Who Reports Who to Who?

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polymath
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Who Reports Who to Who?

Post by polymath » July 27th, 2010, 11:36 am

Who narrates to who? Seymour Chatman in Story and Discourse identifies narrators as overt to covert, with a continuum of possibility between extremes, and real author, implied author, and narrator reporting to narratee, implied reader, and real reader. I locate another, closer narrative distance, perhaps the closest and deepest narrative distance, in reader rapport with viewpoint characters. In the latter, the narrator is mostly estranged from a narrative.

Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions preface opens in real author reporting to real reader, transitions to implied author reporting to implied reader, then narrator to narratee, then narrator reported viewpoint character reflexively self-reporting to self in the epilogue. Narrative distance begins at a distant remove and moves ever closer until it gets about as close as narrative can get. Real or implied author reporting to real or implied reader was the traditional narrative distance for much of fiction's early history, predominating until well into the Twentieth century.

Perhaps the pivotal influence causing narrative method change came from papermaking and bindery technology advances allowing massmarket paperback and pulp digest manufacturing. Paper no longer had to be made from cotton and books no longer had to be stitch bound in hardcovers and machines to do it all. Methods for making paper from tree pulp, mostly spruce and long leaf and loblolly pine, were introduced in the early Twentieth century. The masses at last had ownership access to affordable literature. Authors adapted storytelling techniques to fulfill the masses' demands. One can only predict digital technology will have at least as great an effect on future storytelling techniques yet to emerge, perhaps emerging, perhaps emergent.

Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea opens in narrator reporting viewpoint character self-reporting and remains mostly in that closest of narrative distances.

"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week." *

The opening passage primarily depicts Recollection reported through Introspection and Narration, with Summarization, Exposition, and Explanation and smidgeons of Description and Transition. No Sensation, Action, or Emotion directly depicted, per se, though there are sensations, actions, and emotions evoked. No Conversation discourse, but is interior discourse if the sense of it is perceived as Free Indirect Thought, which I do for its stream of consciousness characteristics.

FIT and stream of consciousness features depicting introspective recollection; De re pronouns: he and him. Preterite form of to be verb, was. Past perfect constructs had gone, had been, had told. Conjunction words and and but. Understated exclamatory sentences with a woeful mood. Adverbs expressing subjective commentary reflexively, definitely and finally. Estranging metaphor salao, not defined but explained as "the worst form of unlucky," a Cuban idiom literaly meaning salted, comparable to U.S. idiom washed-up (useless, worthless, has-been) old salt.

* Scribner, New York, first massmarket paperback edition 2003, page 1. 1952 Ernest Hemingway copyright. Renewal copyright 1980 Mary Hemingway.
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Re: Who Reports Who to Who?

Post by Down the well » July 28th, 2010, 11:02 am

polymath wrote:Perhaps the pivotal influence causing narrative method change came from papermaking and bindery technology advances allowing massmarket paperback and pulp digest manufacturing. Paper no longer had to be made from cotton and books no longer had to be stitch bound in hardcovers and machines to do it all. Methods for making paper from tree pulp, mostly spruce and long leaf and loblolly pine, were introduced in the early Twentieth century. The masses at last had ownership access to affordable literature. Authors adapted storytelling techniques to fulfill the masses' demands. One can only predict digital technology will have at least as great an effect on future storytelling techniques yet to emerge, perhaps emerging, perhaps emergent.
This is really interesting to me. As technology changes, so do our storytelling techniques? One thing I believe is that technology has changed who is telling stories. When a writer had no choice but to put a story on paper by hand it weeded out a lot of people who might have thought the effort overwhelming. Then the typewriter came along. It was easier, but still it was an arduous process to produce three hundred pages of clean type. Of course, today everyone has a personal computer and can self-publish their masterpiece in a matter of months if they want. I'm certain this is the reason poor Nathan's in-box is so jammed.

Interesting observation. But, uh, the rest of your post went over my head.

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Re: Who Reports Who to Who?

Post by polymath » July 28th, 2010, 12:31 pm

Down the well wrote:This is really interesting to me. As technology changes, so do our storytelling techniques? One thing I believe is that technology has changed who is telling stories. When a writer had no choice but to put a story on paper by hand it weeded out a lot of people who might have thought the effort overwhelming. Then the typewriter came along. It was easier, but still it was an arduous process to produce three hundred pages of clean type. Of course, today everyone has a personal computer and can self-publish their masterpiece in a matter of months if they want. I'm certain this is the reason poor Nathan's in-box is so jammed.

Interesting observation. But, uh, the rest of your post went over my head.
Major technology changes have influenced storytelling techniques, beginning with the invention of language. I imagine, before language, storytelling was mostly mime and some nonverbal vocalizations, probably mostly briefing and debriefing for improving social and subsistence skills for the purpose of successful mating strategies.

Then storytelling became mostly gestural and oral narrative and stayed that way until graphical representations began to stand for concepts, then aural words, then alphabets. Written storytelling came along to replace memorized epics, imposed on natural materials, clay, papyrus, stone, wood, and knots and beads strung on cords. Parchment and vellum came along. Then cotton rag paper, then wood pulp paper, foolscap as it was named in the age of leather-leaved codices, bound tomes and scrolls and such. Then along came digital storytelling.

In the age or oral narration, poets had to mentally compose and memorize their works. Rhyme and meter and rhythm acted as mnenonic devices. An oral narrative experience was then markedly different from a read narrative experience, and the forms and audience expectations markedly differed. The effort to compose and memorize meant great works enjoyed more popular and universal attention than ephemeral folklore works, though enduring folklore emerged and evolved into a noble art form. The expense of later publication technologies, like incising clay or stone tablets, also limited the breadth of published story forms. Novel and short story forms evolved from folklore roots at the time of Gutenberg's introduction of moveable type machine printing. However, great works predominated on the press because wealth controlled the press.

Yes, technology influences who tells stories. More importantly, in my opinion, technology influences how stories are told. Significant advantages from technological advances: more and more enduring stories, broader access to potential audience niches, and more forms to appeal to more special interests. Before the Nineteenth century, bookmakers were few and far between and very expensive. Books weren't especially affordable either. And censorship controlled the press. By the mid 1800s, censorship began to relax, relaxed again mid 1900s to the point there's little universal standardized censorship anymore.

Censorship imposed a filtering mechanism on writers. Not only topically, but stylistically as well. Early literature and well into the modern era took a patriarchal god-like narratorial standing, preaching, teaching, dictating behavior and mores, recording epic patriotic history and lyrical poety. Author reporting predominated. Reading entertainments as readers today expect was rare if not altogether forbidden. Imagine the reaction of a Sixteenth century censor confronted with a close third-person narrator presuming to read minds. The writer would have been burned at the stake by the Inquisition for witchcraft and consortium with the devil.

Human beings just don't think the way they did centuries ago. We are more conscious of self than we were before the Age of Enlightenment, when philosphers started questioning existence, Descartes' "I think, therefore I am." The ages old question of predestination versus free will looms large in this post Postmodern age, with free will favored by the masses.

A main point of my original post is how storytelling changed from traditional authorial direct addresses to audiences, to indirect narrator addresses to narratees, to narrator reporting viewpoint character self-reported sensation and introspection. The nearly universal method for storytelling today.

The number of book publishers at the beginning of the Twentieth century numbered into dozens. By the middle of the century there were hundreds. Today, there are 100,000 in the U.S alone who've published two or more books still in print.

Digital technology is still in its infancy. I wonder what new storytelling techniques will emerge because of digital technology. At the root of my thought exercise in that regard is the question, Who Reports Who to Who? Will narrators disappear altogether? Private reading experiences are the mainstay of written literature. Will narratives become more personal and private and intimately individual? Will general readers come to prefer short, sharp-edged narrative installments where they are so totally immersed they become the story for as long as a lunch break? Will the long form be reserved for a niche? Or will it become ever grander due to digital technology? One thing I'm certain of, Babel's ziggurat tower will broaden at the base as the publishing tower rises to new heights.
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Re: Who Reports Who to Who?

Post by rose » July 28th, 2010, 2:44 pm

I'm so glad you put this topic up, Polymath. I think of myself as a minimalist, stylistically speaking and happily for me, it is a style that is perfectly adapted to the way I lead my online life, flitting beelike from forum, to blog, to email, and back.

I have noted that the Internet lends itself well to collective world building. In some circles, heroic figures discussed, often in near in reverent terms. Events told and retold, anecdotes recast in new and expanded lights. How new members of the group come to know the Canon or extant Body of Knowledge is left up to them, but the discussing goes on in public. We are starting to see a softening and a merging of the reader/writer roles, leading us full circle to where we gather 'round the fire once again, spinning stories and making myths.

Or so it seems to me.

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Re: Who Reports Who to Who?

Post by Down the well » July 28th, 2010, 2:55 pm

polymath wrote:Digital technology is still in its infancy. I wonder what new storytelling techniques will emerge because of digital technology.
I think the E-readers are going to make a huge difference in how we tell stories. I can see a time when books are so interactive that the "reader" actually becomes a part of the story. Instead of just identifying with the main character, a reader might actually become the character (virtually) by making choices with the push of a button in order to alter the outcome of the story. Books might become more like gaming in a way. If so, it could become standard for writers to start telling stories with multiple outcomes to meet the demands of a new generation.

I can also see how embedding links in an E-book would change things. You might be reading about a particular setting, maybe the African plains, and instead of having to imagine what it looks like you can hit a link and see a picture instantly. Not sure if that's a good thing, but I could definitely get excited by it.

But I see now how much storytelling could/does in fact evolve based on changes in technology. Kind of cool, kind of scary.

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Re: Who Reports Who to Who?

Post by polymath » July 28th, 2010, 3:41 pm

Thank you, rose.

Dingbat as a derogatory term became part of language long ago. A dingbat batten was a tool used by careless or inexperienced scribes. The same goes for dingbat type used to border a galley. Originally, presses were operated by hand pressure and subject to varying applications of pressure. Modern platen presses could be adjusted to consistently reproduce only the pressure needed for ink to transfer uniformly to uniform thickness machine made paper. Dingbat typefaces on the digital market retain two of printers' secondary purposes, not the original protective purpose. They're decorative graphic art characters, and used for balancing text design negative and positive spaces according to CARP, Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, and Proximity graphic design principles.

The Archie Bunker situation comedy certainly indoctrinated the public to dingbat's insulting meaning. Hereabouts, there's a sometimes derogatory, sometimes endearing term for tourists, Dingbatters. The name arose when tourism did, for the inane toy novelty tourists shops sold, the one with the rubber ball attached by an elastic string to a ping-pong paddle, called a dingbat for the ding sound it makes when the ball strikes it. The tourists and and their money and the toy on gift shop shelves come and go seasonally like the ball on the elastic string.

I do see technology eventually repersonalizing society. I'm glad others see it going on now, and engaging online for the purposes of building and deepening the lost meaningful interpersonal relationships technology took away. Sure, please, let's gather back around the fire reinvented in cyberspace.

Down the Well,

I've seen how interactive content appeals, also how virtual in-person experience appeals, as well as user selected alternative storylines. They have their ups and downs. Foremost for consideration is how much a device medium contributes to reader immersion or alienation. Interacting with technology alienates me by making me aware of the artificiality of the construct. A paper novel causes me less artificiality awareness than a digital novel.

Also, too close a narrative distance feels creepy from voyeuristic guilt. I don't want to experience someone else's excretory functions, death throes, or lovemaking, at least.

An issue I see with user selected storylines arises from losing the surprise of revelation, discovery, and reversal, and more so, creating an overfamiliarity with the potent thrill, awe, and wonder of exotic secondary setting proxy realities. After all, it's called a novel because it's a novel experience. If I'm too involved in creating the creative vision, I lose the novelty of privately, vicariously experiencing someone else's complications and outcomes.
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Re: Who Reports Who to Who?

Post by rose » July 28th, 2010, 4:40 pm

I am not fond of the up-close-and-personal reportage either. It is like the person who stands too close for comfortable conversation, or worse, the one who walks up and says, "Wanna smell my armpits?"

Are the choose-your-own ending stories very popular? I think of them as novelties. A year or so ago, there was discussion of how the Internet would make it possible to write them easily, and the proposed name for them was to be wovels. I have learned that I do not wove wovels.

I was a miserable at Dingbatting, even though I didn't know I had ever tried it until today. I can't wait to take a survey of my friends and find out if any were proficient Dingbatters. Perhaps it will start a reborn craze. And then someone will add the hightech flip of capturing the energy to charge our personal electronics devices.

And you and I will watching this happen from our respective garrets, going, "Dang, we coulda been rich, if only we'd done something besides natter about that on the internet." But then if money were our prime motivator, we wouldn't be hanging out in this particular cohort group, anyway.

rose
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Re: Who Reports Who to Who?

Post by polymath » July 28th, 2010, 5:06 pm

rose wrote:Are the choose-your-own ending stories very popular?
They have been, mostly among young adult readers. There's a sentimental interest current among adult fans of the form. It was somewhat of a fad for a time in the '90s. If it comes around again in a creatively reinvented form, it might have some broader and lasting appeal power, like from skateboards' rebel stigma, not like hula hoops or Dingbats, the toy, though both are still on the novelties market.
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