Fill in the Blanks: Narrative, Digital Work and Intermediality

Abstract (in English): 

Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles 1920 – 1986 is a digital work produced by the Labyrinth Project Research Center of the University of Southern California. Part paper, part DVD-ROM, part real, part fiction, it is based on an unsolved mystery, and unfolds the story of Molly, an Irish immigrant who moved to Los Angeles in 1920. She was at the heart of an investigation in the late 50’s early 60’s as she was the main suspect in the death of her second husband Walt. The project gathers hundreds of different data types like maps, pictures, texts, newspaper articles, books and movies, through which the user navigates in order to ultimately, resolve the crime. But how does the user build an interpretable narrative through this hypermedial database?

Far from pretending to be an analysis based on reception theories, this proposal seeks to understand the mechanisms of language that enable interpretation in a hypermedial digital work by exploring the relational dynamics between the different media representions in Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles 1920 - 1986. Literature, Cinema and Computer language rely on very different semiotic systems that somehow collide in Bleeding Through. Frames are visible; the project shows the different media types, and each one is used for its specificity. What can’t be read is shown; what can’t be seen is written, but at the end, it may just be programmed…

The hypermedial nature of the work calls for an intermedial interpretation. Between literature, cinema, geography, journalism lies an unraveled plot (real or fake), a possible storyline that still needs to be imagined, and which relies on literary imaginary. It’s Molly’s story, and maybe that’s exactly where literature starts and ends. As the user is scrolling through the maps, articles, and photographs the elements are presented and or confronted to one another. Along with the user’s reading, gaps are revealed between the significant units leaving a space where narratives are created, where facts and fiction merge into a unified and coherent virtual assemblage; it’s the figural space.

In Reading the Figural, David Norman Rodowick considers what has become of reading, of interpretation in art through intermedial practices. As he says, “contemporary electronic media [are] giving rise to hybrid and mutant forms that semiology [is] ill equipped to understand. […] New media [are] emerging from a new logic of sense – the figural – and they could not be understood within the reigning norms of a linguistic or aesthetic philosophy.” (Rodowick. 2001. p.ix-x).

By exploring the intermedial relations between the significant elements in Bleeding Through, the boundaries and frontiers of these same units fuse into a blur, and are at the same time reflected on the content of the work itself, until facts and fiction become undistinguishable and the narrative takes over.


“It is now time to unravel or commit literary murder. I am now convinced that Molly had Walt murdered in 1959. He hasn’t been heard of or seen since. […] Have I hit a motive that is convincing yet? It is daunting prospect to give up all those newspaper clippings in order to make this story legible. […] I promise to murder him off as much as the evidence will allow. I have about a thousand photographs and newspaper articles, over two hundred relevant movies on file, and over twenty interviews, along with hours of interviews with Norman Klein; and hundreds of pages of text. With all of these elegantly assembled in a DVD-ROM, I can […] make an entertainment, a tristful paideia, a mocking of the truth.” (Klein, Norman. 2002. Bleeding Though: Layers of Los Angeles 1920 – 1986. p. 27)

(Source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans