Nathaniel Hawthorne is by no means an author that would spring to mind when initially considering a course entitled "Narrative and Technology". To be sure, Hawthorne is no Asimov or Heinlein, and all the more for it I applaud the choice of our first reading assignment. There is a distinction to be made between how narrative and technology influence each other, and simply narrative that is about technology. Hawthorne's work almost inevitably deals with the clash of antiquated ideologies against our modern sensibilities, and as such he concerns himself with intellectual and cultural progress rather than progress in the field of artifice (that is to say, technology). Yet he is as relevant to our study as any other novelist or storyteller because the narrative itself is an artifice, a technology employed to relate the story to the reader. Hawthorne himself even seems to have taken pains to make this apparent as he continuously breaks the diegesis of the story to address the reader and violate the writer's sacred law of self-effacement.
"And now - in a very humble way, as will be seen - we proceed to open our narrative." (18) This quote, which concludes the first chapter, serves no other purpose than to draw attention to Hawthorne as the creator, us as the passive observers, and the narrative itself as a creation. By pointing out the artifice of the novel, Hawthorne hoped to make us more aware of how he used it, because he did regularly exploit the peculiar advantages available to the novelist and in particular the fiction novelist. “Our story must therefore await Miss Hepzibah at the threshold of her chamber; only presuming, meanwhile, to note some of the heavy sighs that labored from her bosom, with little restraint as to their lugubrious depth and volume of sound, inasmuch as they could be audible to nobody save a disembodied listener like ourself.” (19) Only fiction affords the reader the privileged view of that which no one is present to view, and only fiction is able to circumvent the observer effect, the concept that the act of viewing an event will alter its outcome. In creating the narrative, Hawthorne took advantage of these privileges and wanted us, as well, to be aware of them.
Hawthorne lived and wrote during a time in which the novel was the premier technology available for storytelling. And while it was not a new technology by any means, he did not shy away from exploring and exploiting the different ways in which the privileges and mechanics of the technology could impact how he shaped and represented the narrative. This is an extremely important concept to apply to today’s narrative expression especially as the term “new media” gets tossed about, referring not only to the most recent additions of household computers and the internet, but also to the interactions of these additions with existing media such as video and photography. We have not even begun to feel the impact of the way these media will change storytelling; and considering the fact that even television, media dinosaur that it is, has not yet exhausted its potential for narrative innovation, the change over the next few decades in how narratives are conceptualized, created, and received will be nothing short of staggering. If the internet and other new technologies are affecting the way in which we experience the world around us (which they most certainly are), then narrative, the way we represent or recount those experiences, is sure to be altered on a very profound level.
I suppose I'll just tack my introduction on the end here and get it all done in one post.
My name is Matt Carrick. I'm a senior film studies major and I am taking this course because I am interested both in storytelling of all varieties and postmodern theory and above all when the two meet. When not at class I work for the University with Media Services and I do freelance videography and motion graphics work. In my spare time I enjoy not going on and on about myself, and as such I will see you all in class.