Networked books: Opening Up Narrative

Pretty much any traditional critic who picks up House of Leaves will point out the intricacy of the layered narratives (well, duh). The centerpiece of the work is the mockumentary-esque The Navidson Record, whose overwrought sourcing and random tangents apparently affected by the narrator’s personal life (e.g., the constant use of “vision” language coinciding with Zampano’s blindness) are a definite mockery of traditional scholarly texts. In fact, most books have the same levels of editing, albeit unexaggerated; we just don’t usually have them laid open for us to examine and pull apart.

One of the really intriguing things about networked books (and I’m not going to make this a blog post about what they are, since I don’t want to steal Jamie’s fire) is that the same sort of openness often exists. We saw this on a small scale in our creative criticisms on our group wiki page; everyone can go back and see how everyone else changed a page.

In fact, as Wikipedia points out, “Wikipedia is a networked book.” While those layers of edits might not be so interesting when you’re not working with a very tight or very large group of people, the implications become much different in other circumstances. Anyone can check the editing history of a Wikipedia page and the reason for the person’s omission/addition of information…we can then go on to check all of the edits that person has done and essentially piece together the narrative voice the Wiki editor has created for themselves. There are some Wiki editors that do nothing but “prank” edits, adding the unreliable information to pages that universities so often cite as a reason to stay away from Wikipedia for information. Still, this too is a type of narrative voice.

What we have done, then, is create a sort of real-world House of Leaves, in which an editor could easily do something like Johnny’s level of narrative – that is, if he doesn’t get voted down by the other contributors. While obviously this isn’t terribly feasible on Wikipedia, which purports to be dedicated to nonfiction, this opens up all sorts of possibilities for fictional narratives with multiple authors.

And don’t even get me started on the creative generation possible in low-moderation, untracked, anonymous communities.

-jocelyn petyak


~ by jocelynpetyak on March 21, 2010.

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