Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thesis Extract: "Digital Narrative"

I will now identify five narrative attributes that exist in the digital works for the purposes of my close reading. The first is the event, or more specifically, following the work of Hühn, a type II narrative event, which,

Acquires the relevance and additional features that constitute it only with reference to intradiegetic expectations, to a literary or cultural context. It must, that is to say, be brought into being and related to its surroundings by an entity (character, narrator, or reader) that comprehends and interprets the change of state involved (Hühn 2011 np).

Type II events in narrative rely on “terms of structural switches or contrasts” (Hühn 2011 np). Hühn goes on to cite genre recognition and tropes as examples of how structural switches can elicit narrative progression in reading (Hühn 2011 np).  In my analysis, the attention to context and genre are further examples of how structural switches or contasts function to represent narrative events. By making meaningful connections to signifying elements, such as a speech accent or the wealth of a neighbourhood, a narrative event is provided with context. Of course it is necessary for the reader to be aware of these contexts, and it is this assumed awareness that creates the restrictions and stipulations for reading in the following analysis.
            The second attribute is material instantiation. The material instantiation of narrative operates as a pivot in reading the digital works. The material instantiation of the digital works should be understood in terms of “the semantic system that underlies narrative texts cannot be distinguished from the system of the supporting medium” (Ryan 2007 24). The materials of a text thus determine how the digital works function in reading. Marie-Laure Ryan proposes a “toolkit” for the conceptual definition of narrative as narrativity, which explains the material instantiation of the works examined in this study:

The proposal below organizes the conditions of narrativity into three semantic and one formal and pragmatic dimension.

Spatial dimension
(1) Narrative must be about a world populated by individuated existents.

Temporal dimension
(2) This world must be situated in time and undergo significant transformations.

(3) The transformations must be caused by non-habitual physical events.

Mental dimension
(4) Some of the participants in the events must be intelligent agents who have a mental life and react emotionally to the states of the world.

(5) Some of the events must be purposeful actions by these agents.

Formal and pragmatic dimension
(6) The sequence of events must form a unified causal chain and lead to closure.

(7) The occurrence of at least some of the events must be asserted as fact for the storyworld.

(8) The story must communicate something meaningful to the audience.

Each of these conditions prevents a certain type of representation from forming the focus of interest, or macro-structure, of a story. This does not mean that these representations cannot appear in a narrative text, but rather, that they cannot, all by themselves, support its narrativity (Ryan 2007 29).[1]

The basic requirement of a “world” or space “populated by individuated existents” emphasizes the importance of spatial relations the works. The question that is relevant to this dissertation is how are these spaces are understood as meaningful in digital narrative? In this sense the formal and pragmatic dimensions of narrative provoke my analysis. Narrative always relies on a materially grounded signifying system (i.e. speech, images, writing, spaces, sounds), which I contend is spatial on the level of design, and addressive in what I explain are the deeper narrative levels in the digital works. The spaces of the digital works are therefore organized in reading according to the representation of place and perspective. Places can be given meaning within the frame of space in such contexts as gender and class, as they are in the examples I discuss in the following chapters. Perspective places the reader in a spatial and temportal relation to the representation of gender and class in the narrative of the texts.
            The third attribute in digital narrative is the role of representation. Representation and temporal change are central to any definition of narrative. These attributes are what form the basis for what Ryan terms the “unified causal chain” (Ryan 2007 29), which can, but does not necessarily, lead to narrative closure. However, in the above definition of narrativity Ryan does not qualify how the “story must communicate something meaningful to the audience” (Ryan 2007 29). In relation to communication, Ryan proposes a set of binary distinctions elsewhere between representation and temporal change in “digital narratives, which are simulative rather than representational, emergent rather than scripted, participatory rather than receptive, and simultaneous rather than retrospective” (Ryan 2006 xxi). Strict binary distinctions are not reflected in the works of this present study, which manifest a spectrum consistent with the type II narrative event, “with reference to intradiegetic expectations, to a literary or cultural context” (Hühn 2011 np). A spectrum is composed in the works of representation in narrative, from the intradeigetic expectations such as technical skill and an awareness of how perspective functions in three-dimensional space, to literary and cultural contexts (e.g. genres represented in the works). The following analysis takes up key elements in this representation, which I argue is essential for the experience of narrative.
            The fourth attribute in defining digital narrative is temporality. Traditionally associated in narrative with the recounting of pastness, temporality is challenged in the digital works by how interactivity makes narrative a present-time experience. The present time of narrative experience, whereby the reader participates in the development of a story in navigating a space, by communicating with programmed characters or by making strategic decisions from the choices offered, is an example of narrative in real time. In digital mediated narrative, the audience can be involved in the production of narrative in their own performance of the text. Any associated notions of representation occur in what Ryan describes as a narrative “present with a full temporal meaning, expressing simultaneity between the time of narration and the time of experience” (Ryan 2006 78). Such a temporality, if not simultaneous with the represented time of the story, can only be coordinated at the time of the experience in reading.  In this sense the indicators of narrative effect are built into the material structures of the works. As a result the aesthetics of effect are at the center of my analysis, grounded in close readings for gender, place, class and space, and the resulting progression of narrative according to the possibilities for responding to the texts according to the conditions imposed on reading by a type II narrative event.
            The fifth attribute of digital narrative is levels, which are “the relations among the plurality of narrating instances within a narrative, and more specifically the vertical relations between narrating instances” (Pier and Coste np). Pier and Coste build upon the work of Genette who first conceived of the concept of narrative levels. Peir and Coste quote from Genette in explaining

Any event a narrative recounts is at a diegetic level immediately higher than the level at which the narrating act producing this narrative is placed […]. The narrating instance of a first narrative [récit premier] is therefore extradiegetic by definition, as the narrating instance of a second (metadiegetic) narrative [récit second] is diegetic by definition, etc. (Genette ([1972] 1980: 228–29) (Pier and Coste np).

In Genette’s definintion there is a sense of ‘liveness’ or uniqueness that results from the extradiegetic narrative instance. Ryan goes on to introduce a stronger sense of the interactive as an experience by introducing an ontological level of narrative, which creates “not only a change of narrative voice but a change of world. In this case the reader must recenter herself into a new fictional world and start building its mental image from scratch” (Ryan 2006 205). However, I argue the ontological level of narrative destabilizes representation in the works, while attempting to account for the interactive and particpatory levels of storytelling using digital media. Instead, the effect of levels in narrative is better explained by the concept of metalepsis as it applies to the digital works.
            From narrative levels emerges metalepsis, or “a paradoxical contamination between the world of the telling and the world of the told” (Pier 2011 np). This contamination is accomplished by transitions between narrative levels. According to traditional narrative theory, metalepsis is transgressive in how it ‘crosses over’ the boundaries between what is told and the telling of it, as in when a character speaks to an audience member directly or the frame of the story ruptures with a narrative reference to the medium of delivery. Genette explains this shift in how

The transition from one narrative level to another can in principle be achieved only by the narrating, the act that consists precisely of introducing into one situation, by means of a discourse, the knowledge of another situation. Any other form of transit is, if not always impossible, at any rate always transgressive (Genette 1996 181).

The resulting transgressive status assigned to narrative metalepsis is further reflected in a more recent definition, whereby metalepsis opperates,

Across media, metalepsis can be ascending across narrative levels, when a character moves out of a fictional world and enters the real world, potentially encountering its authors or readers; or it can be descending across narrative levels, when authors or narrators enter the fictional world (See Pier 2005, see also McHale 1987 who speaks of entanglements for the heirarchy of narrative levels) (Kukkonen 2011 3).

The digital works of this study exhibit these transitions in the changes offered by navigation, and according to address and spatial representation (including perspective and the representation of place).
             The transitions between narrative levels in the digital works are very much akin to what Astrid Ensslin terms “interactional metalepsis” (Ensslin 2011 11). Interactional metalepsis is produced by

Digital and interactive media that require the user‘s physical interaction with its hardware and software: computer games, of course, the metaleptic medium par excellence, digital fiction and poetry, and of course non-ludic virtual worlds like Second Life, as well as the creative and participatory uses they are put to by contemporary artists and media audiences (Ensslin 2011 11).

Interactional metalepsis is an extradiegetic level in relation to the previous (diegetic) narrating level in the digital works. The transition between these levels contributes to how interactive digital texts function as narratives. Transitons in space, narrative events, and temporality occur within the frame of interactional metalepsis. These forms of transition embrace shifting addressive modes and audio-visual perspectives, links and other techniques for navigation, focalization and the combinatory possibilities that are coded into the texts within representation. I go on to analyze these transitions in close readings, according to how they restrict the choices and references available to the reader as part of narrative.

[1] The first three of these qualities of narrative were first published in “Introduction to Narrative Across Media” (Ryan 2004 8-9) as “an informal characterization of the representation that a text must bring to mind to qualify as narrative” (Ryan 2004 8).

Sources Cited
Ennslin, Astrid. Diegetic Exposure and Cybernetic Performance: Towards Interactional Metalepsis. Plenary paper presented at 'Staging Illusion: Digital and Cultural Fantasy', Sussex, 8-9 December 2011 http://bangor.academia.edu/AstridEnsslin/Papers/1220348/Diegetic_Exposure_and_Cybernetic_Performance_Towards_Interactional_Metalepsis Accessed 21 August 2012.

Genette, Gérard.  “Voice”. 172-190, Narratology: An Introduction. Onega, Susana. José Angel Garcia Landa (Eds.) London: Longman, 1996.

Hühn, Peter: "Event and Eventfulness". The Living Handbook of Narratology. Hühn, Peter et al. (eds.). Hamburg: Hamburg University Press. Last modified: 7 June 2011. hup.sub.uni-hamburg.de/lhn/index.php?title=Eventand Eventfulness&oldid=1446 Accessed 18 Aug 2012

Kukkonen, Karin. "Metalepsis in Popular Culture: An Introduction". 1-21. Metalepsis in Popular Culture. K. Kukkonenand S. Klimek (Ed.)  Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2011.

Pier, John. “Metalepsis”. The Living Handbook of Narratology. 11 June 2011. http://hup.sub.uni-hamburg.de/lhn/index.php/Metalepsis Accessed 30 June 2012.

Pier, John. Didier Coste "Narrative Levels". The Living Handbook of Narratology. Hühn, Peter et al. (Eds.). Hamburg: Hamburg University Press, 2012. http://hup.sub.uni-hamburg.de/lhn/index.php/Narrative_Levels Accessed 18 June 2012.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Toward a Definition of Narrative”. The Cambridge Companion to Narrative. David Herman (Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univerity Press, 2007. 21-35.

No comments: