Structures and Voices. Storytelling in Post-Digital Times

The NECS 2019 Conference
University of Gdańsk
Gdańsk, 13-15 June 2019


Redazione CUC2Written by:

The NECS 2019 conference will focus on narrative structures and voices in post-digital times. For ages, storytelling has been a source of pleasure and consolation. Telling stories brought people together, allowed them to share experiences and transfer knowledge. Narrative was the most efficient device for storing, ordering and disseminating information. Yet, the times, they are a-changing. New communication technologies appear, which bring about the crucial question: What is the place of storytelling nowadays? Born in times when verbal language and talking were the main means of communication, it seems to have inherited their basic traits: linearity, a sequential nature and logical structure, all of which have imbued reality with sense. The theatrical feature film, which dominated the media landscape throughout most of the twentieth century, enhanced basic traits of narrative, supplementing it with a visible human agent who occupied a central part of almost every frame, and was the principal force controlling the flow of events. Narrative—pleasurable, effective, inextricably close to common human experience—appears to be seriously challenged. According to Thomas Elsaesser, we are experiencing an epochal shift, passing from two symbolic systems of representation (visual-mimetic, embodied by easel painting, and verbal-symbolic, embodied by books) which have dominated since Renaissance, to a communication built around computers, wireless telephony and digitisation: “The consequence is that narrative (as the traditionally mostefficient organising principle of connecting disparate information to a user) has to contend and rival with the archive and the database and their forms of organisation and user-contact.”

At this point the question arises: to what extent is narrative historically specific and technology- and medium-dependent? Can it still hold its role as a basic ordering device in times when information achieves the speed of light, when the logic of sequence is supplanted by the logic of immediacy and simultaneity, when simple causal relations are replaced by complex systems of multifaceted influences, where the effects are unpredictable and incommensurable with the causes, and where the agent who stands behind the events is not just difficult to detect, but very often simply undetectable?

The questions about the relationship between structures and technologies also apply to genres and media. How have classical narrative forms changed, such as novels, feature films, television series, and to what extent is this newness a result of a technological shift? What happens to a story when it changes its medium, moving between films, comic strips, graphic novels, photo- romances, computer games, animations, and many more? What role does storytelling play in genres which are not necessarily narrative, like many television genres, and also “internet genres”, like YouTube videos, web series, interactive video games, vines? And what about “new media”, and “new new media art”, like net art, bio art, location media art, software art? Do they tell stories? Do they use narrative formats? And if they do, what peculiarities ensue from this encounter of old structure with new materialities? One should also not overlook the phenomenon of hybridity in traditional cultural forms, like museums and art galleries. What we can witness there is a process of narrativisation of museum spaces and exhibitions, and also, of spatialisation of stories in art galleries, for example in installations.

The shift in storytelling also affects methodologies of media studies. Old “big master” narratives and teleology of progress, although still in use, have lost their appeal. New orientations and research perspectives haveappeared, like big data, critical infrastructure studies, object-oriented ontology, media geology and geography, open science. They seem more “spatial” than temporal, more synchronic than diachronic, and in that they seem to be better suited to the post-digital era. Academics, scholars and critics have started to use new film forms. On the one hand, popular film critics upload their video reviews and video essays on YouTube, without using the written word, while on the other hand, critical consensus about certain films is presented as a mere number on aggregation websites, such as Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.



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