Looking forward to the Narrative Conference 2013 in Manchester this June. Here’s details of our panel and panelists:
Post- Palmer, Phelan, and Print: a cross-medial view
of an “interpretive disagreement”
In 2009 Style journal published both Alan Palmer’s cognitive-based reading of an Ian McEwan print novel, and James Phelan’s response to that reading, which offers rhetorical approach in lieu of Palmer’s cognitive one. While Phelan’s article, “Cognitive Narratology, Rhetorical Narratology, and Interpretive Disagreement,” reveals resonance as well as rift in pairing these two narratologies, the proposed panel seeks to extend this discussion beyond narrative fiction in print to see how the same interpretive tensions might play out in narratives in other media. Specifically, using examples from digital fiction, film, and videogames, the panel will explore some of the payoffs and pitfalls of applying cognitive models for reading narrative media with, against, or in relation to rhetorical ones.
In “The Minds of Minors and Monsters: Genre, Consciousness, and Ethics in the Lolita Adaptations,” Matthew Bolton considers the intersection between cognitive and rhetorical theories of narrative to explore the two vastly different film adaptations of Lolita, Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 comic farce and Adrian Lyne’s 1997 melodrama. First, he examines the way in which the generic schema in which each film works informs the way each filmmaker represents consciousness in his adaptation – particularly in the cases of Humbert and Lolita. In adapting Nabokov’s novel within certain generic constraints, both Kubrick and Lyne rely on the generic affordances of farce and melodrama in order to represent characters’ interiority; similarly, the way the directors represent character interiority reinforces for viewers the generic formula each film will employ. Second, Bolton turns to rhetorical narrative theory’s focus on ethics in order to consider the ways that this generic identification – and, in particular, the representation of Humbert’s and Lolita’s minds – guide the audience’s judgments, both with regard to the events represented and the aesthetic project as a whole.
John Zuern’s presentation, “Minds and Messages in Multimedia Narrative: Inanimate Alice Between Cognitive and Rhetorical Paradigms,” turns to Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph’s ongoing project Inanimate Alice, a Web-based multimedia fiction incorporating text, animation, audio, and gaming, to show how the computational features of digital narratives—in particular conditional structures that make readers practically and ethically responsible for plot outcomes—call into question some of the assumptions underlying Alan Palmer’s “whole mind” account of mental functioning in fiction and, at the same time, affirm key elements of James Phelan’s rhetorical model of fiction as a dynamic, purposeful message. Focusing on the demands such texts place on readers to construct meaning by coordinating a range of perceptual stimuli, including their frequently inchoate grasp of the text’s algorithmic operations, Zuern concludes with the suggestion that David Herman’s concept of “joint attention” might serve to mediate cognitive and rhetorical approaches to digital narratives in ways that preserve the valuable insights of both paradigms. Inanimate Alice illustrates these fundamental questions particularly well, as the text has been designed to foster young-adult readers’ skills in navigating and interpreting multimedia narratives.
Finally, in “Dangerously Unreliable Narration in the Gameworld of BioShock,” David Ciccoricco considers the way in which the ludic and multi-linear progressions of gameplay both draw on and counteract conventional techniques of narrative construction. At the same time, against the prevailing notion that videogames are a poor artistic medium for exploring character interiority and cognition, he shows how the game’s strategic development of competing worldviews (operating at the level of the game’s ideology) and competing agendas (operating at the local level of the game’s here and now), orchestrates the way in which players make judgements not only about other (“non-player”) characters but also about their own motivations and moral positioning as the protagonist in the gameworld. Furthermore, Ciccoricco shows how extra-diegetic, in-game directives and instruction conveyed to the player directly in such games can (wittingly or not) subvert the diegetic narration in order to optimize gameplay. Thus, rather than simply accepting or attempting to reconcile inherently incoherent or disjunctive elements of videogame narratives, he suggests that one challenge videogame narratives pose involves the pursuit of creative, aesthetic solutions to inter-related technical and rhetorical problems; and their audience must pursue new strategies of sense-making in turn.
David Ciccoricco (PRIMARY CONTACT)
University of Otago
David Ciccoricco is a member of the English Department faculty at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. His research is focused on contemporary narrative fiction, with a particular emphasis on emergent forms of digital literature and network culture in general. He is the author of Reading Network Fiction (U. Alabama Press, 2007), a book on the first and second waves of digital fiction. Recent publications include “Focalization in Digital Fiction” in issue 20.3 of Narrative.
John David Zuern
University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
John David Zuern is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His work focuses on literary criticism and theory, narrative fiction, life writing, electronic literature, and rhetoric. He is Co-Editor of the journal Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly. His recent publications include an article on the life writing of Louis Althusser in Life Writing (2011), chapters on electronic literature in Reading Moving Letters: Digital Literature in Research and Teaching (2010), and a critical history of the networking company Cisco Systems in the volume Cultural Critique and the Global Corporation (Indiana UP, 2010).
Concordia College-New York
Matthew Bolton is an Assistant Professor of English at Concordia College – New York. His research develops a rhetorical approach to adaptation, unpacking the shifts in ethical strategies – for texts, authors, and audiences – that arise when transposing a narrative from prose to film. His publications about adaptation include a chapter on queer ethics in Brokeback Mountain in the forthcoming Queer Love in Film and Television (Palgrave, 2013), an article forthcoming in Diegesis on the ethics of the surprise ending in Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Joe Wright’s film adaptation (Spring 2013), and an essay in ImageText on fidelity and period aesthetics in comics adaptation (Fall 2011).