Monday, May 2, 2016

remarks on "story"


I think the ideas in "Phatic Agency" and "Phatic Interference" give us several potential "New Directions"-style end-points to connect up with (I'm picking up a thought I started in a comment here).

That is, thinking in terms of the Harmon story circle, the upper-right quadrant could be devoted to Foundational stuff, and the upper-left quadrant could be devoted to the more futuristic ideas about agency in objects, AI, and so on.  However, the bottom-half of the story circle still feels a bit blurry for me.

Possibly in the lower-right we would develop the "From six to nine: An elaboration of sign-functions" framework (used in the slide deck) and in the lower-left use these dimensions to develop a survey focusing on "networks" -- not just through our selection of content, but also methodologically, by taking up the idea of a network analysis (in the spirit of "the medium is the message")?


So (following the figure above) another possible paper outline might be something like this, with text in bold parts indicating that many of the key ideas are already developed:

1. A. Malinowski describes phaticity in society (text from "Response to Phatica3").
2. B. La Barre and Jakobson head in more fundamental and more abstract directions (text from "Response to Phatica3").
3. A|B: We read the three theorists against each other informally, to sum up and develop an initial framework of analysis (slide 7): "It's not about meaning.  It's about understanding.  And attraction."
4. A. Malinowski re-represented using the "six-to-nine" formalism (slide 8). "Malinowski seems to contradict himself on the matter of referentiality"
5. B. La Barre and Jakobson using the "six-to-nine" formalism (slide 9, slide 10). "La Barre is really treating non-referential (nonlinguistic vocal) communication; Jakobson technicalizes phatic communion by setting it on the contact feature."
6. A. Literature survey 1: Textual foundations for textual foundations (slide 4).
7. A. Literature survey 2: Immediate influences of the textual foundations (slide 5).
8. B. We read several 1990s-2010s authors against each other using a network (citation/intertextual reference) analysis, connecting back to literature found in part 6 and 7 where relevant (TBD, main papers collected in "Metaphatics Metaeverything" and elsewhere; with some methodological ideas referenced in papers near the middle of "Response to Phatica3").
9. A|B. We evaluate our own analysis and methods from part 8 against the ways others who we have surveyed are working (TBD)
10. A. "New directions 1" --- phaticity in society reprise -- survey of the most interesting ways in which others are re-writing or paraphrasing Malinowskian questions for today's world (TBD, possibly drawing on our list of "Cognates and correlates in other fields")
11. B. "New directions 2" -- survey of the most interesting La Barrean and Jakobsonian contributions, including own main conclusions and questions for future work (TBD, possibly drawing on our list of "Cognates and correlates in other fields")
TBD=To be done.

Here A represents a hypothetical "standard Malinowskian storyline," and B represents the La Barre/Jakobson (and later, Rebane-Corneli) storyline, which is possibly a sort of long-term coup d'état.


And a few off-the-cuff theoretical remarks that could potentially apply to parts 8 and 9 of that outline.

While I'm thinking about stories, in a couple of recent papers I found the following reference useful:

Kim, J.; Cheng, J.; and Bernstein, M. S. 2014. Ensemble: exploring complementary strengths of leaders and crowds in creative collaboration. In Proceedings of the 17th ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work & social computing, 745–755. ACM.

They make the following comment, which in itself is rather obvious but which has some interesting implications:
A story is not a modular presentation of ideas but a multi-layered work consisting of interdependent characters, plot elements, and settings.
My response was:
[E. Ostrom's] theme of local scale suggests more and less representative examples. For instance, academic research is currently organised in a much more segmented and localised format than Wikipedia. Modularity is one of three features that are hypothesised to support commons based peer production (CBPP) (Benkler 2002). However, CBPP requires not just decomposability into modules but relatively fine granularity of these modules, and as well as a low cost of integration to bring disparate pieces of work together once they are completed – possibly “subsidised” by an assistive technology, like Wikipedia’s metadata systems. Creative and scientific writing, at the level of individual papers or books, tends to miss features that would allow this work to scale (Kim, Cheng, and Bernstein 2014).
That said, the technology of inter-textual references does allow academic work en masse to grow at a large scale, in a sort of wiki-like or blogosphere-like way -- even though individual papers are not massively-multiple collaborations in a hands-on-the-keyboard sense. The integrative "glue" seems to be precisely what we would examine in the network analysis; and I think we could account for it in a theoretically relevant way.

For instance, I think we might be able to argue that this glue is not just a matter of the third-person-referential/phatic/typomaniacal, but somehow also connected with human mouthiness, and La Barre's protological statement about mouths:
in the beginning [was] the organ of human inter-individuality
The mouth being one of several physical "portals" of the body, and perhaps the one most justifiably described as "a portal to another world."

If (for a moment) we were to flesh out our theoretical structures from "skinny" networks to more "fleshy" surfaces, we would see things like this appearing:
Indeed, for quite some time I've been interested in thinking about the structure of academic communication -- so, for example, I wonder if a given text might "weave" a structure similar to the one pictured above, which then only makes sense when it is hooked up with other related texts.

Although some contemporary theorists are (justifiably) concerned with answering:
What kinds of representations are sufficiently expressive to account for the hierarchical conceptual relationships of concepts?
Lawrence W. Barsalou (1993): Flexibility, Structure, and Linguistic Vagary in Concepts: Manifestations of a Compositional System of Perceptual Symbols. In:  A. Collins, S. Gathercole, Martin A. Conway & P. E. Morris (eds.) Theories of Memory. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hove.

...In my opinion, "story" will require still-more complicated representations -- they are "multi-layered," but that's not all!  Even more challenging is the assertion that stories are not simply "modular" -- which means that hooking various texts together may be necessary but is probably not sufficient for sense-making.

For instance, the first image above shows the A story and the B story overlapping at key points in the overall plot (A|B), and in my outline above I included "read X against Y" at these points of overlap.  In the 8-part story circle these are also points of transition (NEED/GO, TAKE/RETURN), into and out of the core part of the story that takes place after the preface and before the final summing up.  Perhaps a conflict situation like "A|B" or "read X against Y" helps the reader find him- or herself in the story.


Since the network analysis stuff seems to need the most work, I'll start by reviewing the references on that, and aim to write my "part 2/3" response to "Metaphatics Metaeverything" with those ideas in mind to see how they develop.

1 comment:

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