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Ana Menéndez – The future of narrative (4, end)

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, dit is de vierde en laatste aflevering.

by Ana Menéndez

Some 250,000 people are part of the Eve Online universe – a vast imaginary system of galaxies where players from around the world gather on a single server to create adventures in real-time. The setting is science fiction, but the stories – created by anonymous players – illuminate mankind’s oldest themes: greed, betrayal and ambition. Without an Omniscient Narrator to guide them, the individual characters have arranged themselves along stock narrative types: Scheming Villians, Earnest Good Guys, Lone Wolves, Bold Leaders.

Subscribers pay about $15 a month to play. Few would describe what they’re involved in as “story-telling”; it’s just good (and safe) fun to go zipping around virtual space, tracking down bad guys, hijacking abandoned ships and meeting up with buddies to plan the next adventure. But that is exactly what story is: an imaginative leap that transforms the mundane into the sublime. These guys (and most of them are men) are storytellers in the strictest and oldest sense of the word.

Shakespeare, if he were alive today, might be a world-class gamer.

The poet we call Homer probably didn’t create the epic we know as the Odyssey. The ancient adventure story of scheming villains, earnest good guys, lone wolves and bold leaders was most likely a collaborative effort, a mythical-history that men told around the hearth and that successive generations enriched with their own contributions.

The author as discreet and sole creator doesn’t fully emerge until the invention of the printing press, which made story-telling profitable on a vast scale. Once there was money to be made, the notion of “intellectual property” acquired commercial value. And a whole system of copyright law and attorneys to interpret them developed to protect the new business of writing.

One of the most profound ways that the internet is reshaping the artistic landscape – and not just in writing – is by destroying these relatively modern ideas about the artistic product. The instant a piece of music, a work of art, a poem, gets onto the web, they become communal property. There’s no stopping this. The music industry is losing its once lucrative monopoly on music distribution. And all the lawyers in the world have not been able to halt its spiral.

The anonymous, promiscuous nature of the web is nudging us back toward an earlier, collaborative model. Story will survive. But The Author may be nearing the end of his 500-year life-span.

Considering the recent devaluation of the title, that may not be such a bad development. Still, story’s true keepers deserve protection.

Story-telling is an integral part of what it means to be human. It’s in our self-interest to see that those who create are sufficiently supported and encouraged, financially as well as morally, to continue their work. The goal should be to find ways to spread the awesome and as yet mostly untapped economic power of the web so that good art continues to be made. If not, we could conceivably lose the next Virginia Woolf simply because she could not afford a room of her own.

On the other hand, not even penury is strong enough to kill story. The artist is driven to story like a drunkard to his wine and the absence of remuneration — and even glory – is not enough to stop him. For proof, witness the poet working in obscurity and poverty in 21st century America or the hundreds of works of brilliance being produced all over the world with no promise of monetary gain.

Technological inventions arise and fall away. In the beginning was story and through every innovation, story has persisted and so it will be. The end of story will be the end of man.

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