Search results for "Lev-Manovich "

Database obesity

Author: joe

Friday, 08 June, 2012 - 21:20

Specifying the nature of narrative - that is, the connecting of otherwise unconnected things into a coherent trajectory - is also to thereby define its antithesis - the anti-narrative. For Manovich, this is the database, which refuses to participate in the articulation of one item to another. They have no beginnings or endings, argues Manovich, nor formal or thematic development, no organisation. These items are flat: "every item has the same significance as any other". Of course there are different kinds of database which may well have structures and forms, hierarchical, arborescent or otherwise, such that users may operate on them and traverse those elements. In such traversals narratives may emerge as the members of collections are briefly brought together as the answer to a query - but in this action the distinction is confirmed: what was non-narrative became narrative, in the retrieval against some operation: "the narrative becomes just one method of accessing data among others".

The narrative act is thus one of selection, and in the example of the database as source of the given materials of narrative, quite literally we issue the command to "SELECT" data from stores according to given criteria. The symbolic form of the database is precisely not selecting: its logic is one of indiscriminately gathering and cataloguing, rather than picking out and assigning significance. Manovich notes the "storage mania" that characterises the digital world, in which everything is collected, from biological molecular structures to communication records to household shopping. A form of cultural sousveillance is at work and its production piece is the database. If we have left an age of myth in which stories provided the symbolic resources for scrying life, then we have entered an age of endless acquisition in which the symbolic imperative is to complete the record of everything. It is perhaps ironic that in a milieux that is claimed to be a "therapy culture" we should have become a collective case of compulsive hoarding.

The end point of such an undertaking is an absolute mirror, a digital record of every act, every cultural object, every distinct thing that makes a distinction, such that it be recordable. An archive of everything, a mirror of the world - not merely to have replaced the territory with the map, but to overflow the territory, such that the map outgrows the world it represents, filled as it is with endless possible repetitions of its own contents, infinitely reproducible. The archive is larger than the world it represents. Hence we see another anti-narrative characteristic emerge: where the collection expands arbitrarily, happy to accept all data and heedlessly insert the new or reproduce endless copies of the old, the narrative conversely simplifies by selection, reduces abundant and chaotic elements into something more manageable, digestible - indeed narrative is a kind of digesting of materials into meanings we can absorb, while the database is inflationary and inflammatory. It is unsurprising that contemporary challenges include replication and scaling, information giganticism and overload. We are obese with our refusal of narrative.

Categories: narrative, connection, database, Lev-Manovich, anti-narrative, sousveillance, hoarding,
Comments: 0

Narrative connections

Author: joe

Thursday, 07 June, 2012 - 21:52

In Database as a symbolic form Manovich contrasts databases, which are merely collections of data, with narratives which instead consist of "a series of connected events caused or experienced by actors" (1998). Manovich's aim here is to retrieve something about the database as a form which we had missed. Actually, far from being 'merely' a collection of data, the database is the catalogue of materials from which the artist might then construct a narrative. The database not only precedes the narrative act but also in fact enables it by providing its raw materials. He notes that "a narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events)", whereas the database "refuses to order this list". Thus it is the connecting of elements that were otherwise without order, the catching up of them into trajectories of cause and effect, which characterises narrative. Great story-tellers Manovich's example is Dziga Vertov are able to merge database and narrative into a new form, as in Man with a Movie Camera in which Vertov's encyclopaedic cataloguing of the techniques of the new language of cinematography is transformed into a narrative of discovery and possibility.

The strange partner of the anti-narrative character of the database - its resistance to connecting and articulating, and its priority to narrative - is its incompleteness. The web, which is formally recognisable as a database at the largest scales, is always being added to, and these additions are not appended as though to the last items of a list, but can be inserted anywhere. No narrative could survive such a process without sacrificing its integrity - as Manovich puts it, "how can one keep a coherent narrative or any other development trajectory through the material if it keeps changing?" We should not be fooled, then, by the apparent interconnectedness that gives the web its very name. Notwithstanding the links that carry us from one place to another - whether that place is a site, a page, an element, a node within a collection of nodes - there is no way to pin down those connections into something fixed and finished. Even were we to focus in on just one location in the web, entirely within our control, and to impose our structured navigational system onto a designed pathway through our given materials, we must still concede that our user may at any moment stray off the prescribed route, by switching browser window or alt-tabbing away to glance at messages or to graze on walls, feeds, streams and timelines. Every online link is susceptible to insertions of material which may be earth-moving or inane.

Manovich's analysis, in distinguishing the characteristics of databases, gives us a working definition of narrative which is consonant with dominant interpretations. In Propp's formalism, the 31 functions from which all folk-tales can be derived become a narrative when they are instantiated in a story which must always present the functions in unvarying order, even if they may leave some or others of them out. Even in Levi-Strauss' analysis of myth, in which many narratives are taken as parts of an entire system, the de-temporalised components of those stories are nevertheless structured in ways that reflect the underlying imperatives of human nature. Barthes' transcultural, transhistorical narrative, which is "simply there, like life itself", is a corollary of the sentence, with its syntactical (connecting) arrangements of subjects, verbs, objects, modes. Greimas' even more granular analysis posits such connecting principles as desires or aims, communication, and support or hindrance, as the basic patterns of narrative. Todorov's definition, which consists of different states of equilibrium and disequilibrium, is precisely a narrative because those states are articulated to each other. Genette's understanding of narrative is relational, being a product of the interactions between levels of narrative, perspective and focalisation. Historians such as Hayden White and Louis Mink separate the narrative, with its explanatory agenda, from the chronicle, with its enumerative function. From Aristotle, with his requirements for the high being laid low and the lowly being exalted, to Brecht's desire to rouse the audience to reject the necessity of inevitable endings, narrative is only narrative if it is a discrete series of items, caught up together into a connecting principle, a trajectory, a start, middle and end.

Manovic, Lev, 1998. Database as a Symbolic Form Available online at:

Categories: narrative, connection, database, Lev-Manovich ,
Comments: 1