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Ana Menéndez – The future of narrative (3)

Vandaag, woensdag 6 april, geeft de Cubaans-Amerikaanse auteur Ana Menéndez de Tweede Cola Debrotlezing in de Openbare Bibliotheek van Amsterdam. In The Poets and Writer’s Magazine, May-June 2009, verscheen een tekst die zij in 2008 met regelmaat in Egypte heeft gepresenteerd, ‘The future of narrative’; we plaatsen die hier in afleveringen, gisteren de eerste, vanochtend aflevering 2, nu aflevering3.

by Ana Menéndez

It may be too early to tell, but some patterns are already emerging and, despite the skeptics, some of them are quite positive.

Like the alphabet and the printing press, the internet has not eclipsed story, merely offered a new tool with which to imagine it.

The most obvious and immediate effect is the direct translation from the old media to the new: e-books, e-journals, blogs, newspaper websites. All of them digital recreations, in one way or another, of the paper world they are fast turning to ashes. In this way, the Net resembles the early days of television when the radio microphone still loomed ghost-like in memory and vaudeville aesthetics dominated the new medium. It took a generation to go from Dick Van Dyke to MTV.

But as the internet gains traction and its myriad possibilities reveal themselves, a new kind of artist will emerge to challenge and transform the way we tell stories. What shape this new art will take is difficult to predict, or even perceive, until its effects become themselves a matter of history many years from now. One hopes imagination will yield something more majestic than the sad hyper-text games and cut-and-paste projects that today bloat many academic studies on “electronic media”.

Instead, for a clue into the narrative possibilities emerging in the new age, it is more instructive to turn not to writing that apes old media, but to the internet’s purest contribution to story: online, multi-player games that not only re-define old concepts of competition and role-play but create entirely new worlds and peoples them with characters and situations whose evocative powers descend from the finest tradition of imaginative story-telling.

Eve Online as the heir to Flaubert? Travian.com our answer to Tolstoy? I can already hear the sneering dissent. No science-fiction boy-fantasy can equal the nuance and insight of Flaubert. Pixels can never contain the genius of Tolstoy. Of course not. Linear, realistic story-telling that delves into human nature and motivation isn’t going anywhere. We have not lost the classics. Beowulf – that pre-press beast that haunts high school Freshmen – yet lives.

The old forms are not being taken away, but new forms are being added. Story is deeply engrained into our psyches. And the need to give narrative shape to our fears and joys is much older than the printing press or the alphabet. The press is barely 500 years old. The oldest alphabet is not older than 6,000 years. But modern humans have roamed the planet for 50,000 years. And for as long as we’ve had language, we’ve had stories. It’s the way we pass on history, warn future generations and strive to make sense of what is at base a bewildering and mysterious existence.

It’s this innate power of story that persuaded Sebeok that only the folkloric tradition of story-telling could be counted on to communicate with humanity 10,000 years into the future. “Information needs to be launched and artificially passed on into the short and long term future with the supplementary aid of folkloristic devices, a combination of an artificially created and nurtured ritual-and-legend, which would be a “false trail” for the uninitiated, who would be steered away from the hazardous site for reasons other than the scientific knowledge,” he wrote. “A ritual annually renewed can be foreseen, with the legend retold year by year.”
The folkloric has always been with us. The internet is simply the latest stage for its performance. Interestingly, this most modern medium is redefining story along its most ancient model: collaborative, instantaneous and anonymous.

[klik hier voor deel 4]

Ill.: the first page of Beowolf

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