Saturday, February 4, 2012

Taking Nothing for Granted

 Well, it’s reassuring that someone as smart as Aarseth complains of being “dead sure that important things were being whispered just beyond my hearing” (p. 772) while “riding the link stream” (p. 771). As I scramble to find information on Moodle and in the ebrary, I console myself that you’re not being paranoid if people are actually talking about you. I know I’m missing information and spending way too much time trying to locate the landmarks that I’ve been told exist but cannot find. I could relate to the Jackson quote in Laccetti’s work, where she says that "hypertext does not provide so much courtly guidance across the intellectual terrain, but catapults you from spot to spot." Broken links abound this week, including the one to week four’s lecture notes on PowerPoint - NMN Lecture 4: Narrative Theory and Temporality.

The “intertwingling” of animation, streaming video, motion, layering, and text/textons etc. is truly, as Marsh says, literary performance. Is it the death of text as we know it?

Not only the death of text as we know it, but what about the poor recipient of this richness? Are we a reader/spectator/participant/agent of the text/eyes in the path of the text/witness/narrator-narratee or an intertwingling of all of the above in a sort of death of a singular identity? We journey into a world where to be literate, we must be transliterate. We become a cybernetic user/reader/narrator/critic/gamer and those who used to write and illustrate their writings with sketches in the margins will use images and video and music and textual juxtapositions to create their works.

I wonder, too, if time based narrative wasn’t always a bit of a fiction? When there is a paper book that I like, I often dip into its narrative stream randomly and re-read bits of the story. We impose our own timelines and organization onto any information around us, whether it’s using a music cue to turn our attention back to a TV program or scanning the headlines and jumping to the comic section on a Sunday morning. Maybe it has always been about “perpetually unfinished textuality” as Landow said (Laccetti, 2008).  

When I talk to clients, one of the most important pieces of information they can give me is who they believe is in their audience and that question arose for me as I read this week. It’s a good question for the creators of literary performance. They’re on the edges of usability, but what they do is instructive for the journeyman writer, too. I’m working with a design firm on a website for a charity I volunteer at. Thinking about the information as different narrative streams is helpful when thinking about the users of the site, who may not always keep two things in mind at the same time. So if I want them to donate (Please!), keeping elements and reminders of the mission on the same page as the info on how to give will be useful. As Aarseth said about MUDS, information on the web is “like constantly meandering rivers, developing new courses that cross and re-cross each other and are filled with all sorts of peculiar flotsam and jetsam” (p. 776).


  1. Judith, it's really interesting that you've related web design and usability to narrative streams. I work on print design more often than web design, but when I do work on web I find that there are always some very big discussions around how we want readers to enter the site, how we structure navigation so that readers can find what they want, etc. Thinking of it in terms of narrative streams makes sense, as that can aid in decisions around how deeply to nest information within navigation - e.g. Having a very horizontal structure with many links to other pages visible in the navigation vs. having only a few page links at the top level of navigation, and nesting other pages as drop down items.

  2. I don't think layering "animation, streaming video, motion, layering, and text/textons" is the "death of text" no more than I think graffiti is the death of landscape painting; but rather a form of expression. Text is combined with other modes of communication creating an avenue for expression and communication.

    When I viewed Cruising by Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar words that popped in my head were - mixed media and performance art - I did not separate the text from images, audio or physical action of controlling the speed of the clip but viewed all these factors as one. The text was a part of a whole, providing an avenue of expression for the creators/authors.

    Yes, in some cases we, as the viewers, are pushed into interpreting a piece differently; challenging our own views of i.e. text but I think this would please the authors of electronic mixed media collections.

  3. Thanks, Linda. The analogy was a bit of a light bulb going on moment for me.

    I miswrote a bit in my posting, Ilona. I also don't think that something as useful as text is ever going to die, unless we can finally achieve the perfect angel communication that John Durham Peters refers to in The Spiritualist Tradition. "They, of all beings, know no communication breakdown, for they are not encased within a shell of flesh or subject to an obstreperous will." (Theorizing Communication, p. 25). Good old Peters.

    We're saying much the same thing, but my sense is that we are doing more than a change in how we interpret something; we are changing what we do with text and other modes of communication and in doing so, changing the role that we play and maybe even take on roles that didn't exist pre-Web 2.0. Roles that appeared clearly defined before now blur and mingle with each other - reader and writer and critic, etc. begin to blend into something different - a new definition of literacy.

    It reminded me of something else from "Theorizing Communication" - the ancient Greeks didn't experience emotions as an interior state because they didn't have an interior/exterior construct in their language(pp. 9 - 18). If communication makes us what we are, then what is this new literacy and interconnectedness really doing to us?

    1. I'm not sure we (humans) will ever 'achieve the perfect angel communication' as you put it. Angels communicate via symbols, symbols can be misinterpreted and meanings will vary between cultural groupings.

      We seem to be smack-dab in the middle of a communication evolution; resulting in some very interesting discussions around 'literacy and interconnectedness'.