Having Your Story and Eating It Too: Affect and Narrative in Recombinant Fiction

Abstract (in English): 

“Recombinant poetics”, a term coined by artist/scholar Bill Seaman, refers to a techo-poetic practice in which the display and juxtaposition of semantic elements are generated by computer algorithms, rather than through an author’s predetermined composition. Although inspired by traditions of combinatorial literature and the use of constraints to generate narrative or poetic forms, recombinant works of art produce variable “fields of meaning” (Seaman/Ascott) for the user. Recombinant authors program discrete semantic elements, media stored in arrays or databases, to display through random, semi-random or variable processes, often in conjunction with user-interaction. Examples of recombinant poetics in works of digital poetry and art are abundant. Digital narratives that foreground recombinant processes are less common, because they tend to dismantle or dissolve themselves as sequential narrative in favor of more non-linear, emergent meanings. However, narrative authors since Laurence Sterne have tried to harness variability and randomness inside their fictions by embedding non-narrative representations of contingent experience within a narrative framework. Through digression, semantic shock, dream logic, parataxis, meta-narrative, stream of consciousness, authors disrupt narrative logic in order to produce affect in the reader/viewer, which in turn contributes to the realization of a fictional world. In this essay, I explore recombinant fictions that uses computational procedures to produce this affect of variability and randomness alongside or as counterpoint to narrative sequencing. I will begin by looking at important examples of combinatorial literature and cinema (Diane Williams, Raul Ruiz) and then I will examine qualities of recombinant fiction in electronic literature (Stuart Mouthrop, Olia Lialina, Eric Loyer, Will Luers). Finally, I will speculate about the literary importance of variability and randomness as a liminal realm in networked culture, increasingly dominated by database logic.

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David Wright