[-empyre-] introducing Greg Ulmer and Marco Deseriis

Marco Deseriis md1445 at nyu.edu
Wed Oct 28 01:51:09 EST 2009

Thank you Anna.

Even if my chapter does not attempt to link civilizations temporally as 
far apart as the Greek civilization and ours, I do believe, as Greg, 
that we are on the cusp of a massive cognitive shift which will 
fundamentally redefine who we are. I am not sure whether 'electracy' as 
an heuristic can explain what I am attempting to describe, but basically 
I am going back to Walter Ong's definition of electronic media as media 
that foster a "secondary orality"--i.e. a culture of participation based 
on the use of text (or code)--to ask what forms storytelling is taking 
on in network culture.

Usually, when media theorists analyze the reemergence of oral culture 
within computer networks, they tend to emphasize the circulation of 
multiple versions of the same story. (Email chain letters are a case in 
point). Following Lyotard (1984) however, I argue that oral storytelling 
involved a threefold pragmatic competence that went well beyond the 
narrative content of a story: knowing how to tell a story; knowing what 
role to play in it; and knowing how to listen to it. As shown for 
instance by Ten Canoes (2006) a beautiful feature film by Ralf De Heer 
on Aboriginal storytelling, pragmatics is a key aspect of oral culture 
in that the storyteller is in charge of transmitting both a set of 
values, and transmitting the set of rules (the HowTos) that enable 
his/her community to continue to tell stories.

Now, it is obvious to me that those rules and values are only partly 
embedded in electronic media. If "being online" implies a pragmatic 
effort on the side of the user in that we all need to learn how to 
download, post, email, browse, etc, this knowledge is rarely acquired 
through a shared practice of story-telling and story-listening. And yet, 
there are communities, such as the hacker, the activist and the net.art 
community that help individuals to figure out how to be part of a 
culture. I show this by contrasting the notion of networked art to the 
notion of hypernarrative.

In the mid 1990s hypernarratives were largely seen as the emerging 
cultural form that held the promise to transform the way we tell and 
listen to stories forever. After nearly two decades, I think it is safe 
to say that this promise was never fulfilled in that hypernarratives 
never became a truly popular genre. (If I am not wrong Kazys made a 
similar observation in a previous post). Why so? My argument is that 
hypertext-at least in its HTML codification-is an inherently opaque form 
that shifts the power balance--what Espen Aarseth as defined as "the 
struggle for narrative control"-- in favor of the author. On the 
contrary networked art always contain a pragmatic element that enables a 
community of practice to unfold. In an online environment, this 
pragmatism has a technical component ("here is how this tool works," a 
key tenet of hacking) an ethical element ("here is how to do things with 
people," a key tenet of activism) and an aesthetic element ("here is how 
the material world is divided up and processed by the sensorium in the 
age of mechanical and digital reproduction," a tenet of avant-garde art).

Networked art becomes a participatory form of storytelling when a 
community is able to make sense of all these aspects by telling a story, 
participating in it, and enabling addresses to learn something from it, 
so that the story may be retold and performed, perhaps under different 
circumstances, in the future. I take a few case studies such as the 
netstrikes organized by the Electronic Disturbance Theater and other 
hacktivist groups, RTmark and The Yes Men's spoofs, the Toywar, and 
Ubermorgen's projects to illustrate my point.  I also show how these 
networking practices were/are historic in character, i.e. they began to 
unfold in a decade, the 1990s, in which the Internet was the "object of 
desire" of different social segments, and how these desires are now 
flowing back from the Internet towards the increasingly networked 
society. But perhaps the issue of the historicity of networking can be 
the subject of another post or of an open conversation on this list.


Anna Munster wrote:
> Thanks Greg. Before I take up your points specifically there's an opportunity to bring Marco into this discussion. Since Greg has brought up the relationship  between orality and literacy, Marco, how does your contribution to Networked – 'No End In Sight: Networked Art as a Participatory Form of Storytelling' (http://deseriis.networkedbook.org/no-end-in-sight-networked-art-as-a-participatory-form-of-storytelling/) – deal with the relationship between secondary orality and hypernarratives?
> best Anna
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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