After scrambling and cobbling together dollars from a variety of sources it looks like I can get to this year’s i-docs symposium, hosted by the i-Docs mob from UWE. My first. I’m excited to see Bristol, to catch up with some friends, and to see what is going on.
I, in that way that is easy to do when you don’t know the people involved, think that a lot of the work being done in interactive documentary (and a lot of things that are called interactive documentary) is not doing very much. This is partly because many moving into this area come from heritage industrial practices that mean that when we meet the novel, different, and strange, the first step is to translate this into current terms to understand it. It can be a similar story theoretically, where this is often a tacit reappropriation or incorporation of the differences of interactive documentary back into existing paradigms of film and documentary theory. Hence, as a simple example, the hegemony of story to nearly every single theorist and practitioner in this field.
So, following up on my recent post on multi and non linearity, and to , well, I was going to say ‘be intellectual provocateur’ but that sounds way too strategic for me. (I get a little autistic around ideas. What that means is all I ‘see’ are the ideas, not the people attached to them. A bad idea I treat as a thing that is unpleasant and unwelcome, and I can be blunt and direct. I once thought it was because I didn’t grow up middle class and so never learnt what I think of as the protocols of sobriety – where I grew up if something was silly, wrong, stupid, ignorant, or dumb, it was called that, we didn’t really have euphemisms and conversation veered towards agon. But I’ve realised it’s more that I just see ideas as things, objects in their own right sitting there, in an intellectual ecosystem (like the red box eucalypt outside my window) and I discuss its qualities as this thing quite forgetting that they have people attached.) So, as someone who sometimes just has to call a spade a spade, this illustration (I’ve borrowed the URL from the i-docs site where it is captioned as “Interactive Documentary Structure from i-Docs 2012”) below needs something said about it.
In my conception of multilinearity and interactivity this drawing is neither, and I think it is illustrative of the poor understanding about interactivity and multilinearity that bedevils thinking in this domain. What are its problems?
If I were a user in this work then my its structure would appear to me as a branching tree (aka choose your own adventure) where my choices have no consequence or implications for the shape of the work (it is fixed). Hence the only way I could learn that it is indeed multilinear would be to get to the end, start again, go to the same two first places, and then (if I can remember) choose something different to go somewhere else. Hopefully the interface provides enough information so that on this second (and third, fourth, etc) reading/viewing I am able to make a decision to not end up in the same place on the fourth ‘level’ of the work.
What else? The illustration is in thrall of an inevitable, determined, definite/definitive beginning and ending. How we ‘do’ things in this domain, temporally (as it is a temporal, not a spatial problem here as we’re talking about hypertextual montage) is all about offering some choices to the user (in an act of generosity as makers we surrender absolute control) but only as long as you begin at the beginning and end at the ending. These remain singular and simple.
This model is indebted, ideologically and intellectually, to the epistemology of print literacy and culture as all those arrows, resolutely moving us to the right, live in fear of recursiveness, repetition, and rhythm. It is only print that insists on linear seriality with no repetition. Painting, dance, song, oral cultures, poetry all rely upon and celebrate repetition. For example who doesn’t revel in those moments in song where a chorus returns the second, third, fourth time, the same but of course oh so different now. Or the repetition of some signature short phrase in a song that, through this very repetition and redundancy shifts the duty of the song and its art from narrative and description and telling into incantation and doing as the words become musical, material, concrete, affective, carnal, embodied, ephemeral, solid.
Recursiveness is not redundancy and lets a work have rhythm. Recursiveness is not redundancy and lets users see that, as they return to where they have been, that they can do and go otherwise and that their actions come to matter for the very shape of the work. If, as happens in this drawing, I choose and arrive, choose and arrive, choose, and it ends, how, apart from beginning all over again, like Sisyphus, would I ever have the opportunity to know I have agency? Which of course is much the same as saying such structures think they confer agency, but do not.