re-read Genette, Narrative Discourse for the narrating instance and levels
Notes of January 2008
The newness lies in the instant distribution that's making for a renaissance of writing. Everything's being written now - from lists to reactions to daily essays. And more and more stuff is being written now.
What's changed from a few decades ago is the situation of composing. It is no longer (if it ever were) a time of tranquility. It is a time of recollection. But the time between composition and publication, between pen to paper and type to press, has shortened to become simultaneous; the act of writing is the act of publishing is the act of being read.
With this change comes a change in how the narrative moment is carried and manifest in the writing, and a change in the relationship between the narrative moment and the events recounted.
More and more we write as Pamela (a fiction) in her closet, with the master banging at the door: in the moment, of the moment, and without knowledge of what happens next. In the middle of the events. We write en media res.
The narrative instance comes forward because writing is being generated as part of the larger narrative of lives. Each blog entry, each scholarly article, becomes a narrative embedded in the larger narrative. And that highlights the narrative's functionality.
In many ways, the new narrative moment is deadlining - similar to the way students (all of us) wrote as undergrads: at the last moment, desperate. It's what FYC teachers have been trying to get students past for years. Slow down, work from notes to draft to revision.
This compressed time is seen in typographic changes:
- use of lists
- light punctuation
- shorter paragraphs
- some use of rebuses
- addition of images
- use of headings
Changes in some rhetorical affordances
- informal tone and attitude becoming the norm
- reaction becoming either a way into the composition or standing in for development
For 1) it means sidelining the new writing and publishing space for the old, and with it, the new economy of writing for the old.
For 2) it means a loss of power and a change in prose. Some print protocols - hefty imagery, slow reading, even reading aloud, longish embedded sentences (not necessarily periodic, either), undivided attention - are reduced for a new set: images instead of imagery; speed reading and skimming; short, concise running sentences; split and associative attention. The loss of power comes in a couple of forms. The editor is attenuated: the writer is editor; everyone is a publisher and no one needs to listen to an editor to get the writing out there; if rejected, the writer can self-publish with no less readership; editing involves a new set of hoops that the traditional editor doesn't control. The second form: readers can now reply, react, respond, in public for all to see. Their fawning or name calling becomes public. And any attempt to control it can result in escalation. If readers don't respond on the site of publication, they can respond in their own spaces and link to the site. That is, readers aren't necessarily politely silent as print readers must be.
For 3) it means a lack of understanding of "being read" that results in inappropriate action and prose. It isn't so much a lack of understanding of audience (#2 has that) but not understanding that what's written can be read and will be read by a broader set of people. To an extent, this is #2's issue, too: the new reader isn't the polite reader. But for #3, the drive to publish, be seen, is focused too tightly. #3 is writing for his immediate peers, not yet realizing that others can witness the performance. Think a 16 year old in a mall on a cell phone, histrionically acting out the conversation for others. An act of exhibitionism.
We might even see the similarity between the new publishing and the rise of the use of cell phones in public. While the conversation is intended for a specific audience on the other end of the line, the act of conversation is a performance right down to the ground. In the same way, the act of composing - blog, Facebook, essay, response - becomes a performance.
Others who are writing are embracing the new situation. They are not necessarily saying a lot - but that could be said about those in print - but they are in it and so are getting more voice.