Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Narrative AS Technology

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.


dinod44 said...

There is really nothing I can say to comment on this paper to help you that was not already said in class yesterday. The main thing I would have to say is that I would like to see a more clear cut arguement in the paper so the readers can distingush what point you are trying to get accross. Professor Johns suggested that it would be a good idea if all of our blogs would have a thesis to help with this.
The arguement that the class drew upon that we thought you were trying to state was that Hawthorne draws the readers attention to the fact that "the novel" is in fact a technology. If this is the main theme of the paper then you might want to support that a little more. To add to that, i would have liked to see the other themes of your paper as you discussed in your three paragraphs tied together more to make the blog read more smoothly. That is not to say that you didn't do that good in the blog but you might want to consider that while revising it.
Also, I dont't know if it was just me but I found your blog a little hard to understand due to your long sentences filled with commas. I like the ideas that you were expressing in those sentences but you might want to try to shorten them to make the blog a little easier to undestand for your readers.

Adam Johns said...

There's a great deal to like here, as I hope I made clear in class. I like your focus on the technology *of* narrative, I like the discussion of artifice, I even like the way in which you contextualize the book within the class (although it was by no means really necessary).

What don't I like? You could have clarified the thesis, and structured the paragraphs to flow together, all supporting the main argument.

Now, granted, the assignment doesn't technically call for that - at least, it doesn't demand it. *However*, you're not really doing the whole assignment. You discuss the theme of technology ably enough - but you don't really do part #2, which asks you to *respond* to H's conceptualization of (in your case) technology, after showing that the concept revealed in the passage applies to the book in general.

You do some of that, but by no means all of it - your movement to the contemporary is scattered, with a somewhat vague relationship w/ Hawthorne.

Short version: Between the unnecessary beginning and the wandering end, you do somewhat weaken what *is* a genuinely strong middle; your core argument is strong, but not as strong as it could be.