Category Archives: Action

Hybrid Ecologies and Embodied Narratives

The paper which describes the experiment I ran with Kai Pata at Tallinn University during the Erasmus joint course about Ecology of Narratives was finally published in Cognitive Philology. The course is detailedly described in  a wikiversity page. The entire experience was monitored in a wordpress weblog intended as an aggregator of individual experiences. Here’s the abstract of the paper mixed with a couple of slideshare files we set up so as to present our work around.

A Design-based research tested a Hybrid Ecosystem emerging from collaborative storytelling supported by geo-locative technologies and Social Networking Services. We assumed that such Hybrid Ecosystem emerges when people experience a given environment through their own sensory-motor system while processing related locative media. We found that individual and collaborative activity in a hybrid ecosystem could be described on the basis of the swarming concept from biology.

Topics and themes seem to emerge, to be narrated and spread on the basis of unplanned, not concerted, polygenetic activity. Interaction basically leads to the emergence of behavioral patterns which immediately develop into mutated forms. As soon as a topic or a theme spread among the community, individual participants start differentiating their unique point of view on it, eventually comparing it with the one of some peers, so as to team up on the basis of affinity.

Literal references emerging from storytelling in hybrid ecosystems outscore metaphorical by far. Rather, comparison is definitely very active as a processing strategy whereas proper metaphors and generalizations emerge on a very limited basis. It looks like individual participants evaluate the collaborative streaming of narrative references as a series of individual, standalone events which are meaningful in themselves, not because the combination of them make it possible to grasp a general meaning.

A more careful assessment of data is very likely needed, but we can already conclude that narratives which emerge in hybrid ecosystems supported by locative technologies and Social Networking Services define the borders of participatory and collaborative story formats which reshape human presence in the environment while redefining the very concept of storytelling. We look forward to develop other design experiments so as to test our claims on embodiment of narratives and hybrid ecologies based on new very intriguing applications such as Layar, Wikitude and other similar ones which implement the very concept of augmented reality.

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Random Icons – The Making Of

Random Icons – The Making Of
EPVS exposition in Roma
Spoliaculture
Spazio Bloomsbury
Vernissage feb. 27 2009 h. 19
Video Installation “Bubbling 4 you”
Open till March 9 2009

Dolls and Puppets

The making of an Icon might be explained in relativistic, chronotopical terms as subtraction of space and time a person is previously immersed into. In such terms, puppets and dolls have to be assumed as atemporal and atopic entities, deguisable in any possible fashion, since they do not belong to any specific here and now. Accordingly, the same dolls may be showing onstage as timeless princesses or nurses or whoever, as placeless puppets might be sitting on dinosaurs, into a train or wherever. So defined Icons are not limited to chronologically or locatively specific roles or behaviors. They fit any context, your next tv show, an advertising from the fifties, the seat next to yours on the subway, a horse riding in the far west.

kikkorave

The Ecology of Icons

As myths are deeply rooted in history, Icons were once people, more or less popular gals, ladies, cool guys or random blokes. That’s why a more radical approach may argue that in order to emerge as Icons, the individuals they once were have been deprived of opportunities for action that were initially provided by their original environment. Afterwards, the ecosystem of an Icon looks like a typical prison, an environment in which segregated subjects adopt random behavior on the basis of new circumstances over which they lack even the slightest control.

random-icons-copy1

Actions and Gestures

Accordingly, Icons perform gestures not actions. Indeed, their ecology is not defined by purposeful interaction with their own very narrow and deserted environment. Icons eventually move, but is that dancing? Icons eventually prowl sinuously, but is that seducing? Icons eventually move between balloons but why? Icons bump balloons on the floor; still, to what purpose? Icons are actually living somewhere on this planet, but they are confined to a locatively meaningless nowhere, places that may be anywhere on Google maps or, more likely, on the ‘Map of the Strange’. Just as in time, Icons are eventually now, or tomorrow, let’s say yesterday, but who cares? They don’t.

lexi_nuova

The Artist as an Icon

It is common sense that artists love to be famous and recognized everywhere, as they are eager to outlive their human experience as people. That’s why they might be very concerned by processes of self-iconization. Common sense is wrong, however, at least when it comes to real artists. Indeed, they are more likely to aim at joining their Icons in the very same prisons to which they themselves confined them. That’s what a self-portrait tries to be: an artist’s desperate, tentative attempt to feel the same way his own victims feel after he ‘treated’ them, ‘worked them out’, in short iconized them. Indeed, in order to iconize his victims in the most effective way, the artist has to experience first-hand how it feels to be deprived of opportunities for action that once defined the extent of the nostalgically neglected belonging to mankind.

Peripheral Vision, Traces and Immersive Landscapes

Previous entries about Mark Jenkins’ and Xing Danwen’s artworks showed that an investigation on how immersive environments are described in novels and how narrative references interfere with sensory experience of landscapes may take advantage from comparative remarks coming from sculpture and manipulation of digital imaging. More advantageous remarks may come from the field of photography, namely from suggestive artistic shots by Timothy Atherton, a former police evidence photographer who definitely developed an ecological artistic approach to landscapes.

Being resonance a key-concept in Gibson’s Theory of affordances, Atherton conceptualization of photography makes plenty of sense in ecological terms since he maintains that «the idea of a photographer as being a person who follows traces is one that resonates strongly for me». Moreover, Atherton conceives the transference happening when the photographer make a picture as part of an exchange taking place between photographer and scene. Basically, in his view «the photographer simply uses the camera to make a trace of what he sees before him or her». Atherton’s approach to photography doesn’t seem based on traditional mimetic approaches, given that he describes his photography as an «ongoing attempt» to understand what he sees, by following clues so to establish «temporary conclusions that then lead to other questions and other clues». In these terms, by quoting Joyce («Bethicket me for a stump of a beech»), Atherton summarizes his work as aimed to «interpreting traces».

Introducing his series of “Peripheral Vision” (2003) Atherton states that «extended suburban condition does not easily show up on maps, it is in many ways more of a suburban state of mind than a topographic location». While photographing suburban landscapes, Atherton found himself «looking at things that are somewhat off centre, off to the side – a peripheral vision. Things that are often unnoticed and just below our level of perception». Indeed, «things seen that are in plain sight yet so familiar or obvious they are usually ignored, unseen, and their existence barely registered – attention no longer paid to them».

Peripheral Vision

Describing his series of “Immersive Landscapes” (2006), Atherton offers that «to try and impose order on this messy and unordered view seems a mistake. Instead, recognizing the disorder, letting the fine detail spread over the whole image and allowing the eye to wander over the whole field without finding a clear point of rest draws the viewer into the apparent fractal detail and chaos of the image». Indeed, he describes the results of his work as portraits of «“immersive” landscapes where the whole wide visual field is potentially full of interesting subplots over and against the overall story that the picture is telling».

Immersive Landscapes

Introducing his new work, Traces (2007), Aherton interestingly quotes Italo Calvino:

The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the street, the gratings of the windows, the bannisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning-rods, the poles of the flags. Every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls

Actually, Atherton’s collection of Traces seems pretty much inspired by Calvino’s remarks from the Invisible City (Le città Invisibili, Torino, Einaudi, 1972), that may even count as a very interesting meditation on hybrid ecologies based on the merge of literary references and sensory experience of landscapes. Namely, the bare concept of Le città invisibili entails open reference to cities that are there even tho they are not perceivable by sight. Actually, Atherton’s Traces exert potential of landscapes referring to previous or potential actions. The camera can help guessing or foreshadowing past or future events on the basis of clues, leftovers, affordances ready to be triggered by somebody who’s actually out of the picture.

Traces

Introducing his work, the photographer describes his photo art in very general terms as «an essential way of seeing, of exploring and understanding something or somewhere». Art is conceived as an explorative behavior leading to the discovery of traces. The artist finds and collects evidences and tries to make sense of them, interpreting them in some way, so to reach «provisional conclusions which are then either discarded or built on». Still, art doesn’t imitate some sort of physical reality located ‘out there’. Rather, it establishes temptative approaches to the environment based on «traces people leave, the evidence or signs that the camera can discover, often seeming to find them in unnoticed or disregarded terrain».

Actually, Atherton adopts a very ecological approach to photo art based on «the principle of exchange», maintaining that «every contact leaves a trace – that with contact between two things there will be an exchange». As an artist, he sees exchange as an interaction not just taking place between «inhabitant and place, but also between photographer and place». That is, he regards the trace of light on film as an exchange». Interestingly, Atherton portrays traces in order to make the viewer wondering about actions that eventually took place or are about to happen. In this sense, a former police evidence photographer, he exerts action potential triggered by visual hints in the very same way detectives try to re-enact events leading to crimes on the basis of clues they find on crime scenes.

With all evidence, the very same process is exerted into crime stories, namely the ones defined as “woodonit”, so as to establish a deep involvement of the reader into the story being told. Indeed, the reader is involved into reverse engineering since the very beginning of the novel, when the corpse of the victim is typically discovered. The same process is exerted to a variable extent in basically every novel, thriller as romantic, mainstream as experimental ones, since potential reference always outstrips textual borders, bringing into play speculations about other events that are not necessarily encoded into textual description.

Novels as Ecological Niches

Introducing the Theory of Affordances as a crucial milestone of his ecological approach to visual perception, Gibson (1979) described the concept of niche as a set of affordances an animal can cope with effectively. While redefining affordances as relations between environmental features and abilities of given organisms, according to his “situational” approach Chemero (2003) redefined the concept of niche as the set of situations in which one or more abilities of an animal can be exercised. Chemero’s definition amazingly fits the novel as a narrative system, as far as the animal is intended as the protagonist and his story is basically understood as the set of situations in which one or more of his abilities can be exercised.

Chretien de Troyes’ Chevalier au Lyon draws a set of situations entailing proper merveilles and avantures, meaningful features the environment affords to the knight. Cervantes simply feeds Don Quijote windmills instead of proper giants, exerting special abilities and needs of his hero while defining his ecological surroundings. Musil sticks his Mann ohne Eigenschaften into sort of a claustrophobic environment mostly providing commissions and meetings as opportunities for endless discussion and inaction. James Joyce follows his everyman through highly underrated challenges a very common urban environment provides him with.

The extent of the niche may be basically defined as the array of activity patterns characters, typically protagonists, perform throughout the story. Indeed, a narrative niche, as an ecological one, can be defined as the sets of situations in which one or more abilities of characters can be exercised, not as the ideal one in which the character easily succeed in overcoming stakes, fulfilling requirements, performing tasks, accomplishing missions, attaining goals. Struggling and failing are part of the process of surviving in both natural and a narrative challenging ecosystems. Accordingly, dramatic intensity of a novel may be basically addressed as the extent of the mismatch between character’s abilities and environmental features.

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Bibliography

Chemero, A. 2003
An Outline of a Theory of Affordances, in «Ecological Psychology» 15: 181-195.

Gibson, J. J. 1986 (o. v. 1979)
The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Hillsdale (NJ), Erlbaum.

Embodiment of Stories in Hybrid Environments

Philology and criticism usually apply to literary works that have been written and published or documented literary systems as actual genres. That is, literary studies typically focus on past or present state of the art but they hardly offer predictions, prefiguring forms that will play a role into the future development of cultural landscapes. Making a remarkable exception in respect to the norm, the present contribution aims to forecast potential development in storytelling based on locative media. That is, as part of a more general inquiry on the Ecology of the Novel and Hybrid Ecologies, it will investigate potential literary applications based on Global Positioning System (GPS), Geographic Information System (GIS) or similar geotagging standards.

People living in European cities are very familiar with tourists looking puzzled while trying to figure out why they spent a couple of paychecks to find themselves speechless in front of a pile of old stones or a very long marble sculpted pillar, say the Colosseo or the Colonna Traiana in Roma. By labeling perceived items with annotations, guidebooks and tour guides aim to orientate, to locate tourists by regulating their sensory experience of the landscape. In a looser way, the contextual reading of novels taking place in the very same place a traveler is visiting complements the sensory experience with narrative reference. Indeed, descriptions of urban or natural landscapes define potential ‘presences’ triggering a variable amount of action potential. So, bidirectional flow connecting narrative references and actual perception define an hybrid ecology, making it possible to inhabit natural landscapes by means of stories and, conversely, causing environmental features to trigger resonance of narrative references. That’s why the interplay of narrative contents and environmental experiences supported by locative technologies potentially allows a dramatic shift in the relationship between people and the environment through narratives.

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In a few years narrative artists and storytellers’ communities will be likely writing or taping stories to be broadcasted by locative media mining 2.0 websites for contents delivered by Location-based media on GPS or GIS enabled portable wireless devices. Textual narratives as podcasted stories will will invade laptop computers and mobile phones, providing readers and listeners with pertinent references or analogical interferences aimed to enriching natural environments. Presences triggered by the mirror matching of references entailed by symbolically encoded narratives, both in audio and written text formats, will invade urban and rural environments, forests and deserts, islands and hills, mountains and beaches, enhance the sensory experience of perceived landscapes. So, questions arise. What formats may be forecasted as the standards ones when it will come to the implementation of socially shared narrative art with locative tagging? Will these new narrative standards reshape interactions between subjects and environments?

While providing a permanently operative level of interaction between narrative contents and natural environments, geotagged stories will likely play a crucial role in a very fragmented and user-oriented literary system. Still, the rise of socially-networked locative narratives will hardly doom the novel to marginality, not to mention extinction. As an unifying, very generalist mainstream narrative point of view establishing the very parameters of how so-called ‘reality’ is supposed to work, the novel will outlast the next technological revolution as it did with previous ones. Potential evolution of novels may imply geocoded editions of both classic ones from the past and brand new ones intentionally developed so as to fit and be implemented into locative media. Such a process may be supported by further locatively implemented releases of wireless digital readers such as the Sony PRS-500 or Amazon’s Kindle.

However, new plastic forms will very likely arise. For instance, locative Keitai Novels, or different systems, eventually exerting collaborative web-logging tools as comments and annotation systems alongside locative technologies and defining new borders for narrative art. Certainly, web 2.0 communities of narrative artists may play with landscapes, tagging them with stories providing peculiar, literary affordances of geocoded environmental features. Being part of a community may imply writing, annotating and commenting on locatively tagged stories, that is sharing a peculiar perception of natural environments or cityscapes marked by narrative tags. In addition, being the node of a given network may entail the embracing and the adoption of peculiar locative tags to be applied to shared narratives. Both the sensory assessment of places and the reading of stories will very likely be part of an integrated, plastic, ever changing immersive experience, redefining the whole concept of storytelling and human presence in the environment at the same time. Policy-makers would eventually be required to avoid that the array of disposable geocoded stories may cause “narrative pollution”, infesting as undesired spam both the individual and collective ecological interplay of people and landscapes.

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Aknowledgments

The full paper on «Embodiment of Stories in Hybrid Environments: Narrative Art in the Age of Social Networking and Locative Media», a first draft of a potential contribution to a collection of studies about Hybrid Ecologies, has been originally presented at KERG in Tallinna Ülikool, Tallinn, Estonia. Some of the topics have been discussed during the Mobile City workshops (Rotterdam, NAI, Feb. 27-28 2008).

Action Potential and Urban Fiction

Xing Danwen’s work in progress named Urban fiction features a series of photographs shot both on film and digitally, manipulated with various computer techniques. Despite the 2dimensional framework supporting it, Urban Fiction provides very interesting samples of ecological art based on the action potential triggered by the placement of people into an urban landscape.

The statement of the artist provides some interesting hints about the purpose of her work. Namely, she offers that «When you face these models showing such a variety of different spaces and think about the life-styles associated with them, you start to wonder: is this the picture of life today? Do we really live in this kind of space and environment?». Basically, Danwen seems to establish her atwork in a traditional fictional framework that goes back to aristotelian mimesis, in terms that she aims to make people compare the artificial life of her artistic environment with the ‘real’ one they actually run.

Moreover, Danwen maintains that «people live in cubes that are squeezed next to one another, separated only by thin walls. This physical proximity, instead of leading to greater closeness and intimacy between people, can often create psychological distance and loneliness». Hence, an ecologically grounded approach emerges, since issues as proximity and spatial closeness arises and, interestingly, are asymmetrically paired with emotional correlatives as intimacy and loneliness.

An ecological approach seems to arise even more strongly when Danwen describes the urban setting she sets her fictions into:

«the sculptural form of these new residential buildings, the floor plan of the apartments, and the various interior designs are all related to the inhabitants and their “individual” taste and needs. The models of these new living spaces are perfect and clean and beautiful but they are also so empty and detached of human drama».

Indeed, landscape is shaped according to tastes and needs of characters performing in it and it’s even designed so to mark a sharp detachment from their feelings and emotions. Danwen offers that «when you take these models and begin to add real life–even a single drop of it–so much changes», since «this entire body of work is playful and fictitious, wandering between reality and fantasy». Basically, her art is described as going back and forth from ‘reality’ to ‘fantasy’ all the way back.

Even the chose of characters performing in the urban landscape contributes to the blending of ‘real’ and ‘unreal’, since the artist explains that «all the figures in this series are images of me, playing different characters», so to establish another paradox: «“I” am real but at the same time “I” am unreal» and to reshape the subject according to the urban surroundings they are immersed in. Indeed:

The figures act out totally imaginative roles as part of different plots and in different spaces that I visualize when I look at these models. For example, “I” am sometimes a white-collar office worker brought to despair by job pressures and spiritual emptiness. Sometimes “I” am a materialistic woman enjoying a life of pleasure and dissipation. Or “I” am a young girl who has accidentally killed her lover in a mood of anger.

Danwen conceives the various scenes as part of a general vision aimed to represent «represent the state of urban life today». Indeed, «together the resulting pictures compose the episodes of the urban fiction». The point of view of the observer matters, since future and Past are associated with age and growth, as modern life is: «In our childhood, skyscrapers were buildings that we had to raise our head to look at. Now we can imagine our future by bending down to examine tiny models of buildings».

From an ecological point of view, urban fictions matter in respect of the action potential triggered by still frames referring to ‘fictive’ people caught in the act of performing various action. Potential affordances of environmental features define the extent of the interaction between characters and landscapes that may be understood in a single framework based on common coding of perception and action. The very sharp detachment of landscapes from people’s feelings can’t help ruling completely out of the picture emotional correlates based on very subtle evaluation of environmental elements, as it will be shown in the following detailed appraisal of given episodes.

Murder Scene

The actual action is not represented in the making. Besides, the portrait of the wounded corpse laying into the blood puddle joint with the woman standing, his arms in the air, suggests that she just committed the crime, hitting him on the tummy with the weapon that is now on the floor.

Car Crash

The cars crashed into each other are necessarily the result of a motor action that took place in the very recent past, since the woman, eventually one of the drivers, seems still in a frenzy, her legs in motion, while looking for help. Even tho the landscape looks completely unreactive, the emotional state of the woman can be easily mirrored by the viewer exactly because it features given environmental items. Indeed, taking the crashed cars out of the pictures it would be impossible to clearly understand why the woman looks so hurried and afraid, all the eventual explanation being at that point equally suitable.

Condo People

The women on the roof look like they are sharing some kind of secrets, the one in the black dress wispering something in the ear of the one with blue hair. Sure thing, intimacy between them can be given for granted on the basis of spatial proximity and gesturing. The fact that they actually are on the roof may eventually imply some sort of secret going on between them, eventually concerning the other people set in the vicinities. Indeed, they could be talking about the gal who’s leaving with her bike, as they may be sharing some secret about the guy smoking by the window. Likewise, both of them may be concerned. The relative positioning of characters distributed in the urban landscape define actual and potential connections going on between them.

Bikers from the Window

Same as above. What do the smoking guy is thinking while staring at the couple on the bike by the window? Why is the gal almost crying? Are the three people connected in some way? Are their actions related?

Cliffhanger

Extreme action potential triggered by the woman on top of the skyscraper is a typical sample of cliffhanging suspence. Of course the question is: is she about to jump? And, eventually, why?

Affair

Relative positions of characters are in this case very interconnected. The woman has seen from the balcony his husband/partner, who probably just got off his blue car and is now strolling his troller while heading to the entrance of the building. The naked guy is just making his way out of her place. The whole scene looks basically like a crucial frame extracted from an episode featuring some sort of adultery.

Selective Filtering and Psychotic Stories

As far as the history of literary forms is addressed as an evolutionary process, questions immediately arise concerning the ‘genetics’ of ‘effective’ novels. Aristotelian approaches based on mimesis may eventually suggest that mainstream western novels, as other adapted literary forms may be the ones that better represent ‘reality’ since they describe it by means of natural language speakers use in standard conversation. Approaches based on modern epistemology may maintain that they show better consistency when it comes to the build-up of fictional words. In the field of actual, contemporary story-crafting, it may even be interesting to notice that many ‘manuals’ provide clues and rules about «how to write a damn good novel» or «how to establish unforgettable characters». Unfortunately, the very same rules apply both to ‘effective’ and ‘uneffective’ novels, that is to the very celebrated ones as the ones nobody never even heard about.

Very likely, and hopefully, the sacred quest for the perfect exemplar able to overcome any possible selective barrier thanks to its perfect ‘genes’ is doomed to failure. Indeed, given cultural or social conditions may allow the survival and the breeding of a novel that may be labeled as shacky in different ones. Still, mainstream western novels typically shape stories in pragmatically limited forms among the potentially infinite narrative options storytelling might eventually adopt. Hence, an evolutionary approach to the history of the literatures imply that actual forms readers deal with survived and bred by adapting to current cultural and social conditions, that is overcoming selective barriers as other forms didn’t.

Suggestive clues about how novels manage to survive cultural selection may arise from an accurate investigation concerning what a ‘normal’ story is supposed to look like in respect of a psychotic one. Indeed, comparisons of stories uttered by normal and psychotic subjects referring to ‘same’ perceptual and action related events, not to mention their emotional correlates, may provide samples of selective options leading to actual narrative standards, usually given for granted as compelling forms narratives ‘necessarily’ assume. An interesting study by Elaine Chaika and Paul Alexander (1986) published some 20 years ago adapted the famous «Pear Story» conceived by Chafe (1980) so to compare strategies applied to the retelling of a filmed narratives in psychotic and normal populations. The authors basically found definable differences in encoding strategies between normal and psychotic subjects, supporting theories claiming that faulty filtering mechanisms, vulnerability to distraction, and attentional deficits account for psychotic subjects’ reactions. A follow-up study, focused on discourse cohesiveness (Chaika-Lambe 1989) basically led to similar conclusions.

In the paper discussing results of the original experiment, Chaika and Alexander observed that a big problem about stories narrated by individuals diagnosed with psychosis as schizophrenia too often «wanders off the point», so that «it is sometimes difficult to correlate utterances with intended meaning» (p. 308). Psychotic disorganization observable in schizophrenia often consists in glossomania, «typically a string of phrases or clauses, related primarily because individual words either chare syntactic, semantic, or phonological features with each other». Moreover, actively psychotic patients frequently have a short attention span» and they are supposed to misperceive veering from the topic at hand incurring in derailment, since the nature of schizophrenic malfunctioning is supposed to depend on filtering strategies (310). A typical problem researcher usually deal with while investigating psychotic language concerns cooperation, since production of deviant utterances may depend on intentionality. The authors assumed that deviant narratives «arise from impaired skills on narration, not from a separate language or an attempt to hide taboo desires or an attempt to convey what it means to be schizophrenic or the like» (314). Moreover, they provided compelling evidence of the fact that narratives collected from the psychotic subjects showed intentional behavior of fulfilling the requirement of the task, that is to retell the Ice Cream Story they actually listened to (pp. 314-315).
Zeroing-in tactics, as Chafe defined them, didn’t look very different between two populations, the retelling of the opening scene resulting uniformly very detailed, since individuals were still clueless about what the story were about (316). Basic differences between psychotic and normal narratives arose as soon as it came to encoding of ‘crucial’ events, their evaluation and placement into ordered linear series (317 and further). Normal subjects basically «gave the impression of play-by-play description», whereas psychotics typically showed lack of time and causal constraints, flitting from scene to scene, «leaving out important sequences». Furthermore, authors report that psychotic narratives contained many emotionally laden words», whereas «normal language was usually colorless» (319). Psychotics frequently seemed to have difficulty suppressing out-of-task associations. Sometimes deviation is based on glossomanic chains causing the psychotic narrator to get lost in his own narrative, being unable to return to the main story. Normal narratives clearly demonstrate that normal subjects retelling the story assumed the task to be separated from their personal reminiscences.

As Sally Swartz remarked (1994), the debate on the locus of dysfunction in psychotic speech or thought disorder tends to reflect assumptions about the relationship between language and thought. Circularity of the argument is inevitable, unless the encoding of narrative events starts to be addressed as mediated by embodied affordances of environmental features depending on more or less consistent/loose action-planning strategies entailing conscious evaluation and/or emotional appraisal. Accordingly, research may shift toward investigation about how psychotic narratives eventually differ from so called “normal” ones in ecological terms. Of course, direct investigation of psychotic narratives would be the more appropriate scientific approach to the issue. Still, some results of the Ice Cream story experiment may offer some starting point for an effective research plan. Indeed, results of original Chaika and Alexander experiment evidence logically-inconsistent intrusions of emotional contents derived from personal experience or very personal remarks based on peculiar thematic analogies. Indeed, as Chaika offered elsewhere, schizophrenics seem unable to suppress personal memories or words and phrases, including cliches inappropriate to the task at hand (Chaika 1982a and 1982b).

In ecological terms, peculiar understanding of character specific affordances and emotional correlates may play a crucial role, redefining the individual encoding of narrative events as the purpose of the story itself. Hence, it may be assumed as an hypothesis that psychotic subjects perceive special character-specific potential affordances of environmental features based on peculiar appraisal of emotional implications. That is, action-planning of narrative characters is understood by individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia as lead by differently-filtered needs, tasks, goals based on apparently ‘unfiltered’ emotional correlates.
Say, the description of a table very likely triggers action potential related to typical affordances of a table, that is narrative options featuring some character entering the place and placing stuff on it or similar. Still, the action potential triggered by the description of the table may be fulfilled in an unpredictable or unusual way by the storyteller, say introducing some character sitting on the table or sleeping below it. Indeed, the featured character would be actually ‘using’ the table as a chair or as a bed. Similar narrative affordances may be said to be exerting sort of ‘functional degeneration’, as far as ‘function’ is addressed as an object-inherent property of the described object. Besides an ecological theory of narrative perception necessarily implies a different understanding of the very concept of function, that has to be framed in darwinian terms, since it basically depend on cultural or social selection applying to potential affordances.

Basically, ‘function’ has to be redefined as the prevailing affordance of a given environmental feature among the infinite possible, though pragmatically limited, ones. Accordingly, narrative functions of objects may be more correctly defined as selected purposes among the ones potentially triggered by the description of given environmental features. Indeed, they usually correspond to ‘typical’ affordances of described things, say open-hand grasp for a bottle, precision-pick for a pencil. Very likely the description of a pencil and a bottle would respectively resonate by triggering fingertips and hand-related motricity, that is potential actions as precision pick and full grasp. Still, a bottle can be grabbed with knees and a pencil can be eaten, as children very often do, and sometimes adults too. Moreover, eventual narrative description of peculiar affordances may even rely on virtually-impossible motor schemes, as grabbing a bottle with ears or having a weird, monstrous creature using one of his tentacles to grab the pencil.

Accordingly, psychotic narratives may offer interesting clues about differential filtering of potential affordances and their emotional correlates. Indeed, Mis-proprioception, body-unawareness, multiple switching personalities and may cause peculiar emotional contents to be attached to narrative events entailing perception and/or action. Very likely more intense ones, as results of the original experiment performed by Chaika and Alexander seem to point out. Moreover, stories delivered by subjects affected by similar disturbs may even describe ‘psychotic affordances’ driven by special action-planning options exerting non-standard exploitation of tools, objects, environmental features in general. Descriptions of pertinent clinical cases have been provided by Els Van Dongen (2002, 2003), who describes his patients as «walking stories», embodiment of narratives providing them power to manipulate the course of events and the responsive actions of others, namely professionals. Indeed, «when the stories become alive, i.e. acted out, they show their power […] they put culture at work and become the ‘weapons of the weak’ in order to control what usually remains beyond their control».

So to verify such hypothesis, it may be interesting to investigate to what extent the planning of goal-oriented actions plays a crucial role in psychotic narratives when it comes to ‘narrative function’ of described things. Indeed, action planning regulates the choice of affordances “effective enough” to perform given tasks tools, objects, any kinds of environmental features are being ‘used’ for. Likewise, “learning” about “things” that can be or cannot be done with things in ‘real’ as in narrative actions depends on action planning.

On the wider scale of event-sequencing and episode concatenation, it may be very interesting to verify to what extent consistent filtering may actually be a major factor when it comes to discriminate normal from psychotic storytelling, as, more in general, stories fitting social standards from the sub-par ones hitting selective fences. Of course, storytelling in spontaneous conversation doesn’t always show high-level consistency when it comes to filtering narrative events so that they are streamed in tightly time-sequenced and/or casually connected flows. Even written narratives, filtered by very accurate textual editing, say novels, typically perform as spatial forms based on thematic analogy, according to Faulk. Still, ‘normal’ filtering may be intended as sort of an adapted feature individuals develop and adopt so to fit narrative standards required by social communication. As an example, to fit western mass-markets, a novel may hardly switch to a different story involving new characters after page 75, without giving any clue about the fate of previous protagonists, as it may hardly feature 45 pages-length digressions about personal reminiscences. The combination of both strategies may eventually lead to an highly experimental narrative product, barely suitable even for enthusiastic readers.

Storytelling can develop in infinite directions. Humans can tell circular, intertwined, very complicated, atemporal, parallel, out of topic, very confused stories, and usually they do. The western narrative mainstream standard could have eventually developed through history into any of the various casual formats narratives can assume as reports of events in natural conversation. So, why the mainstream story format evolved into a linear, oriented and concluded narrative, a chain of events connected by consistent logical ties? That is, why a modern reader who enters a bookshop finds himself surrounded by novels?
Moreover, the novel itself could have evolved through his relatively short history into a different genre, ruled by some fully different principles of consistency. Besides, even very celebrated experimental novels hit the selective fence as ‘mutated individuals’ failing to breed and develop into new species. Indeed, they actually failed to set standards. So, why any attempt to break, to twist, eventually to avoid the general format of the novel resulted in an evolutionary failure? Some remarks Van Dongen (2003) offers about psychotic stories may offer some interesting clues:

«Mad stories are evocative and metaphoric. They are full of symbols, but we think that those symbols are used in very personal, even idiosyncratic ways. We consider them as incoherent and incomprehensible. They are not ‘rational’ and do not represent any ‘normal’ logic. They do not fit into categories. They escape every classification, save that of ‘psychotic stories’ or ‘mad stories’. They are matters out of place. They are viewed as signs of madness and therefore show how much we should value health and normality. They often belong to the underground world in mental hospitals and clinical interaction. This world of stories is feared; therapists and psychiatric nurses often act as if this world does not exist».

Narrative standards are usually given for granted as forms novels necessarily assume either as mimetic ones imitating (aristotelian stance) or translating (semiotic stance) a given ‘reality’ or arising from cognitive computational processes (classical cognitive stance). Consequently, an investigation about why stories are encoded into novels the way they are has never been established in scientific terms. Previous remarks suggest to do that on the basis of some very general queries.
For instance, what if novels are shaped the way they are so to define ‘normality’? What if they tell stories the way they do so to help readers feeling at ease in the safe field of ‘normality’? More in details, do novels play a reassuring role when it comes to the understanding of narrative actions based on ‘normal’ affordances of described tools, object, environmental features in general? Do they exert in narrative terms the extent of potential action ‘normally’ triggered by perceptual events? Moreover, do they filter pertinent emotional correlates of narrative events entailing perception and action?
Assuming that nothing can be told and narrated that never fell into the perceptual borders of human senses, such questions help defining the extent of an ecological investigation on the evolutionary processes leading to the actual narrative standards western mainstream novels fit in.

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Bibliography

Chafe, W. 1980
The Pear Stories. Cognitive, cultural and linguistic aspects of narrative production, Norwood, NJ, Ablex, 1980.

Chaika, E. 1982a
Thought disorder or speech disorder in schizophrenia, in «Schizophrenia Bulletin» 8, pp. 588-591.

Chaika, E. 1982b
A unified explanation for the diverse structural deviation of adult schizophrenics with disrupted speech, in «Journal of Communication Disorders» 15, pp. 167-189.

Chaika, E. – Alexander P. 1986
The Ice Cream Stories: A Study in Normal and Psychotic Narrations, in «discourse Processes» 9, pp. 305-328.

Chaika, E. – Lambe, P. 1989
Cohesion in schizophrenic and normal narration revisited, in «Journal of Communication Disorders» 22, pp. 407-421.

Swartz, S. 1994
Issues in the analysis of psychotic speech, in «Journal of Psycholinguistic Research» 23, pp. 29-44.

Van Dongen, E. 2002
Walking stories. An oddnography of mad people’s work with culture, Amsterdam, Rozenberg Publishers, 2002.

Van Dongen, E. 2003
Walking stories: narratives of mental patients as magica, in «Anthropology & Medicine» Volume 10 (2003) , pp. 207-222.