Welcome to Triggers and Traces: Narrative, Media and Consciousness in 20th Century American Literature. Over the course of the next two months, I’ll be using this site as a means to work through various issues related to my upcoming Comprehensive Exams in the English Dept. at the University of Maryland College Park. My current focus in the readings is the ways that media, or an awareness of media, serve to shape and structure the narratives of each work. What sorts of connections are there between, say, an awareness of the materialities of print and the narrative scope of a given work? Can we attribute the presence of certain modes of consciousness (i.e. perceptual, action-based, etc.) to an understanding (or lack of understanding) into the workings of a larger medial ecology? In what ways can we begin to chart the presence of various media in narratives (in content, in remediation, in transmediation) as we move towards increasing media convergence? How does one medium work to accomodate/ destabilize another?
This paper looks at multi-sited narrative networks, in which a narrative sequence is distributed across varying media channels (film, web, music, video games, print, live performance, etc.) that the user must negotiate in order to extract pertinent information. These networks do not constitute simple “retellings” — stories told and retold down a chain, mimicking oral forms. Although these networks seem to take on two specific structures — vertical (expansive) or horizontal (redundant)there is also a convergence of form that irretrievably alters each successive channel’s content. In other words, the distribution of narrative across media engenders an engagement of the sequence that requires the user to process and account for not only the order and frequency with which she receives the constituent narrative parts, but the materiality of the presentational format itself. Examples will include the Matrix series, Neil Young’s “Greendale,” Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and William Blake’s Book of Urizen.
Incidently, I’m just reading House of Leaves, which is amazing. did you notice the new term? ‘Multi-sited narrative networks’. So now we have:
Multi-sited narrative networks: ‘a narrative sequence is distributed across varying media channels (film, web, music, video games, print, live performance, etc.) that the user must negotiate in order to extract pertinent information.’ [Ruppel]
Cross media communication: ‘Cross media communication is communication where the storyline will direct the receiver from one medium to the next.’ [De Haas]
Distributed Narrative: ‘A new kind of narrative is emerging from the network: the distributed narrative. Distributed narratives don’t bring media together to make a total artwork. Distributed narratives explode the work altogether, sending fragments and shards across media, through the network and sometimes into the physical spaces that we live in. This paper explores this new narrative trend, looking at how narrative is spun across the network and into our lives.’ [Walker]
Entertainment Supersystem: ‘A supersystem is a network of intertextuality constructed around a figure or group of figures from pop culture who are either fiction […] or “real” […]. In order to be a supersystem, the network must cut across several modes of image production; must appeal to diverse generations, classes, and ethnic subcultures, who in turn are targeted with diverse strategies; must foster “collectability” through a proliferation of related products; and must undergo a sudden increase in commodification, the success of which reflexively becomes a “media event” that dramatically accelerates the growth curve of the system’s commercial success.’ [Kinder]
Inter-media world franchises: Proposes ‘a “multiplicative model” of multi-media meaning effects’, the need to look for ‘instances of cross-modal subversion of consistent meaning effects’ and to develop ethnographic methods to capture ‘”traversal” analysis’. [Lemke]
Networked Narrative Environments: ‘The network provides the technical backdrop that enables a remote and open-ended dialogue between these spaces. The resulting narrative demonstrates interactivity as a user-controlled construct. The environment presents itself as a physical installation architecture that creates a stage for real and virtual role-play, with site specfics underpinning metaphors and supplying ‘plots’.’ [Zapp]
Transmedia Storytelling: ‘In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best–so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics, and its world might be explored and experienced through game play…. Reading across the media sustains a depth of experience that motivates more consumption…. Offering new levels of insight and experience refreshes the franchise and sustains consumer loyalty.’ [Jenkins]
Transmedial Worlds: ‘[A]bstract content systems from which a repertoire of fictional stories and characters can be actualized or derived across a variety of media forms. What characterises a transmedial world is that audience and designers share a mental image of the “worldness” (a number of distinguishing features of its universe). The idea of a specific world’s worldness mostly originates from the first version of the world presented, but can be elaborated and changed over time. Quite often the world has a cult (fan) following across media as well.’ [Klastrup & Tosca]
Citation details, and more terms, on my Polymorphic Narrative site on the concepts & researchers pages. (I’m actually in the process of migrating alot of the info on that site onto a CrossMedia Wiki!) What about my term I hear you ask or moan? Polymorphic Narrative: narrative in many forms. I could go on for years, and I will. There are other terms too, and ones I am yet to hear. But back to Ruppel.
In her recent article “Narrative and Digitality” (2005), Marie-Laure Ryan describes what she calls texts that think with their medium. These texts possess properties of interactivity/ reactivity, variability, multi-sensorality and networking capabilities. Unique to these sorts of texts is the “ability to create an original experience which cannot be duplicated by any other medium, an experience which makes the medium seem truly necessary” (516). Implicit within this statement is the notion that a thinking text is one that not only requires that a medium’s materiality be incorporated into the exposition of a narrative but that, crucially, this materiality is foregrounded as the key component of interaction.
Keeping this distinction in mind and drawing upon Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner’s work on congniti
on and conceptual blending, this paper intends to look at the interplay between the film and video game adaptations of Batman Begins as a function of what I call expansive spatial materialities, the modes through which a narrative is deployed within the space of a medium (such as a frame of a film or the mapping of a game level). In this specific case, the narrative of Batman Begins is altered by the variant spatialities of each particular medium. The game, for example, contains significant narrative departures from the film due to the presence of vastly expanded and interactive architectures such as Arkham Asylum, whose sheer size necessitates and alteration of the film’s content. Although neither channel needs to be experienced in combination with the other (as is required in works like The Matrix), a network still exists between the two sites that creates an ideal narrative site, in which a new, combinative narrative sequence is processed and blended by the user as a consequence of this spatial-material variance. Even though a single narrative altered by its diffusion through different media necessarily entails an engagement with a medium’s materiality, the ideal site exists entirely transmedially, unbound from its carrier. In other words, the presence of both film and game in Batman Begins works to isolate narrative from form, where neither site is an adaptation of the other but, rather, a thinking, material piece to the whole of the story.
I’ve posted an hello on Marc’s blog, so hopefully we’ll hear more soon.
Thankyou Jeremy, once again for the wonderfully relevant headsup.