A lazy Reykjavik
dog.

Gimlé

Fri, 18 Apr 2003

Stories.

So it went. Oedipa played the voyeur and listener. Among her other encounters were a facially deformed welder, who cherished his ugliness; a child roaming the night who missed the death before birth as certain outcasts do the dear lulling blankness of the community; a Negro woman with an intricately-marbled scar along the baby-fat of one cheek who kept going through rituals of miscarriage each for a different reason, deliberately as others might the ritual of birth, dedicated not to continuity but to some kind of interregnum; an aging night-watchman, nibbling at a bar of Ivory Soap, who had trained his virtuoso stomach to accept also lotions, air-fresheners, fabrics, tobaccoes and waxes in a hopeless attempt to assimilate it all, all the promise, productivity, betrayal, ulcers, before it was too late; and even another voyeur, who hung outside one of the city’s still-lighted windows, searching for who knew what specific image.
Thomas PynchonThe Crying of Lot 49

I got into this to tell stories.

Not to be famous, get known, be acknowledged, inspire, fascinate or even tell them well.

Stories just happen to be what I enjoy making the most. Writing non-story stuff comes as a close second—and reading is a very close third.

Not that I’m any good at anything but reading. Not awful. Not good, either.

I did a three year stint of writing for myself and my friends. “The practice period”, is what I call it. Most of it complete garbage.

Finished my BA. Did about two hours worth of radio documentary material for the Icelandic Broadcasting Service. Did a short film course where we made a short fifteen minute movie. Worked for a few months as a vision mixer for live news broadcasts and debates.

Storytelling or the second best thing. Saw people around me edit their radio inserts on desktop pcs. Was fascinated by the wave of webcomics that was then just starting. Figured that’s where things are heading and applied for several courses in Interactive Media/Multimedia.

Got accepted in all courses. Picked Bristol because I liked the city.

I don’t regret it at all. Had I not done that Masters I wouldn’t be here, doing this Phd today.

Nevertheless the contrast between then and now is interesting.

Somehow I landed slightly askew. Suddenly I was an Art Theorist, practicing digital art in an art community.

And I hate Art, it died when the turd of relativism surfaced as an acceptable perspective in art theory and practice. That the “idea” and the work‘s “contextualisation” matters more than the work itself.

That storytelling is a quaint thing of little import.

I got swept away with the people.

And then we have the mythical beast called “interactivity” that had to be an integral component of any interactive media effort. Which completely ignores the fact that the most profound changes the computer has effected onto media happen at the cross-section between the new and old. Not right smack in the middle of the digital desert.

Diaries crossed over with the personal homepage to create weblogs. The daily newspaper strip mutated into daily webcomics, which, although they might not be as innovative as modern graphic novels, are more vibrant than the newspaper strip has been since the demise of Krazy Kat. Films crossed over into DVDs to create an experience that in the olden days was only to be had by cornering the director in the bar at a film festival.

But apparently that’s too linear and not interactive enough.

Weblogs take linearity to a new level. Chronological as hell, and extremely reliant on current events and affairs. As is the daily comic strip. And, although their form is, strictly speaking, implementable in traditional media, the new economic reality and communicative power of the internet creates a whole new tapestry of media and structure. Media that is more disruptive than the “revolutionary” hypermedia structures simply because unlike hypertext, which is still, and will be for a long while, locked in the coffers of academia, anybody can write, draw, and publish their stuff on the net.

Anybody can write and be read.

Most of us, mind you, won’t get any sort of readership to speak of.

But even only a hundred readers on a regular basis—readers who are largely writers as well—that’s still a hundred more than you would have had otherwise.

And it’s gratifying. You write something bad, no response. The hollow, ghastly pit of silence receives your half-arsed piece of text. Write something good, get a bit more of traffic. Write really good and one or two of those new readers will start coming back on a regular basis.

Unlike the writers that preceded us we know the score and can follow it in our logs, trackbacks and google ratings.

While the barrier of entry to the professional writing world remains as high as it has always been, the barrier of entry for normal people to tell their stories, to improve their storytelling, to pour their thoughts out into crafted texts and to draw a small crowd…

To write and get feedback on your writing.

Critique.

I got into this to tell stories.

By “this” I mean pretty much anything I do on a regular basis.

The weblog form has frustrated me. It has its limits in what can be done, what you can get people to read, and what you can write.

Right now, the form—the medium—is focused on interesting lives and interesting thoughts. Whether weblogs will expand to give some sort of mercy to those of us, like myself, who have neither is an interesting but altogether separate question.

I think not. At least not for now. Veritas—truth (I am a snob, I know)—and immediacy are important qualities of today’s weblog. These online journals of ours are the literary world’s Dogme95 equivalents. Playing around with those qualities too much risks invoking the feeling of betrayal in your readers—estranging them.

It’s like trying to squeeze fiction writing into personal correspondence. Annoying at best, gravely insulting at worst.

The maturity of online writing, the art of it, will develop slowly in the form of satellite structures around the writers’ weblogs. Constantly in orbit around the main body of nonfiction, as it always has, in every medium.

It will happen slowly, it has to happen slowly. People need to be drawn in. Their hesitant minds, so acclimated to the “non-fiction” of information, news, reality-tv, gameshows and talkshows, need to give up the notion that fiction is made by the few, comes in big packages and in big numbers.

They’re not used to the idea of fictional stories being told by normal people to a small crowd.

Like virgins, they need to be approached with great care, and treated gently, so as to not turn them off the very concept for the rest of their lives.

Before they know it, we’ll be having them telling stories with the best of them.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.