Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Death of the Author [Pt 3]

The Future of Narrative

Take a look at any newspaper or current affairs programme and you are taking part in the ongoing global narrative, written and performed by the media. The source material may be drawn from real events, but the media decide what issues are the most important to their (and therefore our) agenda. One week, the theme is looming terrorist attack, the next it’s the rising knife crime statistics. The media are Authors of the Here-and-Now.

We are – when we read, digest, worry or write angry letters to Rod Liddle – active participants in a 24hr rolling narrative. Unless we move among the Fleet Street decision-makers, we are powerless as to the narrative’s agenda.

Perhaps the death of the author and the birth of the internet signals the start of one similar endless, rolling narrative, written entirely online.

Imagine this.

It’s 2080. Books are no more. Print publishing is limited strictly to important business and governmental documents. To participate in the act of writing literary fiction, you must log on to the website: www.thenarrative.com

The homepage has an opening sentence, written by the wealthiest fiction writer at the time of the site’s conception (it would, most likely, be Dan Brown), and clicking this link opens up an endless spider diagram of alternative ‘next’ sentences.

Each sentence in The Narrative is either chosen by a randomiser, allowing the reader a completely random reading experience written by an endless stream of writers, or you get to choose a specific sentence to read next, with the most “popular” writers on the site ranked top to bottom.

Sentences are rated individually on their merit within the story, and those with the most popular sentences, inevitably, have a wider readership. To prevent The Narrative from spiralling into chaos, each ‘next’ sentence has a limited number of contributors per hour, and each ‘next’ sentence will remain open for this period only. Each writer is allocated a ‘previous’ sentence so the story vaguely hangs together.

And The Narrative never ends. It is one endless collaboration, there is no one “author,” to speak of, there are only top contributors, varying degrees of popularity, and an endless reading experience. The story would, of course, be utterly without unity, direction, purpose, sense or meaning. A Narrative of the Ages.

Under this regime, the writer opens himself up to an endless labyrinth of multiple interpretations within the space of a sentence. No two readers will have the same reading experience. The story may follow similar plot conventions, themes, character decisions, and so on, but the execution will always be different.

Is this Roland Barthes’s utopian dream – an infinite hypertextual playground where the author is scrutinised sentence by sentence, constantly at the mercy of a competitive and censorious reading community? Writing ceaselessly positing meaning only to ceaselessly evaporate it, carrying out a systematic exemption of meaning?

Oh, I hope not, matey.

NB. See Raymond Queneau’s
Hundred Thousand Million Poems for a poetic execution of this terror.


  1. I'll start my kids working on this tomorrow, so they get a head start.

    I'm not so bothered by the 24hr rolling narrative determined by the Fleet Street decision-makers. (And don't forget the "principles and morals" sublimally pumped out in popular TV series).

    It's the loss of ability to view this barrage with a critical eye that scares me.
    This has been the fate of Malaysia. 50 years of one government party in power, with all press controlled by them, and draconian penalties for any dissenting voices, has produced the "What to do La" mentality.
    This country has become a gold mine for all the con-artists of the world, the populace gullably buying every lie - toally incapable of questioning the claims.
    When someone miraculously still manages to spot corruption or graft, the government holds an "Inquiry". No one remembers the issue long enough to question why the inquiry has never come up with anything and nothing ever gets done.

    Sorry, this ain't where you were heading and I've hijacked.

  2. Well, imagine if literature and its contents were dictated by the Malaysian government. We wouldn't have that thriving Malaysian literature scene that we... em... well, never mind.

  3. It won't happen! It won't happen! Refined taste and intense, indignant snobbery will save us. Has anyone seen Avatar? Fun movie, but gawd-awful screenplay. Long live cliché!

  4. I went to see Avatar with those new 4D glasses. I think my lenses were broken, as I ended up watching it in Renaissance England. RIP-OFF!

  5. Those special glasses are a bugger to wear on top of, or beneath, ordinary glasses. If 3d does catch on it'll create a boom in laser surgery and contact lenses. Or, next, 3d contact lenses! "Wanna Watch Survivor East Coast Shopping Mall?" - "Sure, I'll just go put in my lenses".
    Maybe they'll invent a spray on (in) liquid that dissolves after 3 hours. "Bugger, Tarantinos new film is 4 hours!'Oh, they have a re-spray interval, that's good.".
    "Bugger, I used the fly-spray by mistake! Wow, the film looks better!"

  6. I wore the glasses over my own. It wasn't that bad after the first hour or two of the film.

  7. I have a slight squint, so I daren't go near 3D. Frankly, I have too much 3D in my real life to want more in ze cinema.

    Mike: Hahahahahahahahah!

  8. I think you have the basis for a great science fiction plot! (Let's hope is stays in that realm.) Imagine the directions you could take the basics. Very creative.

    Best Wishes Galen.
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  9. Hi Galen! Yes, I might make it into a short story. Freak out them mothers on the internet.