Word Circuits


Forepaper by Francisco Jose Ricardo and Elin Johanne Sjursen
for Messenger Morphs the Media 99



In hyperfiction, certain computational authorial techniques have been de rigueur, for instance, anchors that link to different story elements as a function of time or prior reader traversal; links whose names are themselves are a form of description of story intentions; re-visited lexias whose literal composition remains the same, but whose implication changes as the story evolves; etc.

With the repetition of certain prominent techniques, it is clear that the envelope of representation is being pushed to limits that are not infinite. Authors are increasingly interpolating greater cleverness into content anatomy to compensate for the relative fixity of the interface and what it offers to the writer -- limitations of features that are as true of authoring systems like StorySpace as for web browsers. How much farther can we go?

In light of this question, another perspective is relevant to the design of hyperfictional content. It involves managing the central role of what happens relatively far behind the interface, as a function of authorial design. In this back-end mode, the management of lexias becomes a management of objects and the story evolves, then, almost as a grammar, with the selective interaction of the objects under specific conditions -- this perspective no different than the approach of the database designer and the object oriented programmer who organize and manage an archive of objects. Here, we totally blur the line between the poetic in programming -- as the creation of autonomy in a program -- and hyperliterary authoring -- as the creation of autonomous themes, plots, and actants in a descriptive account. Both would join in aesthetic unification designed to promote the possibility of traversing a landscape between the unraveling and coupling of symbolic patterns.

This also brings up an important distinction -- that between author time and reader time (like design time and run time modes in programming). In author time (analogous to design time) the material connections are made such as the reader will encounter them. This includes the entering of fixed text lexias, links to determinate locations, etc. In reader time, the connections evolve (analogous to run time) as a result of the reader's interaction with the work. In this mode (which is what we are presenting for consideration), the work is as much determined by realtime experience in conjunction with algorithms for organizing, matching, and presenting story contents -- the work is a greater manifestation of author time and reader time components than is currently the case with authoring and browsing systems. This is, again, the mix of content and structure in actual performance for the reader.

What, then, are the aspects of story and structure that permit this unified approach to be envisioned, and its intersection to be implemented? We set up a matrix of comparison that links factors of the author function with variables in the back-end management of story elements -- that is, techniques and questions of character, setting, and plot that map onto computational techniques not present, prominent, or practical in current hyperauthoring venues. These include three areas of computational hermeneutics, story structure, and narrativity:

Computational Hermeneutics

For further consideration in the workshop

Consideration of various forms of hermeneutic recall and computational storgage of elements in stories -- many as posed by the workshop participants in their own work.

__Technique 1: Memory as archival.

How are elements of the story made persistent? Discussion of how to divide the story and what archival methods can be implemented to for selective and simple recovery. The concept of recall in a story can be implemented by given variables and saved state features in authoring languages.


__Technique 2: Association as retrieval.

How are elements of the story matched? Beyond author time links, and keyword searches, there are semantic information retrieval techniques that can implement hermeneutic modes of historical relevance in a story. This has major implications for the play of possible interpretations, and is the inverse of technique 1 above.


Computational Story Structure

For further consideration in the workshop

The implication of how story linearities relate to deeper mythic intentions of the work -- for instance, via epic or sequel constructions. How mythemes as lexias are the basis for hyperfiction. Also, the philosophical question of where lies (and what remains of) authorial intention in a system where the user can generate her own techniques of traversal in reader time. And to the degree that this is a desirable state, what formalist narrative techniques are best implemented in author time versus reader time.


__Technique 1: Formalist techniques of defamiliarization

(e.g., Shklovskii's 1929 Theory of Prose).

These include repetition, parallelism, framing, embedding, juxtaposition in the story. Each of these has a programmatic equivalent in the back end in either a realtime (reader time) or "precooked" (author time) mode of authorship. In reader mode, parallelism (for example) can be determined by a semantic match of key terms in a given lexia to other lexias. In author time, these links pre-exist as part of the author's original content design.


__Technique 2: structuralist Mythemes

(Lévi-Strauss's 1958 the structural Analysis of Myth).

These are basic and rearrangeable units of signification which can map into lexial sequences in hyperfiction. The idea here is that the story is a Markov chain of successive states like a raiload track. At specific points, the track can deviate toward another track. The mytheme metaphor means that interchangeability is always present, but also that certain units must proceed others, in order for a given sense of order to emerge. The mythemic metaphor is a high level version of the Todorov narrative grammar, which focuses on singular elements as factors in the outcome of the story. Being high level, the mythemic metaphor is already a part of StorySpace, for instance.

Computational Narrativity

For further consideration in the workshop

What, for individual authors, are the major narrative components of hyperfiction, how do authors treat these, and what would be desirable if these components could be enhanced programmatically?


__Technique 1: Narrative Grammar

(e.g., Todorov's 1969 Grammaire du Décameron).

In this analytic model, actions are assimilated into verbs, characters to nouns, attributes to adjectives. This is a virtual homology with objects in the programmatic sense. What a character is given to do, for instance, by the reader (who can, say, decide whether the character will go to a specific location, interact with a given person, or undertake some special act), reconfigures not only the subsequent story development, but also other characters and their attributes. Again, this level of high granularity provides a programming onus, but also a correspondingly much higher degree of interactive variability.


__Technique 2: Greimas's syntactic structures and Barthes's narrative codes.

(e.g., : Greimas's syntactic structures and barthes's s/z).

Greimas's syntactic structures (characters being classified by function in the story) and Barthes's narrative codes (where story lexias are what is thus classified) are equally promising. For instance, the hermeneutic code of Barthes (cf. S/Z) which represents the imposition of an enigma in need of resolution in the story, can be explored as its own substory, whereby the user can follow the links of the enigma, to the omission of other plot sequences. This resembles the mytheme organization, although the mytheme presupposes that the story was created with a given underlying structure, whereas the narrative codes of Barthes do not seek a larger structure, and instead re-configures the story around reader-assigned strands of signification.



We will explore how these theoretical aspects of the story can be implemented programmatically, rather than at the level of what the interface alone offers (e.g., precooking the links in a story at "author" time) by pointing out areas of overlapping convergence between the narratological and the computational, so that the hyperauthor can look beyond the tools endemic to current environments and instead approach the production of more individual creations from the ground up.



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