works are hybrids of text sound, video
> and programmatical interaction, because you could then go on to
> characterising those works as a _flattening_ way to be dealing with
> diverse
> media, create a body of reference for speaking about the textualisation of
> audio or the spatialising of text, build a historical overview of how
> these
> things were marginally present throughout the history of writing like
> Florian Cramer attempted with rewarding results in his  Words Made Flesh
> untsoweiter
> - another positive alternative would be emphasising the text/context
> relation, how text used to be written against a statically conceived
> context
> with a high exteriority to the text while any text delivered on the
> network
> is written with a highly dynamic context with a variable degree of
> interiority to the text itself, or how digital narration depends for it's
> success largely on the success of creating a (fictional) interior within
> the
> network, how meaning could be perceived as auratic presencing, waves of
> meaning going through running code, i mean as crazy as that may sound to
> some i think it actually makes more sense than talking about water in our
> extremely dry and shielded culture of electrical currents and circuitry.
> -which takes us to what Marcus already pointed out, namely that our
> current
> digital culture can and is being used as a means of creating an audience
> for/from "seldom heard voices". If you'd take a look at one of my
> Cathedral
> files you can see how
> immensly important the use of narration in combination with a minimum of
> technological equipment can be, which makes me, whenever the occasion
> presents itself, plea full-heartedly for a rational, co-ordinated and
> massive global effort to establish local open-source driven and uncensored
> digital centers in those area's of the world that actually struggle to
> deal
> with the real thing. I mean these people have no need whatsoever for the
> where do you want to go today kinda buggy rhetorical conscience-soothing
> g*dforsaken sales talk while we continue jamming on going through the
> gates
> of tomorrow before they are here.
> Greetings,
> dv
> Dirk Vekemans, poet - freelance webprogrammer,
> Central Authoring Process of the
> Neue Kathedrale des erotischen Elends
> _______________________________________________
> 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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