Friday, November 09, 2012

Addressivity in Digital Narratives

Beyond the level of design, Last Meal Requested, Egypt, Façade and Dreamaphage function as complex communicative acts or utterances in reader engagement. As part of this engagement, the concept of dialogic addressivity explains how these works incite the interpretive responses from a reader that create narrative meaning. I outlined in Chapter One the basic concept of addressivity as adapted from the work of Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin qualifies all communication in terms of addressivity, always with an intended recipient and fashioned with “the quality of turning to someone” (Bakhtin 1986 99). This address defines the style, mode, sentiment and contexts of narrative, as “every word is directed toward an answer and cannot escape the profound influence of the answering word that it anticipates (Bakhtin 2002 280). By understanding the digital works as utterances that are contextually defined by addressivity, it becomes possible to see in each, “the influence of the anticipated response, dialogic echoes from other’ preceding utterances, faint traces of changes of speech subjects that have furrowed the utterance from within” (Bakhtin 1986 99). I equate the ‘furrows’ from within the utterance with the possibilities for interpretation and responses in representation. Two examples dealt with in this chapter of how ‘dialogic echoes’ are introduced into the reception of the digital works are in the speech accents as indicative of class in Last Meal Requested and gendered elements demarcating places in Façade. These features provide external context for the reader, in relation to the works as complex assemblages of social, cultural, historical and literary referents. From these factors it is possible to establish addressivity as a means by which the works can be understood in reading.
Addressivity is grounded in the idea that literature seeks out identities in how it evokes and refers to contexts. Literature does this through, “composition and, particularly, the style of the utterance depend[ing] on those to whom the utterance is addressed, how the speaker (or writer) senses and imagines his addressee, and the force of their effect on the utterance” (Bakhtin 1986 95). In the digital works, the addressee is expected to understand and respond to particular references and representations that are grounded in cultural, social and historical assumptions. These assumptions include concepts of gender and identity as well as the class structure of North American society in Facade and Last Meal Requested. In the digital works language operates in relation to these contexts in its broadest possible sense, taking in images, spaces, bodies, sounds and writing, and these create the conditions of identity that fit within the reception of the works. In this reception it is necessary to consider language “not as a system of abstract grammatical categories but rather language conceived as ideologically saturated, language as a world view, even as a concrete opinion, insuring a maximum of mutual understanding in all spheres of ideological life” (Bakhtin 2002 271). Language as ideologically saturated and representing a world view is cohesive in and of itself. This language relies on the images and ideas grounded in broader social and cultural contexts, but it is individual and whole at the point of its expression. An example of this context/individual duality is the class aspirations of Trip in Façade draw upon middle class North American identity from the late 20th century, but at the same time is an expression of individuality for the character in relation to the character of Grace.
Addressivity in narrative depends upon the ideological qualities of the utterance in how they anticipate an answer from an addressee. This anticipation of a response, as I explained in Chapter One, is part of the works as interactive media that communicate with a reader. The works demonstrate that “understanding and response are dialectically merged and mutually condition each other; one is impossible without the other” (Bakhtin 2002 282). Communication in the works is defined by ideology, which operates across the media represented in the works (i.e. video, spaces, written text, audio, images), and unites them as texts. In the digital works of the present study, ideology is expressed in the representation and references to class and gender as themes in narrative. In this sense the works are dialogic, in a model that “represents readers as shaping the utterance as it is being made. That is why utterances can belong to their speakers (or writers) only in the least interesting, purely psychological sense; but as meaningful communication, they always belong to at least two people, the speaker and his or her listener” (Morson and Emerson 1990 129). These are expressed through genres and stereotypes, with a focus on the representation of places within narrative. Genres are represented in the digital works according to Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism, whereby meaning is associated with the context the utterance represents, not only in time and place, but also as a historical and material example of a particular social act of communication. The genres I discuss in the works are expressed in accents, gendered places, and representations of class.

(While reading this extract from my PhD Thesis I recommend listening to Negativeland by Neu)

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