Multimodal Narratives Conference 27-28 April 2007

xposted at musings
Saturday marked the second and final day of the Narrative and Multimodality conference organised by Dr. Ruth Page and held at UCE.

The morning began with 4 presentations after which we were divided into 3 smaller groups.
Each group settled into a room and prepared for an exciting workshop with the focus on pedagogical and narratological implications of web work. Our group, the structure and suspense group, first read Inanimate Alice episode one so that everyone in the group would be able to talk about the same thing. Bruce guided us through the reading on a huge screen and I must say that Alice really should be experience with such a screen and volume. The booming music really helped build suspense (although people in the group didn’t all agree that it was in fact suspensefull but rather anxiety-inducing). After the reading we discussed using Inanimate Alice in the class/lecture room and how we might encourage students to recognise that reading multimodal works such as Alice means reading all of the modes (I think so anyway) involved in the storytelling – not just concentrating on the textual apparatus (as one member of our group thought was more apt).
After the illuminating discussion we gathered back in the main room for a panel (which I chaired!). Jennifer Harding presented some fascinating insights thanks to her use of wikis in her undergrad. English classes. She def. gave us all some ideas to try.
The afternoon sessions were all fascinating and ranged in topics concerning high-tech uses of multimodality (Sarah Hatton and Melissa McGurgan on Using Sound Maps in Multimodal Environments to Promote Interactive Narrative) and multimodal print ( Alison Gibbons‘ reading of a print text which, through its use of multimodality, encouraged an embodied reading). Fascinating stuff.

In his plenary session, Michael Toolan focussed on the literary/narrative potential (or lack of) of what he calls “high-tech multimodal works.” Toolan explained that because certain hypertexts are “too open, too interactive” problems arise because readers cannot share the same “object” (as a book) – something that remains the same across multiple viewers and platforms and time. Therefore (according to Toolan) hypertext is not narrative art. It’s “too protean in seqence and event to let us analyse hypertext as narrative.” While Toolan is certainly right that some hypertexts and web fictions are open, I would argue (as I did in our workshop session) that most readers would share the same general understanding of plot. After all, the author (hyper or not) has written a story (if we are confining ourselves to web fictions and not poetry or art although those too can be narrative) for a reader. Though there are links, it is ultimately the author who controls access to them and would probably want a story to evolve. Texts such as “afternoon” were mentioned but that seems to be an example where reading paths might differ however readers do visit the same lexias. So, the order of events might be different, but the reader encounters the same narrative fragments. Also, does that mean narrative only exists if “we” can share it? What about each reader narrativising each reading experience? I’d like to hear more about what Toolan meant and I wonder if his views would change after reading stories like Inanimate Alice which is pretty teleological so readers would then share the same “object,” or even These Waves of Girls where the underlying story is apparent from most nodes. Toolan successfully got us all thinking (which deserves congratualtions as it was the final session of the day) and his talk has helped me think about what place web fictions can play in pedagogy – what kinds of ideas we’ll have to teach students before beginning to teach them multimodal works.

**Thanks to Ruth who did an incredible job organising the whole conference and making sure it all ran smoothly.**

UPDATE: Ruth has also written about the conference over here.