Another Researcher & Dedicated Panel

On November 14, 2005 by christy

Jill Walker, the theorist behind ‘distributed narrative‘, has organised and participated in a panel on Viral and Distributed Narratives (as arranged by Jessica Henig). The panel is part of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts 19th Annual Conference held recently in Chicago. It is the first time that electronic literature has been included in the conference streams. But back to the panel:

Scott Rettberg, Arts and Humanities, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, “Implementation in Context: Viral, Locative, Situationist”
Implementation by Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg is a novel about psychological warfare, terror, identity, and the idea of place, a project that borrows from the traditions of net.art, mail art, sticker art, conceptual art, situationist theater, serial fiction, and guerilla viral marketing. Implementation was first published as a serial novel printed in fragments on stickers distributed in monthly installments. Readers then posted the stickers in public spaces around the world, photographed them, and returned those photographs to the project site, where they are archived by date and by location. This paper presents Implementation in three distinct relevant contexts: that of recent viral “meme-based” sticker art and street graffiti projects, that of recent locative media and mapping narrative projects, and finally in the context of situationism, a movement of an earlier era that advocated participatory “opposite of works of art” and demanded that “the inner city to be laid out as field of activity for artists.”

I’ve spoken about Implementation before, especially at talks I’ve given, but this talk is from the co-creator of the project. As I do, Rettberg situates the work within the paradigm of meme-art and locative arts, and then adds in situationism.

Jessica Henig, English, University of Maryland, “As Thin as Reality: Shelley Jackson’s “Skin”
In her short story “Skin,” hypertext author Shelley Jackson moves her canvas from the screen to the body. “Skin” is published only as tattoos on participants, each of whom becomes one word in the story. In addition to challenging our usual notions of reading and authorship, this raises critical questions about the location of the story: Is it on the participants? Is it the participants themselves, their own stories as they go about their daily lives? Does it exist only inaccessibly on Jackson’s computer, waiting to be distributed? In fact, “Skin” exists on all of these levels, but the strategies for approaching it differ depending on which story one wants to read. This paper examines “Skin” in the context of Espen Aarseth’s “indeterminate cybertext,” and looks at the ways in which it requires us to revise our algorithms for finding, reading, and understanding a story.

Henig has made her powerpoint available for download. She talks about ’emergence’ and systems, which is good. [If you haven’t already read it: I’m using polysystem theory to map CME.] Henig talks about John Holland’s Hidden Order and focuses on ‘aggregation’ and ‘flow’. It seems this is a taxonomical analysis, which I find immensely interesting as I’ve been battling with it for months. [See comments for details on the correct talk] Henig would be good to talk to, it seems, about the CME software I’m conceiving. Here is a nice quote from her presentation:

Recognizing the identity of these works as complex adaptive systems allows us to read them, but it also allows us to investigate, predict, and improve future emergent narratives.

Jill Walker, Humanistic Informatics, University of Bergen, Norway, “Pattern Recognition: Reading Distributed Narratives”
In earlier work, I have proposed the term distributed narrative to describe the increasing number of texts where elements of a story are distributed in time or space. By using the term narrative, rather than discussing the larger group of texts variously called “contagious media” or “crossmedia”, I wish to emphasize the ways in which our basic knowledge of narrative structures allows us to see connections between fragments that may have no explicit links. In this paper, I will look closely at fragments of a distributed narrative, examining how each segment signals to the reader that there is more to be found, and arguing that repetition and variation are prime tropes in distributed narrative. Comparing techniques used in weblogs and their surrounding co-texts to techniques used in Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1, a novel written in 1962, printed on loose sheets of paper that the reader was asked to shuffle. The comparative reading will build on narratology, hypertext theory, and theories of emergence.

Okay, Jill is here distinguishing herself from “other” approaches (as I have done with her). The difference, she says, is that she is claiming distributed narratives work because of narrativisation. I have been thinking about this for a year or so and have been moving backwards and forwards between seeing what the audience member does in CME as narrative-based or something different. Currently I view what the audience does as narrative- AND play-based. I do see them as different and as both having a role. This is where I think ergodics is the unifiying concept of these areas. But back to her points, she cites two tropes: repetition and variation. This makes sense. As we’ve seen in countless simultaneous media usage studies, youth are using media in different ways.

The explanation for this behavior is the constant search for complementary information, different perspectives, and even emotional fulfillment. [Finanzen]

Indeed, what all three presenters cover is correct, valid and true. I’m excited that there are panels happening about the area, and that there is another couple of researchers. What I’m keen for, however, is an advanced discussion about CME. I know it is important and necessary to have the explanantions of the phenomenon, its antecendents and proof of existence, but I’m yearning for hardcore debates about its cogs.