Cybertext Narratology

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

"Cybertext Narratology" combines Espen Aarseth's textonomy and typology of cybertexts to three advanced models of narrativity: narratology (Gerard Genette, Seymour Chatman, Gerald Prince), postmodernist fiction (Brian McHale), and the combinatorial and procedural writing(s) of OuLiPo (Marcel Benabou, Jacques Roubaud).

The basic and most important distinctions, categories and concepts derived from these approaches are systematically examined, expanded and rewritten in order to map out and include narrative possibilities and practices inherent to and emerged with literary cybertexts and digital textuality in general. The matters of tense, mood and voice are closely studied as well as those of trans- textuality, audibility, reliability and narrative situation.

Beyond constant scriptons and intransient time it's easy to apply an oulipian perspective to cybertext and divide it into objects and operations. This means first of all that there's an important distinction to be made between static and dynamic narrators. The former are the traditional ones known to print narratology. The latter, on the other hand, can f. ex. turn more covert or overt, move between hetero- and homodiegetic positions and narrative levels, trade places with each other, split or unite, and extend or reduce their territories inside the cybertext. The given, chosen and caused parameters of these operations can change from one generation of the text to the next. For this reason only we should distinguish between scriptonic and textonic objects. The former are those encountered by readers and users on the surface of the text, the latter form a kind of archive or storage of them.

The paper also discusses the possibilities of cybertext fiction to embed games, dialog programs and on-line communities as well its chances to utilize some a-life applications. Finally, and in relation to McHale's constructions of postmodernism, the paper tries to define a digital dominant, that is, a new set of both epistemological and ontological problems for authors to play with.

Despite its serious theoretical orientation the paper doesn't lose sight of more practical concerns. Along the way it provides examples of potential literary cybertexts not yet in existence. Such as glider narratives, that is, narratives that use their lexias or nodes the way cells are used in Conway's "Life, living and dying" from one text generation to the next depending on the number of appearances (absences and presences) of certain characters and narrators in neighboring lexias. Or competing dialog programs that affect the developments and outcomes of narratives and the behavioral patterns of their characters and narrators (turning the harassed or collectively discriminated ones more confused and destructive in their actions).

These examples are far from innocent for they show various directions for further work. That's why it's no coincidence that the last section of "Cybertext Narratology" deals with the partial but almost inevitable overlapping of narrative and drama (theories) in MOO -environments. This situation is viewed through non-Aristotelian (Augosto Boal's Invisible Theatre) and non-western (the Natyasastra) models as well as those derived from interactive installation art (David Rokeby) and the forthcoming Bluetooth technologies.

(Source: DAC 1999 Author's abstract)

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Scott Rettberg