The beginning of my Visible Evidence talk. Perhaps too much back story, but a bit of colour might go a long way to hiding the cracks. (And now that Mark is working on Storyspace, I’m rather keen to return to it.)
At a conference in Melbourne in 1991 I had an epiphany. I was in the then new medical lecture theatre having trooped across a busy highway from the usual conference venue because it was the doctors who had a data projector, and, a computer. The speaker, from a liberal arts college in upstate New York, showed Storyspace, a hypertext authoring and reading program. This was two years before Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, and coincided with the first version of HTML, the mark up language that the web relies on. Storyspace allowed writing in an associative, multilinear way. You could link from word, phrase, sentence, node, to word, phrase, sentence, or node. A word or phrase, anything really, unlike what happened with HTML, could have multiple links, so if something was related to three ideas you simply made three links from the same phrase.
The epiphany? This mirrors how I think, the way ideas and things are always densely intertwingled, entangled, implicated promiscuously by each other. I have always struggled, with invisible horrible difficulty, with writing, and its tidy introductions, polite serial this then that capped by a well crafted conclusion that teleologically appears inevitable, collecting the previous pieces into a white picket fenced whole (snipping off the bits, discretely, that might hang over).
Links in hypertext are not navigational. They express affinity, agreement, elaboration, disagreement, confusion, relation, relevance, contrariness, and connection. Writing here is a live laboratory of thinking in practice because the links made in the act of writing establish the relations that create structure and this structure emerges in the very act of writing. Links create an epistemological structure that does not precede their writing, and the shape of what is formed, the network of relations that emerges, is never known in advance. This by the way is a Latourian actor–network.
From this I learned that links create multiple relations between parts, that writing done this way could still make knowledge claims, and that links emerged iteratively and generatively in the act of writing. I also learned that for this to happen I had to surrender some of my agency and to trust in this surrendering. I learned that ideas are things that are obstinate, and this is their pleasure and right for they have their own agency, quite apart from me, and that as things they have different ways, different facets, through which they can be interconnected.
This is why I am sympathetic to and an advocate for programs like Korsakow. Storyspace relies on links, and Korsakow keywords, and both require you to work inside of their procedural milieu’s where control over form and relation and pattern, the sort of control that writers and filmmakers have traditionally exercised with fascist finesse, must be surrendered. In other words, you learn how to listen to things, whether they be words, ideas, videos, or bits of the world.
For me this describes, fundamentally, a nonfiction practice if for no other reason than the elements being worked with retain autonomy and agency, a discreteness, that gives them a recalcitrant thinghood. It is this agency of things in the world world, quite apart from my intent, that I want to argue for in relation to interactive documentary. The generative, procedural possibilities that interactive documentary offers have affinities to the world that make it distinct from those that story and narrative and representation offers. It is not that we should not use stories in interactive documentary, but that we are colonisers of interactive documentary via story. I am not sure I know how to say this simply or clearly, however, if the world is made of things with agency in their own right, and, if particular ways of making procedural, generative multilinear works also allow things to retain their agency, then we have a possible nonfiction practice and form that adopts, at least to some extent, the points of view of the world. [Note the divergence from orthodoxy here, agency is not the work or the user but things.]
For today’s talk I will take this dense multilinearity, the way that parts are allowed to find and form multiple relations amongst themselves, as a key affordance of interactive documentary. [Note that interactivity is here a consequence of multilinearity, not the other way around.] Such multilinearity is not teleological, emerges through its doing, and allows its parts to have more agency and autonomy than stories generally allow.
[And the point of the anecdote? That hypertext is made up of self contained notes that are put into relation with each other. Just like cinema. So hypertext, is a post–cinematic writing and interactive documentary, as multilinear systems negotiating self contained parts are also varieties of post–cinematic writing.]