In which the author writes far too much, chasing too many rabbits down their holes:
Stripping the definition as far down as possible, interactive narrative is narrative that blurs reader and author functions. Meadows mentions Poe as taking an early step in this direction, and certainly most of Euro-American Modernism (Meadows mentions Joyce a couple of times, but he’s certainly not the only–or even the best–example) made readers just as responsible for “making meaning” from sundry perspectives as authors would have been traditionally. Cubist painting is an obvious example. Even better, the cubist poems of Gertrude Stein, where the reader not only can but must create their own perspective on such oddities as “a carafe, that is a blind glass”
A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.
The traditional expectation for how words usually work as symbols is turned on its ear; the reader must create some sort of perspective of their own (in this case, recognizing that multiplicity, connotation and image are far more important for Stein than denotation. Whether Stein goes too far into abstraction–see my later discussion of Martin’s essay–is a question for another day). But that’s literature. What about websites?
One thing that occurs to me is the rapid development of the wiki. (it was only seven or eight years ago that I was at Tech’s GES Conference, listening to the presentations a couple of grad. students from TAMU-Corpus Christi were giving on the pedagogical benefits of a wiki they were using in one or two courses. Now their writing wiki is used by the entire department at all levels–and it’s certainly not the only one on the web.) Here the narrative is interactive in a different sense than a portal (see my previous post on RSS and amazon). Rather than the focus being on a filtered perspective, the wiki reader can switch back and forth between reading and authoring at whim; they not only read, but can also change the narrative forever (or at least until someone hits “revert”).
Meadows’ four steps of interactivity (44) are essentially in action here.
- Observation: Making an assessment–reading and figuring what “wiki” is and can be. What’s with the zillions of hyperlinks, etc?
- Exploration: Doing something–the reader starts to figure out the rules for how wiki works, maybe making a small edit (even deleting an entire page!)
- Modification: Changing the system by making intentional, fairly large-scale revision (anywhere from editing a paragraph to creating an entire page)
- Reciprocal Change: With a wiki, multiple readers are interacting with the system at the same time–the new wiki author may be edited. This could be as simple as learning something new, but could also be the reader fully engaging with a wiki community, changing normal patterns of behavior, etcetera. (This may be the stage where the interactivity of the wiki as object (37) breaks down, as it is fully dependent upon further human interaction–a wiki with only one author/reader won’t be very interactive at all, will it?)
For most other websites, I’d come back to that previous post again–I discuss perspective provided/filtered through community. Videos, forums, interaction that leads to change. It’s the reciprocal change element that seems to be the most difficult for most websites. In Bilgil’s video, as for most websites, it’s the network–the connection between computers and thus between individuals–that makes the deepest, most random (and thus most fulfilling) interaction possible.
Brief and Vaguely Conneted Reflections on Martin’s Essay on Borges:
I would summarize Martin’s argument thusly: More Abstraction=Less Perspective. Because perspective makes narrative worth reading, abstraction leads to less identification with a narrative, less interaction, and thus (in terms of gathering internet traffic) fewer readers. Leslie Marmon Silko wrote in her poem “Ceremony” that “you don’t have anything / if you don’t have the stories,” and this applies to Meadows’ sense of the importance of narrative elements (plot, character, perspective, image/metaphor). If it’s just data, nobody cares–we use, but we don’t return without being prompted. When the data wears a human face, then we’re interested.
What do you want your homepage to say?
And here we come to a question that academics online deal with–what narrative do I tell about myself? And how do I resist that just becoming another “Professor Homepage” that’s filled with data and a picture or two? Are there two (or more) stories that I want to keep separate (i.e. the personal and the professional) or are the two stories one narrative? The academic narrative (x expertise, degrees from institutions a, b, and c, and have done q fellowships with z famous person, all while working on program r) that is such a part of the university ethos that most professors attempt to present to students is far different from the personal narrative (I like z, t grosses me out, video k is awesome and all your base are belong to us). As a student in a creative nonfiction class told me once, “I really hate it when my professors reveal themselves to us.” I feel that; I really do.
I want any homepage to have some sense of community about it. I don’t want it to simply be a central node for my FYC classes, although that is a strong possibility, but rather an online or digital element of the academic narratives I’m both author and reader of. Perhaps not simply the video game to go along with the movie, but something along those lines.