Monday, December 10, 2012

Monumentality, Perspective, the Iconic and Remediation in the Design of Digital Narrative Works

In the influential study on screen media The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, Anne Friedberg convincingly argues, “the computer screen is both a ‘page’ and a ‘window’, at once opaque and transparent. It commands a new posture for the practice of writing and reading – one that requires looking into the page as if it were the frame of a window” (Friedberg 2006 19). My analysis of the spaces that result from design can be equated with the visual composition of the page/window, according to perspective and monumentality, the iconic and remediation. Firstly, a scene from a window can include monumental emphases upon objects that result in the viewer assigning significance to them within the overall scene. Monumentality, as I explained in Chapter One, is the coded organization of space where hierarchies are attached to “the strong points, nexuses or anchors” (Lefebvre 2007 222), resulting in the meanings of that space. These points establish what can be termed representational space, providing both meaning and guidance for reader navigation and interpretation.[1] Representation space is “directly lived through [by] its associated images and symbols, and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’” (Lefebvre 39). I equate monumentality in the works with “non-verbal symbols and signs,” which evoke “not ‘stories’ but suggestive markings” and “trigger reactions” (Nitsche 2008 44). The ‘suggestive markings’ within monumentality organizes the reader’s temporal experience of space as a fundamental element in design. The results are emphases on particular features and these influence representational space, foremost through the provision of procedurality and focus in the reading of narrative. Interpretation of the monumental points occurs in relation to each other and defines the character of representational space. As I explain in the following analysis, a monumental point relates to other monumental points, forming a relational grid of meaning/s within representational space. Design techniques for the creation of monumentality include repetition (a single element repeated multiple times within a space), perspective (emphasizing dimensions, proximity or scale), auditory (sound placed at important points within the space) and objects and elements of space (doors, furniture, ornaments) that are associated with characters and are expressed (and therefore linked) in dialogue.
Perspective is a particularly important codified system in the design of the works, where point of view is manipulated, resulting in both meaning and restrictions in reading. In the following analysis I explain how perspective is not only visual, but emerges in the spatial as the result of audio and haptics (touch simulation) in the works. Audio establishes the perimeters of representation space, and in doing so it sets the temporal and spatial perspective/s experienced by the reader in reception. Firstly, the audio in the works establishes spatial perspective by breaking up the representational space and marking out significant monumental points for the reader, which establishes the order of narrative.  Audio establishes spatial perspective with spatially arranged “sounds [that] can be heard coming from outside and behind the range of peripheral vision, and a sound of adequate intensity can be felt on and within the body as a whole, thereby dislocating the frontal and conceptual associations of vision with an all-around corporeality and spatiality” (Kahn 1999 27). As a result of the arrangement of audio in design, the conceptually dissociative and embodied properties of sound have the potential to contribute to a representational space which includes the reader. Furthermore, the design of the audio immerses the reader in a physical relation to narrative, as Kahn states, by detaching vision as a conceptual apparatus and rendering the body a site for experience, understanding and spatiality. The positioning of the reader in representational space by design is linked to focalization, or “the perspective in terms of which the narrated situations and events are presented” (Prince 32). In responding to the sonic space of the works, temporal and spatial focalization becomes part of the procedural arrangement of narrative in design. In my examination of audio as a part of design I argue temporal perspective is a result of the focalization in narrative created by audio. The material dimensions of the digital works include the “temporal and spatial relationships [that] are essential to our understanding of [the] narratives and go beyond the specification of a date and a location” (Bridgeman 2005 65). Representational spaces in the works include the reader, as an embodied agent, as a character, or as a perspectival presence in the works. Placing the reader within the representational space of the works results in a restricted or guided experience of narrative.
In the acknowledgement of the page dimension to the digital works, remediation is central for how representational space is negotiated in reading. Remediation, as I have already described, is “the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms” (Bolter and Grusin 2000 273) in “the mediation of mediation” (Bolter and Grusin 2000 56). This refashioning can influence the reception of the digital works in terms of reading as a historical and acquired practice. Each reference to an older medium in the digital is also a reference to the reception practices associated with that form. This historical awareness is an important element in reading representational space in the works. Remediation in design is thus meaningful due to the non-verbal qualities it brings to the works. In the digital works each instance of remediation adds perspectives to reading, as a remediated video, a book, or a phone, with each providing a distinct point of view within overall narrative structure. Due to the simulative nature of remediation in the digital works, each example of remediation comes with a perspective on narrative. A virtual-book supposes the physical act of reading and a home video supposes a viewing subject. As I explain in the following analysis, the objects in the digital works are related to themes in design and interaction with them results in reader perspective as part of narrative. What emerges from the triad of object, theme and perspective is the reader physically entering into a relationship with the digital work and performing it according to the structure of its design via its objects.
The object-theme-perspective triad in the digital works develops from the signification of Charles S. Pierce, as “a cooperation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs" (Pierce/Houser 1992 411). Space is defined in the works by the interactive elements that operate in narrative according to a triad of object-theme-perspective. The iconic sign is the basis for this triad in reading, which, as I have already clarified in previous chapters, “is a sign fit to be used as such because it possesses the quality signified” (Peirce New Elements Vol. 2 307). The object-theme-perspective triad is activated in the digital works when the object/s within the work are related to a narrative theme and any interaction with the object/s by the reader results in perspective/s on that theme. Repetition enforces the iconic in the works, as it creates meaning at the level of the material according to emphasis. In the design of the digital works, the repetition of a picture, a sound or a word is often meaningful according to its physical manifestation as multiple. This repetition results in the reading of forms and combinations as patterns, based on emphases.[2] Repetition is thus one element in meaningful design that guides reading, and which often spills over from the representational world of narrative into the inhabited world of the reader.  My primary example of this cross over between the narrative function of design and the role design plays in the physical work is monumentality. These exchanges between the physicality of design and the meaning of narrative according to monumentality hold elements of interactional metalepsis.

[1] Such representation in the materials of digital media can be related to how “users of cyberspace have bought into the ‘spatialized’ scenario, complete with its imperialists overtones, by using frontier framework” along with the “highlighting and re-inscribing [of] suburban values” in such representational spaces as The Sims (Flanagan 2000 76). Flanagan’s argument takes up the re-inscription of values upon space that frame particular narrative possibilities. This is highly relevant to the present study.
[2] Emphasis as non-verbal meaning is discussed by Katherine Hayles (See Hayles 1999: 28, 98, 248 and 2005: 173, 182, 189).

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