Category Archives: Function

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.

Disembodied Novels

Embodiment of stories has been investigated so far especially in respect to psychotic stories. In particular, Els van Dongen devoted a book (2002) and a follow-up paper (2003) to the topic, maintaining that stories that are seen as irrelevant and incomprehensible get their non-psychiatric meaning and power by embodiment. According to van Dongen, psychotic people, namely patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, try to regain control over their lives and to influence the course of events by performing and carrying out actions that are based on a story, which has become sort of a text for living. Indeed, so as to gain power and control, schizophrenics need to do more than narrating in language: they have to make their story a narration of flesh and blood, they have to become part of the story itself by embodying it. Since the power of psychotic stories doesn’t come from telling but from acting out accordingly, the final meaning of the mad story is less situated in discursive practices than in the performance, exerting narratives as social features.

Van Dongen observed that it can be misleading to contrast the world of normal people and the schizophrenic one by defining the first one as reality and the second one as situated outside reality. Indeed, for the main part, schizophrenics live in the so called real world where normal people spend their lives. Moreover, the so called ‘mad world’ has its own universe of discourse, its own conception of reality and criteria of rationality, sometimes very different from the ones applying to the non-psychotic world. Both the remarks may be ecologically re-framed by saying that so called mad stories embodied by schizophrenics basically rely on peculiar filtering strategies. That is, they are based on a non-standard common coding of perception and action and the special pairing of perceptual events and/or actions with emotional states.

Opportunely, van Dongen never suggested that mad stories should be assessed as different from normal ones because the former have to be embodied and the latter have not. As suggested by previous entries, embodiment of stories is even implied in the processing of narratives normal people go through while reading a novel or listening to a story. That is, embodied stories are part of the every-day experience of so called ‘normal’ people as well. Rather, disembodiment of narratives may be associated to peculiar neural lesions like the ones described by Oliver Sacks (1985) in his famous collection of clinical cases. For instance, the renowned dr. P, aka The man who mistook his wife for an hat,

investigating the difficulties with leftness of his patient, Sacks observed that his visual field deficits affected both his visual perception and his visual memory and imagination. Hence, «thinking of the almost allucinatoryintensity with which Tolstoy visualises and animates his characters», he tested dr. P’s «internal visualization» questioning him about Anna Karenina, a novel he craved. Interestingly, Sacks describes the reactions of his patient as follows:

He could remember incidents without difficulty, had an undiminished grasp of the plot, but completely omitted visual characteristics, visual narratives and scenes. He remembered the words of the characters but not their faces; and though, when asked, he could quote, whit his remarkable and almost verbatim memory, the original visual descriptions, these were, it became apparent, quite empty for him and lacked sensorial, imaginal, or emotional reality.

The clinical case provides an amazing sample of how disembodied processing of a novel should work. Basically, descriptions do not trigger the embodiment of corresponding sensory experiences and interoceptive correlates as emotions and feelings. Besides, the mere words or sentences are stored, saved as ’empty’ labels and strings lacking any peculiar reference. As Sacks remarks, being dr. P, a musician and a teacher at the local school of music with undiminished musical skills, memory for words might have been part of a more general strategy of compensating visual impairments with peculiar enhancement of auditory and sensory-motor skills.

Interestingly, the clinical case described by Sacks provides evidence of a disembodied processing of narrative events, that is the inability of decoding sensory experiences and emotional correlates on the basis of verbal references, associated to major visual impairments including inability to figure out body part related affordances of very common items. Indeed, dr. P showed undiminished ability of describing shapes, abstract forms, whereas he failed to visually recognize a glove by the pure sight, being rather triggered by sudden understanding of his function as soon as he wore it.

Hence, dr. P’s peculiar ‘reality’ makes plenty of sense in ecological terms. Indeed, inability to focus on narrative events entailing visual references seems paired with a more general visual impairment affecting actual sensory appraisal of natural environments. Likewise, the case of The Lost Mariner presents a similar inability of visual-related language processing paired with a general amnesia involving loss of all visual images, without any sense of loss being present:

Indeed, he had lost the very idea of seeing-and was not only unable to describe anything visually, but bewildered when I used words as ‘seing’ and ‘light’. He had become, in essence, a non visual being (p. 41).

Such evidence corroborates hebbian association models proposed by Pulvermüller (1999, 2002: ch. 4, 50-65), based on the idea that distinct cortical topographies represent biological counterparts of words and their symbolic inherently referential features. In particular, assemblies that process words referring to visually perceived objects trigger neural activity in the perisylvian cortices but even recruit additional cells from visual or motor cortices depending on the content of the word.

In general, observation of patient showing congruent disembodiment of stories and corresponding sensory experiences supports the idea that that understanding of narratives relies on the enacting of appropriate embodied experiences the described events refer to (Feldman and Narayanan 2004). Indeed, the ability to utter and process linguistic references to perceptual events, as narrative ones based on literary sources, seems to be somatotopically related to the ability to process corresponding sensory events and actions in natural environments.

————————————-

Bibliography

Feldman J. – Narayanan S. 2004
Embodied meaning in a neural theory of language, in «Brain and Language» 89: 385-92.

Sacks, o. 1985
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, New York: Summit Books; London: Gerald Duckworth .

Pulvermüller, F. 1999
Words in the Brain Language, in «Behavioral and Brain Sciences» 22 (1999): 253-336.

Pulvermüller, F. 2002
The Neuroscience of Language. On Brain Circuits of Words and Serial order, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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» 10 (2003) , pp. 207-222.

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.

————————————-
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.

Ecological Art: People and Objects

Some artworks by Mark Jenkins exerting action potential, according to ecological accounts of perception based on Gibson’s Theory of Affordances…

 

1. Typical ‘sitting affordance’ of a trunk
performed by a fictile person, that is a puppet.

 

2. Actual affordances of a sidewalk and ball
performed by a ‘fictile’ child,
exerting the action potential featured by
the ‘real’ landmark and object
by means of a puppet.

 

3. Fictile dogs exerting action potential
entailed by rubbish dump

 

4. fictile ducks exerting action potential
entailed by sidewalk chute.

 

5. The real guy smiles at the fictile one
caught in the typical gesture of
‘asking a cab driver for a ride’.

 

6. objects may suggest potential affordances
based on cultural references,
as the crucified puppet
on top of the lightpole

 

7. basic (even tho pretty much unusual) affordance of a pole
performed by a baby-puppet

 

8. culturally-tagged affordance of a pole
performed by a grown-up puppet

 

9. ‘real’ mom instinctively protects her curious daughter
while walking next to the drop-out sitting on the floor,
that is a puppet exerting the ‘sitting affordance’ of the sidewalk,
socially-labeled as the distinctive tract
of an homeless person asking for a coin.

 

10. A ‘real’ person checks the sitting drop-out
trying to figure out if he is ‘real’

 

11. Fictile person suggesting
body-part related affordance of his arm.
The question that very likely arises
about the missing part is ‘where is it?’

 

12. fictile human objectified