Sunday, August 30, 2009

How do You Recognise the Nonlinear when you Meet It?

An article by Sherol Chen on the Expressive Intelligence Studio blog entitled Nonlinear Storytelling in Games: Deconstructing the Varieties of Nonlinear Experiences inspired some thoughts relating to my own research work in digital narrative. I begin with the words of Sherol Chen:

Narrative is the combination of story and discourse. I believe the distinction of story and discourse is quite novel and under-appreciated in the area of interactive storytelling. For the purposes of this discussion, I’d like to deconstruct the nonlinear in narrative to give deeper insight into what this relationship between story and discourse actually entails. The term nonlinear takes many meanings depending on context, which is a result of the complexity in the meaning of both story and discourse.

The last sentence I found particularly thought provoking. The relationship between context, story and discourse is used to define the potential qualities of the 'nonlinear', almost in the sense of a matryoshka doll, with one nested within the other and so on. Context is posited as a result of story and discourse working upon each other. To further focus this approach I would add the concept of response, as the X factor in a digital text, which allows narrative alternatives to not only move along in multiple directions (not necessarily forwards), but to also be interpreted in a variety of ways. The potentials for response that are encoded in a digital work of narrative rely on both the articulation and recognition of discourse structures (or, as I use in my thesis following the work of Kittler; as networks). Thus far I am totally with Chen. The problem I have with Nonlinear Storytelling in Games: Deconstructing the Varieties of Nonlinear Experiences is buying into the entire concept of the 'nonlinear'. The supposed tensions between the linear/nonlinear in narrative I see as a dead-end discussion (in ways similar to the ludologists/narratologists divisions in the digital studies of the late 90s and early 00s).

As Chen suggests in Nonlinear Storytelling in Games, the concept of a linear narrative as relevant to digital media has emerged out of a series of assumptions about the role of time, and I would argue to a lesser degree space, expressed primary via the medium of language. My use of language to express my ideas is still widely considered (despite the efforts of Roland Barthes et al.) relative in that what I say is mine and me. To have command over language and harness its properties in order to express myself is considered an important part of education and realizing my own potential.

Language in this sense is regarded as the product of an authorial process, be it attributed to a single person or a team. The reality in a narrative is understood as contingent upon the style/s developed within the authorial process. There is the suggestion that there is something original and unique regarding a particular work of narrative. The idea that the 'story' begins and ends at a certain point, that it relates to particular situation/s or 'discourses' from the (for examples) social, geopolitical or gendered world. This is proposed as the case with Facade, the work Chen gives as both an example of a linear - "Facade is clearly linear on the discourse-level"- and nonlinear - "Clearly, Facade was created with an extremely nonlinear gameplay in mind"- story. However, in order to understand Facade, and any other work of narrative (digital, enacted, written or recorded) one must be equipped with the technical, discursive and interpretive skills that are demanded by it as a text. These skills are the literacies we are watching evolve around us today.

In Nonlinear Storytelling in Games, statements such as "Stories that start at the beginning of time", and "human beings live linear existences", fail to clarify the representational and experiential aspects of narrative in digital works. Further examples of the infusion of what the digital work does and what can be interpreted from it include Chen's statements; "You enter the apartment, you leave the apartment, and your experience is not disrupted neither temporally nor are you ever separated from your initial perspective", and "The presentation is determined by the audience interaction". In the case of Facade the apartment should be understood as a narrative construction in itself and it is filled with discursive values and assumptions that must be subscribed to for the narrative to function, both as material and story. When it comes to this synaesthesiae area of narrative architectures I usually first refer to Henry Jenkins' Games Design as narrative Architecture as a good starting point.

The distinction between linear and nonlinear suggests a hierarchy, or at the very least a différance. The latter fuels the fires of speculation with endless discussions on the levels, terms, attributes, and forms of so called linear and nonlinear narratives. The former has a much more discursive implications. Narrative becomes a cultural construction and what is considered as narrative shuts out of the circle of knowledge production that which is deemed not. In a similar system to that which Reawyn Connell points out in Southern Theory, in regards to

Mainstream social science pictures the world as understood by the educated and affluent in Europe and North America. From Weber and Keynes to Friedman and Foucault, theorists from the global North dominate the imagination of social scientists, and the reading lists of students, all over the world. For most of modern history, the majority world has served social science only as a data mine.

In the classifying of narrative, such as non/fiction, non/linear, and diegesis/mimesis, an enormous amount of human expression is relegated to the status of objects. An example of this exclusion comes from how narrative itself is defined. The Wikipedia entry (despite its digital and inclusive reputation) privileges the same origins of narrative that have been in use in the European academy for the past 200 years;

Stories are of ancient origin, existing in ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek, Chinese and Indian culture.

The civil, sedentary nation-state origins of the story are maintained, privileging a form of narrative that excludes an enormous number of cultures and systems of knowledge. An example of such exclusion comes from my own homeland. While the stories of the many Aboriginal Australian cultures have been studied extensively by anthropologists, linguists, sociologists and religious scholars, it is most often divided into their parts according to the traditions of inquiry. An Aboriginal oral account of a place name, for example, has corresponding portions of its telling in body markings, landscapes, song, dance and painting. Knowledge of many of these features of a story often requires initiation and a defined status within the groups to which the story belongs. This trans-medial and highly social format is a whole, but in terms of academic discourse it remains divided along lines of classification that had their nearest origins in the 18th century of Europe. I believe such distinctions as linear and nonlinear are an extension of this hierarchical organizing of knowledge systems. To illustrate this point I quote from a translated Central Desert story from the Walpiri people of Australia;

"This dreaming that belongs to Yajarlu. There was a woman digging a big hole. It was a woman, digging, an old woman. Nearby there was a small child, crawling about. The woman emerged from the hole and she walked about nearby. The child was still crawling about, crawling about near her. Another woman arrived. She saw the child" (Yimikirli 39).

This is a complicated passage with much suggested but not stated in it, for example the relationship between the old woman and the young child not being maternal. The causality that usually attaches features of narrative to each other, in terms of space and time, are never really stated. As a result what could be termed the 'non/linear' nature of the narrative is played out in a spatial field featuring depth (the hole) but no edges, where characters move and events take place seemingly at random and repetitively. In the book format from which the narrative is re/presented, abstract and highly symbolic paintings are featured, which are the trans-medial portions of its overall manifestation. As well, dance and singing are aspects of its telling. The trans-medial configuration of what is tilted in the book The Travels of the Witi Poles make its inclusion in a library difficult in its original form or its construction as an internet mediated narrative extremely limited.

Digital media does move us closer to being able to present in an assemblage the many elements of such a story as The Travels of the Witi Poles, across various formats within a single telling. The barriers which define much of our present (preset) inquiries into such telling dissolve when faced with the ways such modes of expression articulate narrative truth. In the case of the Walpiri, narratives such as The Travels of the Witi Poles were/are survival manuals in the extreme conditions of the Tanami Desert. Such a function, along with defining personal identity of the keeper of such a story, renders the classifying system of present day narrative studies as marginal.

Many of the problems that arise in working with reality-defining narratives from indigenous societies can be seen to have resonances in digital story telling. The embodiment of texts through fan cultures, the participatory nature of computer games, the spatial and even topographic possibilities of Alternate Reality Games and GIS are a few of the examples of new media defining new realities. By continuing to solely use binary systems of logic based on selective examples in relation to the embodied and relational spectrum of representation and participation found in digital works, we deny ourselves the full potential of the media. We need to look more broadly towards other systems of telling that include cultures once considered antithetical to the grounding principles of the inquiry. By using other sources to inspire a more inclusive and integrated narrative environment I believe we can assist with overcoming some of the problems that face the world today. The realization that humanity is not separate from nature and the spaces we build and occupy are testament to this is one possible outcome of a revision of how narratives are created using digital tools.

I thank Sherol Chen for inspiring this rant.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Some Didge

Myself playing Yidaki (Didgeridoo) at the old Umeå Town Hall (now a rather good restaurant) for the celebration marking the opening of HUMlab II in June 2009.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Parents

James (b 1940) and Roslyn (b. 1944) Barrett. My parents. Toowoomba, Australia, July 2009.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gems Gleaned in Travel

Out in the wide world for four weeks I gathered small scraps of paper with titles and websites, tunes and names in my wallet. In taxi cabs in Singapore and bars in Brisbane I met people who told me things that were worth remembering, so I scribbled them down on bits of bank receipts, advertising, napkins etc. I have noticed that many use their mobile phones for this note-taking function. I retain paper and pen. As I clean out my wallet here some of the particles which I encountered while in movement across the surface of this amazing planet.

A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind Volume 1 - Cosmic Space Music
~ Various Artists (Artist)
"Anyone with a good psychedelic record collection will be familiar with a good psych comp. Essentially this is a compilation put together by someone who obviously has a taste for good music on the spacey side. However as far as a psychedelic compilation goes it's not that adventurous or revealing. Tracks by Donovan and Hawkwind whilst good tracks will have been heard a million times by anyone seriously into this kind of music. In places the tracks flow together well, theres stuff I wasn't familiar with and tracks I didn't like at all. As with any compilation you could criticise the track selection. I would have issues with a number of choices (Is Maypole really the best track from The Whicker Man ? and the sing along Riki Tiki Tavi by Donovan is not only a really annoying song but not in the least representative of his more cosmic recordings such as Celeste) What really lets this whole thing down is the hippy drivel in the booklet. I'm sure anyone who likes this kind of music is aware of some kind of Universal Oneness but if anyone seriously believes that Lord Sitar and the Mahavishnu Orchestra have anything in common either spiritually or musically then they have been smoking the wrong kind of camberwell carrot." by Ellis Dee "Psych Digger"

Aucassin and Nicolette (1578)
Aucassin et Nicolette is a medieval French chante-fable, or combination of prose and verse (literally, a "sung story"), similar to a prosimetrum. It is the only known chantefable from what was once a very popular literary tradition, and it is from this work the term chantefable was coined in its concluding lines: “No cantefable prent fin” ("Our chantefable is drawing to a close"). Stylistically, the chantefable combines elements of the chanson de geste (e.g., The Song of Roland), lyric poems, and courtly novels—literary forms already well-established by the twelfth century. The work probably dates from the early 13th century, and is known from only one surviving manuscript dating from the later part of the century. The work's authorship is unknown. It is generally considered a roman d'adventure, or a romantic work of action and adventure.

The Book Of Disquietude or The Book of Disquiet (Livro do Desassossego in Portuguese) by by Fernando Pessoa
Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa (Portuguese pronunciation: [fɨɾˈnɐ̃du pɨˈsoɐ]; b. June 13, 1888 in Lisbon, Portugal — d. November 30, 1935 in the same city) was a Portuguese poet and writer. He was also a literary critic and translator. The critic Harold Bloom referred to him in the book The Western Canon as the most representative poet of the twentieth century, along with Pablo Neruda. He was bilingual in Portuguese and English, and fluent in French.
In The Book of Disquiet, his heteronym Bernardo Soares describes some typical places of Lisbon's downtown and its "atmosphere". Bernardo Soares was supposedly an accountant, working at Vasques's office, the boss, in Douradores Street, an world Pessoa knew very well, during his almost 30 year career, as free lance correspondence translator in a number of firms. Pessoa was a frequent client at Martinho da Arcada a centennial coffee house downtown, almost an "office" for his private business and literary issues. He also frequented other coffee shops, bars and restaurants, a number of which no longer exist. The statue of Fernando Pessoa (above) can be seen outside A Brasileira, one of the places where he would meet friends, writers and artists during the period of Orpheu. This coffee shop, in the aristocratic district of Chiado, is quite close to Pessoa's birthplace: 4, Largo de Sao Carlos (in front of the Opera House), one of the most elegant neighborhoods of Lisbon.
His interest in mysticism led Pessoa to correspond with the occultist Aleister Crowley. He later helped Crowley plan an elaborate fake suicide when he visited Portugal in 1930. Pessoa translated Crowley's poem "Hymn To Pan" into Portuguese, and the catalogue of Pessoa's library shows that he possessed copies of Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice and Confessions.

"It's quite difficult to describe this book; it's not about anything in particular. But if you have ever pondered the split seconds of mental webs strung in between your actual thoughts; if you have ever felt the presence of a question that threatens to disrupt your ability to function unless you write it down; if you have ever played with words and wondered if and how those words relate to what is real--then you must read Pessoa. One of the most compelling, fascinating, overwhelming things I have read. It will surely change you." Hermenaut "kedp98

Primitive Art in Civilized Places by Sally Price
What is so "primitive" about primitive art? And how do we dare to use our standards to judge it? Drawing on an intriguing mixture of sources-including fashion ads and films, her own anthropological research, and even comic strips like Doonesbury—Price explores the cultural arrogance implicit in Westerners' appropriation of non-Western art.

"[Price] presents a literary collage of the Western attitude to other cultures, and in particular to the visual art of the Third and Fourth Worlds. . . . Her book is not about works of 'primitive art' as such, but about the Western construction 'Primitive Art.' It is a critique of Western ignorance and arrogance: ignorance about other cultures and arrogance towards them."—Jeremy Coote, Times Literary Supplement

"The book is infuriating, entertaining, and inspirational, leaving one feeling less able than before to pass judgment on 'known' genres of art, but feeling more confident for that."—Joel Smith, San Francisco Review of Books

"[A] witty, but scholarly, indictment of the whole primitive-art business, from cargo to curator. And because she employs sarcasm as well as pedagogy, Price's book will probably forever deprive the reader of the warm fuzzies he usually gets standing before the display cases at the local ethnographic museum."—Newsweek

Rainbow (Boris with Michio Kurihara)
Rainbow is a collaborative album between Japanese experimental doom band Boris and psychedelic guitarist Michio Kurihara. Wata contributed vocals to the title song, which has a music video made for it by Foodunited. A couple of songs have another vocalist backing Takeshi. Either it could be Takeshi doing overdubs or Atsuo or Michio performing backing vocals. This could be possible, despite what the liner notes state, as Boris have mislabeled personnel before (Most notably on Vein.).

The album's initial release was done by Pedal Records, with liner notes in Portuguese. Drag City Records released this album in the United States on May 15th, 2007 with a different 9th track, on CD format only.

In 2007, Rainbow was also released on vinyl in two forms by Inoxia Records. One, an unlimited LP which contains the album (same as Pedal CD version). The other is a 2LP Box Set with a 50 page photo book in a special cover, the album on clear vinyl, a second LP containing two bonus tracks (also on clear vinyl), and a DVD featuring the music video for "Rainbow".

Reinventing The Sacred By Stuart A. Kauffman
Kauffman, a complexity theorist at the University of Calgary, sets a huge task for himself in this provocative but difficult book: to find common ground between religion and science by redefining God as not a supernatural Creator but as the natural creativity in the universe. That creativity, says Kauffman, defies scientific assumptions that the biosphere's evolution and human activity can be reduced to physics and are fully governed by natural laws. Kauffman (At Home in the Universe) espouses emergence, the theory of how complex systems self-organize into entities that are far more than the sum of their parts. To bolster the idea of this ceaselessly creative and unpredictable nature, Kauffman draws examples from the biosphere, neurobiology and economics. His definition of God as the fully natural, awesome, creativity that surrounds us is unlikely to convince those with a more traditional take on religion. Similarly, Kauffman's detailed discussions of quantum mechanics to explain emergence are apt to lose all but the most technically inclined readers. Nonetheless, Kauffman raises important questions about the self-organizing potential of natural systems that deserve serious consideration.

Didgeridoo and pecussion in Germany. Courses, instruments and so on.

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.
It has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.
GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.

Hey Hey Its Esther Blueberger

This film is a smart, rueful and dead-on portrait of life's unending quest to fit in; and the girl who solves it by completely breaking out - introduces a feisty outsider hero unlike any other seen on screen. Esther Blueburger's quest begins when she escapes from her Bat Mitzvah party and is befriended by Sunni.., the effortlessly cool girl who is everything Esther thinks she wants to be. With the help of Sunni, Esther goes away from her ordinary life and leaves behind her malfunctioning Jewish family to hang out with Sunni's far breezier and super-hip single mom Mary and attend Sunni's forbidden public school as a Swedish exchange student.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Society of the Spectacle

Guy Debord's THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE, originally published in 1967,
is easily the most important radical book of the twentieth century.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Debord's book is neither an ivory tower
"philosophical discourse" nor an impulsive "rant" or "protest." It is an
effort to clarify the nature of the situation in which we find ourselves and
the advantages and drawbacks of various methods for changing it. It examines
the most fundamental tendencies and contradictions of the present society --
what is really going on behind the spectacular surface phenomena that we are
conditioned to perceive as the only reality.

This means that it needs to be reread many times, but it also means that it
remains as pertinent as ever while countless radical and intellectual fads
have come and gone. As Debord noted in his later "Comments on the Society
of the Spectacle" (1988), in the intervening decades the spectacle has
become more pervasive than ever, to the point of repressing virtually any
awareness of pre-spectacle history or anti-spectacle possibilities:
"Spectacular domination has succeeded in raising an entire generation molded
to its laws."

Debord's strategy is to cut through the mass of false solutions so as to
open the way for real ones. His method may seem negative and abstract, but
his aim is positive and concrete. No matter how many times you read his
book, you will never really understand it until you use it. Which means
using your imagination and experimenting for yourself. The purpose of the
book is to help you do just that.

* * *

Ken Knabb's translation of THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE is
online at

The translation is also available in book form --

A new PDF version is online at

Debord also made a film of his book, which is available in various
formats --

Related texts by Debord and other members of the Situationist International
are online at

Monday, August 10, 2009

Travel Scenes

Sunshine Beach, near Noosa, Queensland.

Pyramid, Girraween National Part.

Sunrise over the Lockyer Valley

Cheetah, Singapore Zoo.

Am back in Singapore returning from almost four weeks of travel. Singapore and South East Queensland, Australia.Many images and here are a few. More soon. Back in Sweden on Wednesday.