Hannah Brasier has started her PhD, and I’m very happily one of her supervisors. Late last year she successfully completed her PhD confirmation, and she’s put her slides and some excellent notes on her blog. Towards Affective Knowing in the Diary Film and Interactive Documentary.
This is a small iBook project that came out of the nonfictionLab symposium held in December. Been working on it over Christmas, amongst cleaning the pool, presents, family and visitors.
Rezine 01: Research Notes Toward Critical Nonfiction Practice (iBook, 157MB).
From the introduction:
The first nonfictionLab symposium kicked off at RMIT University in December 2013 bringing together a sampler of the scholarly work being undertaken by the lab. Or, as we pimped ourselves:
From the essay, film-making, poetry, documentary, vernacular media, digital archives, memoir and design, nonfiction is increasingly a site of creative, theoretical and analytical interest. With keynote speakers, Ross Gibson and Jeff Sparrow, this inaugural nonfictionLab Symposium 2013 seeks to place some markers, critical and adventuresome, across the interdisciplinary domain of nonfiction studies. Panels sessions include: Guessing games: Interpreting surfaces, subverting perceptions, Experiments with experience: Negotiating memory, observation and imagination, (Dis)placements: Locating perspectives: spectral sites and designs, Patternings: Generating rhythms, rituals and the accidental.
This rezine is the first transitory, possibly ephemeral, quick and dirty research sketch, or field notes, of our work. The intent is to show things in progress, a snap shot collage list of small bibs and bobs that are all on their way to becoming something else. A chap book come digital pamphlet that is an opportunity to begin to describe and argue for the sorts of theoretical and critically engaged creative nonfiction we do. Let’s open the black box of research and scholarship and rethink scale, practice, documentation, the rational and poetic.
This is the Bunnings of research, welcome to rezine 01.
Rezine 01: Research Notes Toward Critical Nonfiction Practice (iBook, 157MB).
Interesting…but fiction is also insecure. I really like this essay by Vivian Sobchack (1999) ‘Toward a Phenomenology of Non-Fictional Film Experience’ because she suggests that there aren’t fixed boundaries between fiction and documentary – that it’s about spectatorship- and depends on the viewer’s experience of a film , how we might view, feel, interpret changing moments in any given film. Thus her famous quote: “One viewer’s fiction may be an other’s film-souvenir; one viewer’s documentary, another’s fiction”. Nevertheless, your post has got me thinking – last night I watched “The Outlaw Michael Howe” on ABC TV; it is a tele-movie, a historical period drama about a convict in Tasmania. I have a range of issues with this film which I am grappling with how to address…then today I read it was (part?) funded under Screen Australia’s National Documentary Program’s Making History Initiative. Well, it may be based on a true story but this does not make it a documentary! and why it received government funding as a documentary concerns me. So obviously I do think there are significant differences in the fiction-non fiction modes of address. Sobchak’s essay is in Collecting Visible Evidence (1999), ed. Michael Renov and Jane Gaines, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999, 241-254.
The insecurity I have begun to think about (in two different ways, one is about centres of indetermination, the other the one that Jeni’s responding to) is a way to think about the sorts of willingness of documentary, historically, to play with form and technology. While fiction has done this, documentary seems to be a richer site of technical experimentation, as well as more complicated modes of address. Fiction, in film, might play with story and plot, it might ‘break’ the fourth wall (Godard of course springs readily to mind), but not that many play with modes of address that, say, Marker did way back in Letter from Siberia (direct address, irony, animation, literal repetition of footage).
Translating this to online, and I think the evidence is showing the documentary is doing much richer things in regards to networked practice than fiction. There is more variety of approaches and work, certainly more experimentation in relation to content, style, form, platform, and so on, than I think has happened in fiction film making. So I was wondering why. Why would nonfiction be more willing than fiction, which after all is celebrated as the place of ‘creative’ practice, be more conservative in relation to these things.
So my tentative answer comes out of possible worlds theory and those elegant definitions that I Iike (for their pragmatic exactness) where fiction are works about a world, while nonfiction are works about the world. In the former the world has to be internally consistent, and true. So it is true that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, and that Jedi Knights have light sabres. Just as it is true that Ethan Edwards is a returned soldier from the American Civil War who undertakes a quest to, perhaps, kill his kidnapped niece. These are truth claims, and verifiable as truth claims, but they are truth claims that can be verified because they come from fictional universes with internally coherent rules. Nonfiction, on the other hand, makes claims about our world. They can be contested, but the evidence doesn’t come from the fictional world, it comes from outside the text, from the world.
Hence fiction is very secure in itself. Once I set the rules I can do what I like. Unreliable narrator, in a universe where people sprout limbs as required, photosynthesise, and reproduce like fungi. Where if you fall in love you die. It really isn’t a problem. So narrative is sovereign, in that solar, regal, absolute way that the idea of sovereign demands. It lets you do whatever you wish, just keep it internally consistent. Nonfiction on the other hand can’t do this. The world is always there, bearing witness. I can make all sorts of truth claims, sure, but here narrative is not fiction, narrative is telling and claiming about a world that is external to itself. Here, in spite of how arrogant any nonfiction work wants to be in its claims for certainty and concrete absolute factness, it’s test is not internal coherence but the outside. Which is unbounded. This is the reverse of fiction, for fiction always has clear edges – there is no scientific breakthrough that will suddenly render the universe of Star Wars wrong – and so nonfiction can’t invest in narrative as sovereign. The world is sovereign here and so narrative becomes unsure of itself. AKA, insecure. As the world is sovereign, and outside, and unbounded, in relation to any nonfiction work, then what I say, and how I say it, can never have the security of fiction, and this insecurity opens up the form to, well, wonderment and experimentation.
So, nonfiction is much more willing to break things, play with things, question. It finds itself having to, because it can never pretend to say enough to create the sort of hermetic universe that is fiction’s right.
Was a beautiful day Saturday. Mid 20s, ms 7 y.o. having a sleep over. Ms A. taken over the dining room with all the furniture moved out and a quilt laid out, mix of new modernism meets Amish. Very impressive piece of work. Real coffee. Spent some time working on the sonnet Korsakow film. It’s tricky, this one.
A sonnet is all about structure. That’s part of the point. It’s a modern sonnet, which means it’s free verse, but still following the 3 stanza’s of four lines and a closing stanza of two lines structure. I have written the lines, well, more or less as they get edited, fiddled and worried with pretty regularly. I have the video. The video’s are very very simple, and repeated – that’s just part of the poetry really. But the structure, a sonnet needs to be fourteen lines, not more, not less.
A Korsakow film is all about structure. That’s part of the point. It’s shape is, essentially, musical (or poetic) and it is music that gives us the richest and simplest vocabulary to deal with repetition, rhythm, chorus and its close friend, the hook. You return, leave, come back again. Repetition, in different guises, is a fundamental architectonic principle here.
And therein lies the trickiness. I could make a simple HTML based work that you progressed through, a line or even a stanza at a time, to its close. However, in using Korsakow I’m interested in something a bit different, where each stanza’s line could be read in any order, and so letting the lines of each stanza change in their order each time you view the work. Each stanza is marked by a change in interface, but the problem of how to shape this film so that it works as a sonnet is problematic.
One option is to fake it, and provide a fixed path through each line and video. The last line of the first stanza taking you to the first line of the second stanza, and so on. That is hardly what I’m after, and I can hand code in HTML so don’t really need the generative engine that Korsakow provides. So the other option is to let the lines and videos of the first stanza be connected, in any order. This is pretty easy. I could give each clip one life, let it join to the other stanza’s, and each time you view it the order would vary simply because each line has the same chance of being connected to another as any other. The problem though is that in Korsakow I can’t write Boolean conditions, so I can’t provide a rule that would in effect say “if all clips viewed provide a link to stanza 2″. So I can provide a link from one clip to stanza two, as a bridge across, but if I wanted to constrain it to only appear as the fourth line, then my concept of letting each line appear anywhere is broken. If I let it appear at any time then you could arrive there after only one or two lines, and then find yourself in stanza two, and then the four line structure of the sonnet disappears.
Similarly, I could let clips be able to appear more than once (what Korsakow describes as ‘lives’), but since it doesn’t count in accessible ways I also can’t write a rule that would say “once any four of these clips viewed, move to stanza two”. Now, this would be a better rule, as the rhythms I like and value in these works would be more apparent. With this rule you might read the same line in stanza one twice, and never see one of the other lines until you read the poem a second or third time. I’m very good with that. That is what should happen in these sorts of self organising systems, you read and return and in these changes between readings you learn the shape of the work (and therefore what it’s about). But I can’t write such a rule.
So at the moment building it is feeling like a bit of a clunky hack. Any of the first four lines are set as start films, so we can begin anywhere. Thinking it through the solution is to have the four lines of a stanza all linked equally to each other (they all share the same in and out keywords in Korsakow). They have only a single life and the interface only allows for one thumbnail to be shown. This means a clip loads in the current stanza, you only get one choice of where to move to next from this clip, but this choice is only constrained by being any of the remaining clips for the current stanza (remaining as with clips only having a single life the current clip cannot be returned as a possible connection). Then every clip in the first stanza also contains a second keyword which links to the second stanza. This second keyword is listed on the second line of the out keyword, and so if the first keyword doesn’t match then the second is used. In this way the film is able to cycle through the four lines of the stanza, in any which order, and once four have been viewed it then links to anywhere (as all four clips in the second stanza contain the same keyword that all four clips in the first stanza are pointing out towards) in the second stanza.
(Brief note, the second keyword search is on a line by itself because if you list them like “keywordOne, keywordTwo” on the same line then Korsakow treats this as an ‘or’ search – so it will search for keywordOne or keywordTwo. This means you end up in the second stanza quickly, whereas listing the keywords on individual lines means the first search is performed, if a match is found, it is selected, if a match does not exist then it performs the next search – I only found that out by testing both options.)
So, that’s my current solution, which I think achieves the desire to have a sonnet which has stanzas, where the lines of each stanza can be viewed in varying orders, where the four lines in three stanzas and two lines in a final stanza can all be realised, while still allowing multiple passages. Yes, you have to start again each time, if you want, but, much like the strange prohibition on repetition, poetic networked objects can only be understood through reviewings, the old model of a single, comprehensive (start to finish) reading is not merely redundant here but hermeneutically wrong.
In linear media literal repetition is a vice. Alliteration, sometimes, is OK. Motifs, which is a fancy way of saying repeating something but a little differently, is also essential. But the same sentence in a novel (at least without quotation marks around it), the same shot or sequence in a film, a repeated sentence in an essay. No go. Bad form. Questionable. Linear media, even where it orbits with incessant moth like fascination around a recurring theme – in one work or across an oeuvre – celebrates variation.
This is one of the hardest things for people coming from linearland (it’s a state of mind silly) to get when you move into networked media forms and practices. For here repetition, to quote Mark Bernstein from many years ago, is not a vice. Why? The simplest explanation is to realise that if you don’t return to where you’ve already been, to then be able to make new and different choices (some of which may again return you here), you have no way of ever knowing that your choices matter. To the work, its shape, your experience of it, and that its shape and structure actually changes as a consequence of your decisions.
No return, no simple repetition, then it may as well as be a branching tree, and a branching tree is to poetic pattern as ice hockey is to ballet.
Interface. Or perhaps, as a prompt or proposition, interfaces? Ever since Manovich described (perhaps too quickly) as fundamental the deep difference between database and narrative, the plasticity of the gap between database, content, and interface has found itself married to the immaterial through a moment of slippage. Even if it is not explicitly stated, the disjuncture between database and interface became a lazy intellectual moment where the variable mutability of database and interface (where database in the same indolent sleight of hand becomes commensurate with content), depth and surface, slid into an assumption of impermanence and variability, so that the lack of fixity between the interface as surface and the database as something below became equated to the immaterial. A category error, Bateson might say. Or “what’s wrong with surface?” as Gibson recently wondered.
However, while we can rehabilitate the immateriality of the interface through a variety of material measures and indices — including those provided by usability testing, computer human interaction, and interaction design — there is an alternative epistemology of the interface that I want to explore that concentrates on indeterminacy as an idea and experience. In this conception an interface, Janus like, faces simultaneously toward the database and an interacting audience. This bidirectional glance becomes an epistemological problem as the malleability of what is revealed, and able to be acted upon, and the making of this explicit (enough) is the prospective dispotif of the interface. This dispotif is framed as a technical response to the epistemological problem of indeterminacy. What can be performed? What should be shown? What can be enacted? What affordances are to be realised? Withheld? Concealed? Why? This is the problem of needing to understand what is being viewed, and more importantly being able to enable an instrumental decision about how to act felicitously within any interface.
It is that minor, tripartite series of terms in the last sentence that I want to concentrate on. Understanding — or more particularly noticing as the passage to understanding — deciding, and then acting. These are the terms I intend to expand upon. This sequence of noticing, deciding, and doing, is synonymous with Deleuze’s definition of the perception, affect, and action images within Bergson’s sensory motor schema. For Deleuze, this accounts for cinema as a cognitive perceptual assemblage that operates as an economy of actions in response to situations. In this schema indeterminacy is an inevitable consequence of any perceptual system that introduces an interval, or gap, between noticing and doing (perception and action), and is described by Deleuze as a ‘zone of indetermination’. This provides us, at least speculatively, with a way to think about interfaces as such ‘zones of indetermination’ and also then a site of a shimmering frisson and tension between the immateriality of affect and the materiality of interface.
Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Hampton Press, 2002. Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema One: The Movement–Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. Gibson, Ross. “Description and Narrative.” presented at the Placing Nonfiction, RMIT University, Melbourne, December 2013. Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. The MIT Press, 2002.
The slides (now still images, the actual slides had video on every slide) and the text commentary I used for my presentation at Placing Nonfiction are now available on academia.edu, “About 7am, An Ontographic Video”.