‘Liquid Narrative’ discussion

On June 4, 2006 by Christy

This month on empyre there is a discussion about ‘liquid narrative’. If you can wade through the rhetoric, there is actually some good comments being made.

The topic of June at the – empyre – mailing list will be Liquid Narratives. The concept of ‘liquid narrative’ is interesting in that it allows to think about the unfoldings of contemporary languages beyond tech achievements, by relating user controlled applications with formats such as the essay (as described by Adorno in “Der  Essay als Form”, The essay as a form) and procedures related to the figure of the narrator (as described by Benjamin in his writings about Nikolai Leskov).

Both authors are accute critics of modern culture, but a lot of his ideas can be expanded towards contemporary culture. As a matter of fact, one of the main concerns in Benjamin’s essay is a description of how the rise of modernism happens on account of an increasing privilege of information over knowledge, which is even more intense nowadays. To understand this proposal, it is important to remember how Benjamin distinguishes between an oral oriented knowledge, that results from ‘an experience that goes from person to person’ and is sometimes anonymous, from the information and authoritative oriented print culture.

One of the aspects of this discussion is how contemporary networked culture rescues this ‘person to person’ dimension, given the distributed and non-authoritative procedures that technologies such as the GPS, mobile phones and others stimulate. For that reason, it could be argued that our culture is experiencing a return to the type of knowledge described by Benjamin, but this should be understood on the context of complementary strategies of distribution and sharing that goes beyond the proposed concepts of ‘essay’ and ‘narrative’.

McLuhan also describes portions of this process, when he writes about ‘the reconfigured galaxy’ that results from the impact of mass media on a culture previously dominated by books, in which he implies, amongother things, that our cultural rescues orality as a form of knowledge circulation. This is precise when we think about electronic media. Digital technologies are more and more oriented into collaborative and programable processes, wich allow collective and recombinant procedures that are very different from those described by McLuhan, but curiosly related to the procedures of Benjamin’s Narrator.

To understand if that is a proper perception of digital language, some questions can be addressed: How the concept of narrative is related to contemporary culture? Can we really describe nowadays fragmentary and user related procedures of organizing data as narratives? Should they be considered liquid, since they are fluid, reshapable, pliable? How does devices such as the GPS and mobile phones change narrative? How technologies broadband internet and DVD allow other modes of organizing them?

To debate this topic, this month, we welcome Dene Grigar, LÃcia Santaella, James Barret and Sergio Basbaum. They will discuss how their projects and ideas can be related to the notion of ‘liquid narratives’, or explain how they have been thinking about connected concepts.

You can sign up to empyre to join in, or read the archive of the conversation online.