Hunting for the future of story

Multimedia, Narrative, Photography, Travel writers, Whale hunting

Over the last few days I’ve been pondering where narrative might go next, as a result of an interesting news story and a rather lovely website I came across the other day. So first of all, the news story, from the Sidney Morning Herald, which tells us how:

‘Remarkably, half of Japan’s top-10 selling works of fiction in the first six months of the year were composed the same way – on the tiny handset of a mobile phone. They sold an average of 400,000 copies. By August, the president of Goma Books, Masayoshi Yoshino, was declaring in a manifesto that he was determined “to establish this not simply as a fad, but as a new kind of culture”.’

Once you get past the harrumphing of the literary establishment (‘no character development… not real writing’, etc), two fascinating thoughts emerge.

First of all, these novels were originally serialised in a very direct to the reader way. Assuming mobile phone novels take off as a novel reading medium, does that mean we’ll see a resurgence of that very direct reader / writer relationship built up by Victorian serialists like Charles Dickens? And will that kind of very engaged relationship be further encouraged by the way in which both digital entertainments and online fan networks have greatly heightened expectations of how interactive such narratives should be?

In both cases I suspect that the answer is yes – which could well make the act of writing itself  much more dynamic and responsive, moving it closer to performance than it has been for a long time.

Secondly, mobile phones aren’t just for writing on – you can take pictures with them, record film and sound, attach music to the resulting presentations, etc. I think it won’t be long before mobile phone generated narratives step away from being just text based, becoming something much more multimedia.

That, combined with full usage of the possibilities of digital interactivity, will lead to the creation of artworks at once far more diffuse and far more immersive than traditional prose works have been. The reader / viewer / listener will be encouraged to play an active part in shaping the narrative, picking and choosing from banks of words, sounds and images to create a very personal interpretation of the story  they’re engaged with.

I’m sure people are doing that kind of thing already – and in fact, here’s a purely visual example, that website I mentioned, courtesy of PFSK. It’s a bank of images created during an Inupiat Eskimo whale hunt in Alaska, by unclassifiable maven Jonathan Harris. You can search through the images in multiple different ways, assembling groups that focus on characters, location, theme, mood and so on – focussing on whatever takes your fancy, and assembling a narrative of the hunt accordingly. Is it the future of narrative in general? Maybe so…  

Remembering Tim Page

Art, Horror, Photography, War

I’ve just been set thinking about Tim Page by an introduction to one of the stories in this year’s ‘Year’s Best Horror’. He was one of my teenage heroes, perhaps the best photographer to cover the Vietnam War. So, I’ve been rooting round on the web to take another look at his pictures.

What’s striking about them is their combination of formal precision and emotional immediacy. Page was always an artist as much as a journalist, creating images that both described the historical moment and spoke more broadly of the shock, disruption and terrible waste inherent in war.

Aestheticising responses to war, to tragedy in general, have been criticised, but I think they’re terribly important. They distance the shock from the moment, helping to move it from the particular to the universal. Page’s photographs were taken almost forty years ago; but they still function as a powerful and effective comment on events of today.

To use Pound’s formulation (given that he’s been such a strong presence this week), ‘art is news that stays news’. Making art from the moment is a process of distancing meaning from the temporary – making sure that the core is preserved, and that the work created will have all the immediacy of the moment 50, 100, 1,000 years from the moment of its creation.

Non-realist writing of any kind makes that distance as overt as possible. In the current critical climate, that openness lays it open (at least if you’re writing prose fiction) to much negative commentary. For me, the most constructive response to that kind of negativity is not to point to the quality of the work itself but rather to the aesthetics that underlie its relationship with reality.

But back to Tim Page. Arguments about aesthetics are really secondary to the quality and impact of the work itself. Here’s a link to his online gallery, well worth checking out.

I tend to over-intellectualise things; looking at his pictures after writing the above has reminded me that sometimes you’ve just got to step back from all of that, and just look at the work, and take it in, and let it go to work on you. His pictures do that; they’re just fantastic. Enjoy!