Naniki, the story,

“The computer is not the enemy of the book. It is the child of print culture…” (Murray 8)

I find http://nanikistory.org/story.html to be very interesting for displaying in its digital iteration a constellation of influences, and while the site seems to center around one version of the story, in fact there are a number of stories, including not only the art (which ranges from sketches to abstract paintings), but also alternative simultaneous versions of the story (in pdf format, as a streaming audio file, a “characters” pdf (which provides symbolic meanings to the characters) and a “detailed characters” pdf which adds details which literally flesh out the characters—“Muscle segments separate and dissolve, instantly re-appearing as iridescent scale-covered, fluid segments. The pieces flow back together into a human-like figure with beautiful long fins instead of hands and feet.”). There is something about this text which is meant for the digital. This doesn’t mean, however, that it fully realizes all aspects of digital storytelling (a fluid and seamless hypertext which operates in small, perhaps rearrangable parts (the Facebook feed, the tweet, the instagram). The sort of approach which Manovich (as quoted by Page and Thomas) proposes as operating like a database or algorithm rather than narrative (8)). Rather Naniki displays something about narrative which it shares with the digital, but also with older versions of the book.

Many of the authors we read make reference to historical forms of texts which challenge linearity, such as the multiple cross referentiality of the codex, or the ways in which “Joyce’s Ulysses is almost impossible to understand without accompanying pointers to other works, including a map of Dublin” (Murray 56). If we were to consider Naniki as a text consisting solely of pdf and audio forms we mistakenly consider it as a linear uni-directional text. Really, though, we must also consider the website itself as integral to the text. One listens as they peruse the site, looking at photos, clicking on various links. The central story organizes and gives weight to the site, but it’s just one aspect of a “text” which is itself a palimpsest of different media forms, some of which even operate against each other. For instance the “Forums” seems to be an obvious extension of the pedagogical intentions of the website’s author (as represented through “Aims” stated on the site and “Post-story questions” on the pdf version of the story), however the paucity of its use points to ways in which this site is not a blog, or a space for user generated content (however positive the intentions of including the forum may have been). So I think the site is to be taken as a larger text, but not one which prompts reader response the same way Facebook might (though I “like” the site). Rather I think Naniki is to be understood more like Ulysses— The additional materials (I initially wrote supplemental, but that’s incorrect) beyond the pdf and audio texts are important for understanding and contextualizing the broader project.

Page and Thomas claim that “No longer are words so prominent, but graphics and animation are just as likely to communicate story content or be used as part of the interactive interface” (2) and Naniki proves this. It also blurs the distinction between story and discourse, between the rhetorical project and its enactment. It doesn’t embody the multiple cross reference of a codex, like one might find at the back of a textbook, though. Rather, its an example of digital storytelling which invents new models while also drawing on older ones. Some aspects of it are not fully successful, but evolution is always fitful. I think also there is also something of the pdf/audio story itself which partakes of this digital constellation occurring across the site. In other words form and content (site and story) reflect each other. In this way the pdf/audio story itself might be considered digital— because it’s situated within, and reflecting the characteristics of, the broader site.

4 comments

  1. Aaron, I’m particularly interested in what you (and to a certain extent, Chy as well) suggest here, a reaching toward “a plethora of ways of talking about textualities of technologies.”

    If “each iteration…affects” the reading experience — if reading on a flip phone, on an iPhone, on a tablet, on a desktop, and so on can all be considered as constructing different reading experiences, that addresses the concerns I raised in a comment on a different post regarding different forms of analog texts (the codex, the scroll, and so on).

    I personally don’t have an issue with this — I actually find it pretty appealing, as a history-of-the-book person and DH skeptic. I’m wondering, though, what the implications for scholarship/criticism are if we take this approach to reading as our starting point? Is there a reason none of the digital scholars we’ve read in this class point in this direction? They may not all argue that there’s a clear dividing line between the analog and the digital, but nobody seems to be willing to get this granular with regard to individuals’ user experience and the possibility for individual(ized?) textualities.

    Am I being overdramatic in suggesting that this sort of thing has the potential to elide/erase “digital media studies” as a necessary and separate discipline, and that that’s why it’s not being suggested? Or is it just that the kinds of scholars that are doing the old-school textuality/history stuff that might lead to this view of the digital are digital skeptics themselves, and those interested enough in the digital to write about it tend to be digital optimists simply by proximity?

    PS – I really wish this platform allowed for tagging and threaded comments…can I do a site review of our own site?

  2. I think “electronic textuality” is already different from “analog textuality,” but then again I also think that cassettes are a different textuality than cds, or pdfs are different textualities than the pages they were scanned from.

    Let me explain what I mean— I agree with Chy that Digital media is just another way of reading, in the same way that reading graffiti is different than a textbook. However both prompt their own forms of engagement- each has their own symbols of navigation, both make certain demands on the reader (how heavy is the book, where do you have be standing to see the graffiti). At the underlying level both are acting as expression and expression uptake (“reading”). This is the underlying characteristic shared among all medias. But the reading experience for both are different. The very technology through which each text finds its expression sets the boundaries.

    I would like to see a plethora of ways of talking about textualities of technologies. After all each iteration (perusing the internet on a flip phone vs. iphone) affects the reading experience- what can be expressed, how much information can be shared, and how it will be perceived by the reader. As such then I think Naniki’s textuality on an iphone vs a desktop should be considered differently. Getting back to your question Maxine- is
    “electronic textuality” fundamentally different from what we might call “analog textuality”- I would answer yes and no. Both partake of expression but both do this in different ways with different effects on what can get expressed and how it gets perceived.

    I would be interested in your opinions on this.

  3. Chy

    I think “electronic textuality” is already different. Listening to the audio is an option. But…there are audiobooks…I guess that’s “electronic” too, though. Hmm. I don’t think there’s a point where “electronic” and “analog” texts will be fundamentally different. And I don’t know why Murray was so insistent that the “digital environment” should / will be fundamentally different. Like I’ve said in other posts, texts are online / on the computer / on devices–just in a varied format. I wish Murray would have elaborated on this push of hers for us to see the “digital environment” somehow dramatically detached from print media, because she most certainly did not sell it.

    Digital media is just another way of reading. It’s great, it has it setbacks / fallbacks, it’s a great representation of what can be done in the world (possibility), it’s scary, it’s fun, it’s a teaching tool…and when books were introduced, they had a scary power as well. Not everyone had access to them, you had to be really rich to read them, you had to be educated to understand them, people were killed for having them, people were killed for showing people how to use them, etc. Some of us seem to forget this history. Now books are less scary in a lot of places. I just see all of this as a continuum. The “digital environment” isn’t a savior, but it’s useful and powerful. It leaves people out (like most other tools) while also helping people connect. At bottom, I think we want the digital to do things it simply cannot do.

  4. “Rather, it’s an example of digital storytelling which invents new models while also drawing on older ones.”

    Yep. Revisiting last week’s readings, I actually feel like Punday’s reclamation of the word “multimedia” to be most applicable to the kind of text we’re thinking about with Naniki (and some of the other texts/objects we discussed in class — internet narrative in its incunabular phase; things that couldn’t necessarily “only exist on the internet” but whose fact-of-being-on-the-Internet is important, if that makes sense).

    I’ll reproduce it below.

    “Critics eager to see new media as an independent aesthetic form bristle at the implication that it has been cobbled together from previous media in the way that the ‘multimedia’ DVD seems to be. And yet, the fact that the new media work comprises many different elements whose relationship can be altered is an obvious part of this medium.”

    Note that many of us listened to only a few minutes of the audio — or admitted to finding it annoying — while some (you, maybe?) listened to the audio while clicking around the site rather than reading the PDF along with (or in lieu of) the audio.

    So I guess the question I’m left with is: is there/will there be a point at which “electronic textuality” is fundamentally different from what we might call “analog textuality”? In class, I wanted to draw the line at the immersiveness of the video game, but Punday’s definition seems broad enough to cover what we now think of as gaming…

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