Michael H. Goldhaber on Sat, 16 Jan 1999 06:40:14 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> [facevalue] You are here

"Painter's " remarks that all experience  is narrative in character seem
especially odd in that they putatively come from a painter. In general,
a painting is not a narrative; in that there is no particular order in
which it must be taken in, nor any clear causal relationship between its
parts. Indeed,  life or experience only becomes narrative in the
retelling, since all retelling imposes an order, merely  because verbal
utterances come forth one at a time. It is the linguistic character of
telling that creates narrative, and one of the most -potentially
interesting aspects of the internet is  surely its capacity, so far not
much realized, to permit non-narrative consciousness.

Of courses, such consciousness makes us most uncomfortable. Consider,
for instance how most museum shows impose a chronological or other
narrative structure on the non-narrative individual works.
Most commonly that structure is simply the chronology of the painter's
life, often divided into somewhat arbitrary periods to schematize
different groups of paintings as representing stylistic differences. So
uncomfortable with non-narrativity are most of us that audio tours that
generally impose a strict order on the paintings to be looked at, and
furthermore on what in each painting is to be seen  and in what order.

In my own work I conclude  that that reliance on a narrative line can
best be understood in terms of what I call illusory attention. In a
world where attention is  scarce, we are often willing to accept
substitutes, in which we appear to be attended to personally but are
actually not. Artistic and other works, to draw attention to themselves
must somehow create an illusion of attention returned to each individual
member of the audience, through the the use of tricks that I call
tropes, due to their relations with rhetorical devices in general.

One of the most common of such devices works by somehow  creating some
expectation or desire on the part of the audience member, and then by
appearing to fill it, appearing to respond to the personal need of that
particular audience member, while remaining in fact oblivious to that
person's actual existence. Examples: raising a question and then
supplying an answer; beginning a joke and then supplying a punch line;
relating a part of what seems to be a story and then revealing what
"happens next;" supplying the end of a sentence or a musical phrase;
etc. For all of these linear kinds of trope, apparent interaction with
the individual audience member is required to proceed in a certain
order, and this is the bare bones of narrativity.

Thus, in broad outline, not only speech or writing but movies, music,
recordings of any kind; plays, etc. have a basic narrative structure
essentially built in. Paintings, photographs,  sculptures, buildings, or
raw experience itself do not. Neither does the Internet, although
perforce, the experience of using the Internet often has a high degree
of that kind of narrative linking. Thus, the question of the tropes of
painters  sculptors and architects who successively attract attention to
their individual works becomes very interesting for the would-be
designers of sections of the internet. I leave to another time the
explication of these non-narrative tropes ( hopefully, so creating an an
aura of expectancy myself) .

Michael H. Goldhaber

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