someone asked for some controversy on Empyre’s topic of the month “Liquid Narrative”

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

– 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.


This website uses the awesome plugin.