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October 1, 2005

War Docs and the Interactive Database Narrative

KF has a fascinating post about a planned lecture on the "blog as narrative archive," one which has helped me to connect some theoretical questions I've been trying to address. Like KF, I've thought about blogging narratives in terms of their diachronic, often diaristic, structure, and like her, I believe that the media focus on "serious" or political blogs often obscures the value of diaristic blogs that tend to focus on the private sphere. While I probably err on the side of the serious around here, I have a great appreciation of the anonymous academic bloggers who frequently address "private-sphere" issues. As KF argues, there is "a relationship to be posited between the dismissal of such private-sphere blogs and the historical dismissal of feminine modes of writing."

In her discussion of this aspect of blogging, KF talks about teh overlap between this dichronic organization and the database model that is often associated with most forms of web-based or hypertextual writing. Here, KF's argument is worth quoting in detail:

the blog might require some interweaving of theories of hypertext and theories of time-based media, such as film, in order to be fully explored as a narrative form. And in thinking through the private sphere blog in particular, the ways in which it constructs the self both as an ongoing narrative and as a historical archive, demands a hybrid mode of reading that brings together the literary, the cinematic, and the digital.
I really like this reading of blogging because it very much describes my blog writing and reading practice, especially when I'm able to go back and revisit my initial reaction to a film and to see how my thinking may have evolved over several weeks or months.

But KF's comments are also helping me to reframe my recent consideration of both autobiographical and Iraq War documentaries (the two categories are not mutually exclusive by any means), a documentary style I tried to understand under therather clunky phrase, "the living room aesthetic." Specifically I'm interested in the ways in which both of the prominent grunt's-eye documentaries (Gunner Palace and Occupation: Dreamland) have been characterized in terms of tedium or repetition. And, in some sense, I think this aesthetic might be linked to Marsha Kinder's discussion of the "interactive database narrative" KF discusses. I'm still wrpping my head around this concept (and any suggestions could help), but my impulse is to link the narrative structure of these films to the role of the database, first on the technological and material level of construction, with editing technologies such as Final Cut Pro treating recorded (filmed? not necessarily) images as objects in a potentially vast database. But I'm also interested in the ideological level of this relationship between database and narrative. One might point to the "tedium" (or better the alternation between tedium and chaos) of the war documentary narrative.

This next point is somewhat unrelated to war documentaries, but I think Kinder's discussion of Bunuel as a database filmmaker might also provide a productive avenue through which I can revise some of my claims about time-travel cinema. In particular, she cites a Bunuel reference to cinema as a time machine. It's not uncommon for filmmakers or film theorists to refer to cinema as a time machine (D.W. Griffith certainly imagined cinema as a time machine), but Kinder's argument may help me to frame some of these issues more carefully, particularly when it comes to alternate-reality films such as Sliding Doors, Me Myself I, and Run Lola Run (the ultimate database film). This is just a very rough sketch of some ideas that I'm currently trying to (re)shape, so any suggestions or feedback (or requests for clarification) would be much appreciated.

Note: KF also points out Kinder's involvement in the Labyrinth Project, which might also be relevant to some of the ideas I'd like to unpack here.

Posted by chuck at October 1, 2005 2:37 PM

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The nine square grid for playing a game of X and O. A calendar as a matrix reshaping the relation between its rows and columns. 3D Tic-Tac-Toe.

Blogging is about "tables". (Ever notice how most bloggers archive material by month rather than weeks? Appeal to the listing we learnt as children?? The beginning and ending of weeks [Sunday? Monday?] don't have the same wide base of agreement as the recount of 30, 31 and 28/29).

A table can be rearranged. E.g. display the first three days of every month. Give me all the entries written before 10 a.m.

As in film there is the filmic time code and the diegetic temporality. The time stamp is akin to a marker which orients the reading and hence the (further) writing. Any two time stamps provide a means of slicing the line and making a table manifest. The first time stamp and one aribitrary point thereafter can serve as a way of cutting the deck of the the entries. The entries can then be arrayed in a variety of fashions. Note: the very first entry is both beginning and end point until another entry gets added.

The shape of infinities grows when comments are taken as perpendicular lines. But this is an illusion. The time stamp is inexorable in its seriality. One after another.

Posted by: Francois Lachance at October 2, 2005 9:15 PM

Yeah, the week versus month organization seems significant. I know that Fafblog has archives that are organized by week. I've also noticed that many Moveable Type bloggers have removed their calendars (I like my calendar because it still helps me to track when I typically blog). Also interesting to see how categories overlap with the calendar, especially when I have a burst of movie review entries as I did this week (or "politics" entries during the Katrina disaster and aftermath). In both cases (as is the case with cinema), the dominant form is seriality.

I think what fascinates me is the degree to which the database organization of filmed images might inform what gets serialized. I store my movie reviews here, but other categories of experience (whether I'm dating or not; what I had for dinner tonight) don't fit the database and don't get narrativized here.

To use the example of war docs, I wonder what kinds of images don't get placed in a filmmaker's image "database," or how images get categorized and how those categories eventually inform serialization. I probably wasn't quite ready to blog these ideas, but KF's post (particularly her mention of Kinder resonated with some things I've been thinking about with regards to my book project).

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 2, 2005 9:46 PM

Kinder's Film Quarterly piece sent me to her piece in Violence in American Cinema (ed. by David Slocum) where I found a note referring the reader to Mary Ann Doane's "Screening Time" in Language Machines. That essay on the temporalities displayed and constructed by early cinema might be applicable by analogy to the evolution of narration vis-a-vis blog writing [I mean "narration" and not "narrative".]

Doane writes "The subordination of documentary to a marginal mode within the cinematic institution is simultaneous with the inscription of temporality as an internal attribute. Even within the realm of narrative, temporality attains a new level of significance. Narrative constructs its own coherent and linear temporality, enhancing the autonomy of the film and the self-sufficiency of its own projected spectator. The initial centrifugal momentum of film exhibition -- in which the spectator is thrown outward from the viewing situation to other texts, other sources of knowledge, is halted." And later on "Because the time flow is now an imaginary one, situated in the realm of fiction and mimicking a sense of ordinary everyday time, it cannot be tested against an external measure, thus contributing to the stablization of a potentially deceptive and disruptive image."

And if that fails to spark blog imaginings, "Technology and narrative form an alliance in modernity to ameliorate the corrosiveness of the relation between time and subjectivity." Very tempting to reformulated Weez's "First Person Narrative in Real Time" to "reel" time. Reeling, for real.

Posted by: Francois Lachance at October 18, 2005 7:41 PM

I had been thinking about Doane's Emergence of Cinematic Time when Weez wrote that entry, and it struck me as an apt description of blogging, with blogging as a "reel-time" narrative, even if I wanted to tweak it (but I always want to tweak things).

Thanks for the additional references to Doane and Kinder. I'll add them to my (always growing) bibliography.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2005 11:13 AM

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