Neal Nekyia's picture
Neal Nekyia from a bunker in Los Angeles is reading weird stuff because the weird belongs to the everyday September 19, 2015 - 2:04am

What are some strategies for:

  • Texts
  • Emails
  • Kiks, Messneger, Whatapps
  • Tindr, Grindr, Whiplr, or AnythingEls-r
  • Tweets, Status Updates, Trending, Breaking News!
  • Powerpoints, doodles, overheard conversations

Basically how do you include the interruptions of contemporary life without seeming like a hack?

Thanks

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated September 19, 2015 - 5:59am

Well, the details will vary but I've had a lot of luck with this as my workhorse to describe such.

Pronoun looked at their phone and frowned/smiled/whatever.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore September 22, 2015 - 7:48am

To keep it from reading too dated, I'd put it into regular prose description whenever possible and generalize it, avoiding app names. "Her phone chirped with a message from this week's stalker" or "A breaking news post streaked across his screen, and he excused himself. [inset paragraph of tweet]" MySpace and AOL, for example, weren't really that long ago, but their mention would distract me in any story, inducing at least a nostalgic chuckle or eye roll.

The word message is your friend here. Post, alert, slide, graphic, etc. rather than the app that sent it. Calling them phones or tablets is probably fine.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal September 22, 2015 - 9:09am

^ bingo

I think we can add "text" as a pretty common term.

And can we all agree that just italicizing the message, or whatever words are displayed on the screen, is all you really need to do? (Other than saying so-and-so got a news alert on her phone, whatever.)

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money September 23, 2015 - 1:26pm

What are some strategies for:

  • Texts
  • Emails
  • Kiks, Messneger, Whatapps
  • Tindr, Grindr, Whiplr, or AnythingEls-r
  • Tweets, Status Updates, Trending, Breaking News!

I've had some success writing flash fiction as back and forth text messages, in the same way we'd write a story only in dialogue but using timestamps and left/right aligned text. It's a little gimmicky, and I'd hardly see it sustainable for anything longer than a short story or a chapter of something longer, but I think it can be quite effective. And similar things for email and twitter and some webpages. The most interesting developments in this area are actually being worked through in film and television right now; still unconventionalized, but we're finding things that work and things that don't work. Same for fiction, I think.

Similarly, doodles have been handled differently in different contexts. Breakfast of Champions has doodles in it, as does Snow Crash, both to great effect. And I'm sure others that were less effective that I don't even recall there being doodles in them. This also is complicated by the old picture novels that were in popular in the 19th-century (mostly humorous images in copperplate loosely strung together by text descriptions of the scenes, Dickens famously corrupting this into his own form of storytelling and a modern novel form,) and what has come of age now in comics and graphic novels... not to mention illustrated (often children's books) that have existed throughout most of this... that probably has some genealogy in the lives of saints depicted in stained glass. We have a long history, and numerous conventions, with conveying narrative through, accompanying, and around images. At this point you could really just pick ones that appeal to you and use them without too much difficulty in being understood.

Basically how do you include the interruptions of contemporary life without seeming like a hack?

This is a double-edged question, I feel. On the one hand, you really can't. Even a pulitzer-prize winning novel can't escape accusations of hackery for including a chapter in powerpoint format. As Gordon points out, there's always this danger of pulling us out of the story by including things from contemporary life that we feel just "don't belong there." Either because they are legitimately dated, like myspace and aol (though both of those things still exist and are used by huge numbers of people despite no longer being in fashion) or because it feels as though it's just following a trend outside the existence of the story, unnaturally attached, leaching off the popularity of new technology/trend "x" to garner popularity for the story itself. There are countless examples of this not working out, but also counter-examples as well (Transformers were toys before they were stories.)

On the other hand, that is exactly where new conventions come from, by fighting with the current ones. But someone had to risk ridicule and try something unconventional. Someone had to demarcate dialogue with something that eventually became "quotation marks." Some hack had to be the first person to write a story with a telephone call in it, though they probably didn't signal it with "ahoy-hoy." Some new things stick and some don't.

overheard conversations

This hardly seems an "interruption of 'contemporary' life", so perhaps I'm misinterpreting your intention in including this in your list. Again, like doodles, this is something that has a long history in literature. From Scheherazade to Shakespeare to Dickens to modern writers, we've depicted this often, and in a number of different ways.

And can we all agree that just italicizing the message, or whatever words are displayed on the screen, is all you really need to do?

Well, that is certainly one way to do it. And I think that if consistently done, would work fine in a story. One major drawback is that italicized text is already conventionalized in literature. Having italics pull double-duty (probably quadruple- or quintuple-duty in this case) to also include some sort of text observed in the story feels like it dilutes the power of having the convention in the first place. We conventionalize things so that we can convey information to the readers without having to explain the information. But if italics could be read-text within the story, or internal thoughts of the character, or foreign language to the text of the story (n'es pas?) or just special emphasis on a particular word, or sometimes conveying dialogue, or any other things we might use italics for, then we end up having to explain why the words were italicized, defeating the purpose. Am I thinking this? Reading this? Saying this out-loud as I type? Translating it? Merely emphasizing it? Titling my memoir? All of the above?

To reiterate, I agree we could use italics; texting/email/twitter does share some properties with the other things we use italics for. And I'm not proposing that somehow including it would be the camel that broke the strawman's back, but like all the conventions we use, we have to be mindful in using italics. A good writer will take these things into account so as to limit (or create) confusion caused by the ambiguous nature of italics's use (just as they have to in stories that don't have read-text.) What I'm mostly disagreeing with is the stance that seems to underlie the statement: if we could just agree on the convention to use, we could be done with this discussion. That it would be settled. I disagree with the notion that this is either possible or desirable. We've been writing dialogue since at least Plato and we still don't have a set convention that settles the issue. Sure, most writers would use quotation marks, but some use 'single quotes' or nothing but attributions (with their own set of conventions), or dashes, or nothing at all. Many languages don't even have quotation marks and use brackets or something else. Some people use italics. So like all the other conventions we use, read-text is something that is in flux (and really, as this discussion focuses on, as texting/email/social networking apps become more prominent in our daily lives, conveying these different types of messages in narrative is even more in flux,) so there is no point where we could say, "this is all you really need to do." There will always be occasions to do more, or less, or something different. Even if we could agree on something to do conventionally (and I think italics is as good a fit for this as anything else I've seen so far), that is not the end of this conversation.

Neal Nekyia's picture
Neal Nekyia from a bunker in Los Angeles is reading weird stuff because the weird belongs to the everyday September 25, 2015 - 1:03am

I suppose what I'm looking for is the phenomenology of it.

I don't think of consciousness as necessarily cohesive, and I'm okay with the notion that "I" is a sort of illusory interface to larger structures.

Having said that, I'm interested in how these things are processed internally and interpersonally through a focalizer. I'm inspired by the Modernists and yet they feel dated and cumbersome. What are some liteweight examples of communicating this fluidity of experience?

Here are some examples of what I'm after:

  • House of Leaves
  • John dos Passos
  • Futurist Poetry
  • Kathy Acker
  • Flaubert's use of Montage
Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal September 25, 2015 - 9:09am

^

Huh?

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money September 28, 2015 - 12:45pm

I suppose what I'm looking for is the phenomenology of it.

Well then I'm with Thuggish here; you have to be more explicit. The phenomena of contemporary epistolary are just those things you mentioned; text, email, twitter, etc... If you're looking for some systematized account of them, then you need to look to semiotics, linguistics, philosophy of language, media studies... Not to say we wouldn't be up to discussing them here, it's just not what our focus is, and you'd be better served by positing an argument or position for us to talk about. I know that Baudrillard and McLuhan had a lot to say about media, but I haven't kept up with that field, and I'm not sure what contemporary thinkers have to say on the subject, especially in regards to conveying narrative through fiction in light of these developments.

If you are looking for the phenomenon of including "contemporary epistolary" in fiction (as we have so far presumed and given examples of) then I again have to question what you feel is so different about modern modes of communication that warrants its own accounting. How would incorporating an email event in a story be different from a telephone event, or a telegraph, or a face-to-face conversation? At least as far as how the building blocks of story-telling work?

I'm interested in how these things are processed internally and interpersonally through a focalizer.

It would seem, in much the same way we process all the other things we process internally and interpersonally. Again, what makes email/text/twitter/over heard conversations... so special? I grant that our relationships with the objects that distribute communication have changed significantly... but not so much that you couldn't find foreshadowing in the Victorian era's preoccupation with the first-post of the day. And again, it intrudes into fiction surreptitiously through our lived interactions, not so much from a phenomenology of communication.

I'm inspired by the Modernists and yet they feel dated and cumbersome.

As you should, their project was impossible to achieve :) Just be mindful, they got a lot of things right as well.

What are some liteweight examples of communicating this fluidity of experience?

In fiction? Your next guess is as good as anyone else's. The problem is of course conveying fluidity within stasis. How do I express my idiosyncrasies in a conventional framework, namely written language? We can do a lot, as we have been for several thousand years, but as the futurists exemplified, language without syntax is meaningless. You have to give up some expressive power for the sake of communicative power (and vice versa). How much ambiguity/idiosyncrasy your writing allows/fosters/tolerates is more a matter of stylistics than anything else.

But I'm still confused as to what any of this has to do with contemporary epistolary, especially given that the examples of what you're looking for either completely ignore email and text and twitter, or came and went before the invention of any of this. So maybe you can help clarify this a bit more?

But if you just want things that are similar to some of what you're looking for, I'd suggest S. (Dorst/Abrams), Remainder (McCarthy), Umberto Eco (Especially The Prague Cemetary and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, though BaudolinoFocault's Pendulum and Name of the Rose have similar threads as well) Italo Calvino... and maybe Cloud Atlas and The Raw Shark Texts... and of course Burroughs. Again, I'm a bit unsure what you're looking for exactly, House of Leaves and Futurist poetry seem to have more in opposition than in common... and I'm not familiar enough with Acker and dos Passos to know what they had in common with the others. Especially without a better grasp of the scope of your inquiry.

 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal September 28, 2015 - 1:25pm

^

...

Huh?

Neal Nekyia's picture
Neal Nekyia from a bunker in Los Angeles is reading weird stuff because the weird belongs to the everyday September 28, 2015 - 10:15pm

And again, it intrudes into fiction surreptitiously through our lived interactions, not so much from a phenomenology of communication.

Actually it does from the perspective of interface design. O'Reilly Media released a book not long ago which incorporated Heidegger (of all things) as a way to model how humans interact with media. And that is the larger question I think is at work.

I don't think I can be explicit because we are in essence dealing with a conceptual language for how we how tehnology affects us.

Perhaps the question needs to be, what are conceptual strategies of communication you or other writers have experimented with?

 

The problem is of course conveying fluidity within stasis

Great point. Stasis, if we look at the traditional rhetorical defintion of it, is made up of three basic questions according to Ad Herennium. I like these because they form conceptual frames which match David Herman's Model of Prototypical Narrative in regards to a discursive reference. Combine Cognitive Script Headers with Macrorules and we have something mashed together which might work as a means of actually conceptually modeling this

Bascally reference point to rhetorical question type and meet that question with a cognitive script header. 

How much ambiguity/idiosyncrasy your writing allows/fosters/tolerates is more a matter of stylistics than anything else.

Absolutely and I've been developing an algorithm for that. I'm looking at symmetries of lexical cohesive ties within sequences of disequilibrium as a means of modeling variance within a narrative text. 

 

I'm really interested in experimental shit, but I get that not a lot of people are. So I wonder what are the ways in which technology has been communicated to you? Are there texts, books, poems, anything literary which worked within the limitations of that medium to convey the immersion of technology and information into our daily lives?

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami September 29, 2015 - 4:37pm

Note the first one to mention diaspora, but I'm curious about diaspora post epistolaries. Like as a way of producing a creative non-fiction news story that present a collective whole of news that would not ordinary be seen in short installments.

Like the picture picture.

I like twitter--sometimes, but it's just not efficient for news.

Neal Nekyia's picture
Neal Nekyia from a bunker in Los Angeles is reading weird stuff because the weird belongs to the everyday September 29, 2015 - 5:41pm

Note the first one to mention diaspora, but I'm curious about diaspora post epistolaries. Like as a way of producing a creative non-fiction news story that present a collective whole of news that would not ordinary be seen in short installments.

Now that sounds cool. Do you think it could be achieved with something like Information is Beautiful?

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami September 29, 2015 - 6:55pm

Unfortunately no, but definitely an interesting thought.

It would be more like ... the nuances of Diaspora blogging over say Twitter tweeting. Because of how it is, not everyone can see your posts. It's like google+ in this way, but actually works.

Then (at least in my case) rather than going on and on about decentralization, it would be more say a totalitarian state trying to take it down.

Diaspora is definitely a ... different social network. Still getting used to it.

Neal Nekyia's picture
Neal Nekyia from a bunker in Los Angeles is reading weird stuff because the weird belongs to the everyday September 29, 2015 - 7:48pm

So what you're basically saying is coding variances over a population. By "how not everyone can see your posts" you're probably looking at who reads what, and where and to whom information travels. Then looking at how this is being managed by a state agency to govern society. 

So like Adam Curtis meets social networks?

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami September 29, 2015 - 7:51pm

I don't know who he, but basically the above yea.

It's not just Diaspora either, it's Red Matrix, Friendica, Libertree, Movim, Twister. The landscape is social network changing is in its infancy, yet changing faster than I was expecting when I joined last year.

And the big this is being able to start your own pod/hub away from central power control. Which would change the plot dynamic even in contemporary novels drastically where it feels like science fiction.

But ... it isn't.

Neal Nekyia's picture
Neal Nekyia from a bunker in Los Angeles is reading weird stuff because the weird belongs to the everyday September 29, 2015 - 8:51pm

That kind of reminds me of House of Leaves or the viral marketing campaign that went into Year Zero by Nine Inch Nail (yeah I'm a Trent fan).

Anyway, sounds cool. Have you written anything along those lines I can check out?

Also would you be down to experiment with some ideas? I'm always looking for people to collaborate with.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami September 29, 2015 - 9:18pm

Not at the moment, though I've considered it.

And yes I'd be OK with experimenting, though I haven't done even Sf like literary in years. (I tend to do more ... futuristic magic realism at the moment.)