Category Archives: Paulo Coelho

La Ecología de la novela

Here’s the breakdown, presentation and bibliography of the Curso de Posgrado on  «La Ecología de la novela» I gave at Facultad de Filosofia y Umanidades of Universidad National de Cordoba (Argentina) on 1-4 setiembre 2008.

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Unidad 1
Percepción, emoción y acción en las artes, la música y la literatura

La música sinfónica o el jazz tienen mucha dificultad para permitir a los oyentes distinguir la experiencia perceptiva de las emociones que sienten y de las acciones que eventualmente imaginan mientras están sumergidos en el flujo de la melodía sax. En general, la música es un conjunto intrincado que une, mezcla y fusiona eventos perceptivos, emociones y acciones a las cuales se refieren las modulaciones armónicas.
El arte abstracto básicamente codifica referencias en actos de pintura que hacen imposible desentrañar eventos perceptivos, emociones y acciones, distinguiéndolos unos de otros. Action painting es muy probablemente un caso típico porque tiene como objetivo unir en un nudo la percepción de los colores y de las formas, de las emociones inspiradas y de los gestos reflejados que se realizan a través de la obra de arte.
El arte figurativo disminuye con fuerza la cantidad de referencias potenciales inspiradas por la experiencia estética, especialmente cuando se representan sujetos históricos o mitológicos. De todos modos, la identidad de los personajes representados así como la de los paisajes pintados continúan siendo un verdadero acertijo. La experiencia estética se basa fuertemente sobre la compensación analógica y ésta a su vez se basa en experiencias individuales de sujetos similares y/o de los textos que se tratan.
La referencia poética a eventos perceptivos, emociones y acciones puede construir conceptos muy eficaces y consistentes. De todos modos, las fronteras y el “amoblamiento” del “nicho ecológico” definidos por el poema son por lo general procesados por el lector y por el oyente según su propia comprensión del concepto. El formato literario de la novela emerge como un modelo global porque facilita una comprensión veloz de los eventos descriptos. Por cierto, los nichos ecológicos se transforman analíticamente en novelas gracias a las características específicas de interdependencia de las descripciones de eventos perceptivos, emociones y acciones.

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Unidad 2
La ecología de la novela

Los estudios teóricos más importantes han abordado siempre el tema crucial de la mímesis enfocando la relación entre literatura y realidad, sosteniendo que las novelas imitan la realidad a través del lenguaje, traducen hechos y eventos a través de actos semióticos o establecen mundos ficticios coherentes al cruzar el mundo actual o “real”. Nuestra hipótesis propone un punto de vista diferente al introducir una teoría “ecológica” de la referencia narrativa. Según la teoría de las posibilidades de Gibson y los recientes descubrimientos en el campo de las neurociencias, en particular del mirror neuron, historias y novelas en particular, pueden comprenderse sobre la base de un conocimiento individual conectado con la acción. Ejemplos derivados de la tradición europea de las novelas de tipo medieval o pre modernas servirán para poner en marcha una discusión que muestre cómo las novelas, textualmente, codifican las acciones y cómo los eventos narrativos referidos a experiencias sensoriales y a respuestas como emociones, sentimientos, pensamientos, deducciones o decisiones, dependen de respuestas conectadas con la acción. Finalmente, se tomará en consideración una nueva idea de la novela como “nicho ecológico” y se esbozará una teoría “ecológica” de la referencia narrativa para una mejor investigación filológica de las novelas en el ámbito general de las literaturas comparadas.

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Unidad 3

Las novelas como “nichos ecológicos”

Introduciendo la Teoría de las posibilidades como la piedra fundamental de su enfoque ecológico a la percepción visual, Gibson (1979) describió el concepto de “nicho” como un conjunto de posibilidades que un animal puede manejar de manera eficaz. En su redefinición de las posibilidades como relaciones entre características del ambiente y habilidades de ciertos organismos, Chemero (2003), de acuerdo con su enfoque “situacional”, redefinió el concepto de nicho como un conjunto de situaciones y capacidades (affordances) en el cual pueden ejercerse una o más habilidades de un animal. La definición de Chemero se adapta de manera estupenda a la novela como sistema narrativo, en tanto se considere al animal como el protagonista y su historia se entiende básicamente como  el conjunto de situaciones en el cual pueden ejercitarse una o más de sus habilidades.
Chretien de Troyes’, en Chevalier au Lyon, presenta un conjunto de situaciones con verdaderas merveilles et avantures, características significativas que ofrece el ambiente al caballero. Cervantes simplemente ofrece a su Don Quijote molinos de viento en lugar de verdaderos gigantes y provee habilidades especiales y necesidades a su héroe al mismo tiempo que define su ambientación ecológica. Musil coloca su Mann ohne Eigenschaften en una suerte de ambiente claustrofóbico donde se ofrecen encuentros y reuniones como oportunidades para una infinita inacción. James Joyce pone a su everyman ante los desafíos cotidianos insignificantes que le ofrece el ambiente urbano.La extensión del nicho puede ser definida básicamente como el conjunto de los modelos de actividad que los personajes, por lo general los protagonistas, ejecutan a lo largo de la historia. En efecto, un nicho narrativo, como el ecológico, puede definirse como el conjunto de situaciones en el cual pueden ejercerse una o más habilidades de los personajes. Esto sin embargo no puede ser el nicho ideal en el cual el personaje fácilmente triunfa luego de superar obstáculos, cumplir requisitos, ejecutar tareas, completar misiones hasta alcanzar la meta. La lucha y el fracaso son parte del proceso de la supervivencia en ambos ecosistemas, el natural y el narrativo. En consecuencia, la intensidad dramática de la novela puede ser considerada básicamente como la extensión del desajuste entre las habilidades del personaje y las características del ambiente.

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Unidad 4

Literatura en movimiento y arte narrativo en la era de los locative media y de la red social cibernética

La Filología y la crítica se dirigen generalmente a obras literarias que han sido escritas y publicadas o a sistemas literarios en tanto géneros. Es decir, los estudios literarios por lo general se focalizan en el pasado o el presente del arte pero rara vez ofrecen predicciones o prefiguran formas que jugarán un rol en el desarrollo futuro de los paisajes culturales. Como excepción con respecto a la norma, nuestra contribución tiene como meta predecir un desarrollo posible en la narración sobre la base de los locative media. Se investigarán en particular potenciales aplicaciones literarias basadas en Global Positioning System (GPS, Sistema de posicionamiento global), Geographic Information System (GIS, Sistema de información geográfica) o modelos similares de geocodificación. Es probable que dentro de pocos años artistas y comunidades de narradores podrán escribir o registrar historias para ser transmitidas por locative media; de la misma manera procederán las páginas web, con contenidos transmitidos por medias basados en lugares o GPS o GIS o sistemas inalámbricos. Narraciones en forma de historias podcastadas invadirán las computadoras portátiles y los teléfonos móviles y proveerán a los lectores y oyentes de referencias pertinentes o de interferencias analógicas destinadas a enriquecer los ambientes naturales. Las presencias potenciadas por el juego de correspondencias de las referencias narrativas invadirán como plaga los ambientes urbanos y rurales, aumentando las experiencias sensoriales de los paisajes percibidos. ¿Qué formatos pueden ser previstos como los nuevos formatos estandarizados cuando se llegue a la implementación de un arte narrativo compartido socialmente con marcadores virtuales? ¿Reformularán estos nuevos estándares narrativos las relaciones entre sujetos y ambiente? Finalmente, mientras se provee un nivel operativo permanente de interacción entre los contenidos narrativos y los ambientes naturales, cabe preguntarse si las historias geocodificadas podrán jugar un rol crucial en el sistema literario.

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Unidad 5

La larga cola de los estantes digitales

Lejos de haber sido amenazados, o incluso asesinados, por la cultura web y por los nuevos medios, la literatura ha jugado hasta ahora un papel esencial en el desarrollo de servicios comerciales revolucionarios basados en la web tales como Amazon, que fueron creados con el fin de vender libros on line. Además, la literatura encontró mucho espacio en comunidades de segunda generación, basadas en la web, y hospedó servicios como páginas de networking social, wikis, blogs y folksoonomies, cuya meta es facilitar la interacción, la creatividad, la participación y la colaboración. En algunos casos, la literatura incluso representa el interés principal que algunas comunidades muy numerosas basadas en la web comparten a través de servicios sociales cibernéticos como aNobii, que polarizan lectores del lejano Oriente, y de Europa sud occidental, y LibraryThing o Goodreads, que por lo general atraen lectores de América, Canadá, Gran Bretaña e India. Este tipo de sistemas hacen posible que los lectores puedan colocar sobre plataformas digitales los catálogos de libros que poseen e interactúen con otros lectores según sus intereses literarios. Aparentemente, están emergiendo nuevos senderos para la investigacion literaria, considerando que muchas bibliotecas individuales y privadas continúan ofreciéndose a través de internet. En particular, un análisis comparado de estadísticas vinculadas con aNobi y con LybraryThing’s evidencia una nueva apreciación de la Literatura Mundial como un sistema emergente de cánones digitales de gran importancia sostenido por un público que se identifica como lectores entusiastas.

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Bibliografía

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

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

Aziz-Zadeh, L. – Damasio, A. 2008
Embodied semantics for actions: Findings from functional brain imaging, in «Journal of Physiology» 102 (1-3): 35-39.

Moretti, F. 2000
Conjectures on World Literature, in «New Left Review» n.s. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 2000), pp. 54-68.

C. Anderson, The Long Tail, in «Wired» 12, 10 (Oct. 2004)

For further reference please check: The Ecology of the Novel. A Book in Progress by Anatole Pierre Fuksas.

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The Long Tail of Digital Shelves

Far from having been threatened, not to mention killed by web culture and new media, literature played an essential part in the developing of groundbreaking commercial web based services as Amazon, originally established so as to sell books online. Moreover, literature found plenty of room in second generation web-based services such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies, aiming to facilitate interaction, creativity, sharing and collaboration. In some cases, literature even represents the main interest very crowded web based communities share through social network services, as aNobii, polarizing readers from Far East and South-Western Europe, and LibraryThing, mostly attracting readers from America, UK and India, smaller communities of english readers being even shared by Goodreads and Shelfari .

Such literary Social Network Systems make it possible for readers to upload on digital platforms the books they own, to provide personal comments and remarks and to interact with other readers according to their literary interests. That’s why a compared assessment of public data provided by such systems makes it possible to investigate the extent of literary canons from the vantage point of people self-identifying themselves as enthusiastic readers. Of course, being communities very plastic and unstable in terms of geographical distribution and linguistic identity, not to mention literary tastes of their members, the present assessment is very likely subject to dramatic changes in time. Still, some very general remarks may enlighten meaningful aspects of literary social network services that would eventually outlast plasticity and mobility of massive data provided by an equally plastic and mobile community of book-readers.

First off, interesting remarks emerge in respect of a crucial issue as the one concerning ‘nationality of books’. Indeed, literary canons established by enthusiastic readers uploading their books on digital shelves seem to stretch linguistic borders traditionally defining what national literature a novel, a poem, an essay, a literary work in general belongs to. Basically, ‘national identity’ seems to be lost in translation, being books indexed, discussed and ranked on the basis of the language they have been read in. Cultural identity of novels and other literary works is basically defined in reader-based terms, reshaping the very concept of ‘nationality of books’ so as to fit the global system of world literature. Local language-based systems «think globally and act locally», that is they glocalize themseves incorporating foreign books by means of translation.

Basically, social network services supporting bibliographical catalogues of books directly uploaded by readers credit translation as a major factor determining uneven globalization of literary canons. South-Western European and Far Eastern systems seem to be extremely permeable to literary works originally written in foreign languages. Incorporation of foreign items mostly apply to English franchised series as Harry Potter’s saga and The Lord of the Ring, or Dan Brown’s super-pop page-turners. Some more books may be accommodated into local systems, since they are perceived as universal masterpieces or because they eventually fill occasional voids. Rather, English hegemony in world literary systems seems to reflect in substantial autonomy, not to say factual isolation of English language-speaking global community and regional ramifications. Indeed, it just seems flexible enough to be incorporating a few unavoidable masterpieces from literary systems based on different languages. Such evidence seems to confirm remarks formulated by Roberto Antonelli (2000: 334-335) about strengths and weaknesses of ‘imperial’ anglo-american canon, a very powerful and effective one when it comes to pervasively invade other systems, but basically unable to self-globalize itself by acquiring foreign references.

Discussing the novel as a genre in search of his own identity, Thomas Pavel (2002, then 2006) observed that the list of nobel prize awarded authors in the last fifty years mostly include novelists from everywhere in the world, restating both the global extent of the genre and his crucial position in literary global system. Accordingly, and predictably, the vast majority of popular books owned and uploaded on digital shelves by socially networked readers are novels. Predictably, Harry Potter’s series by J. K. Rowling and The Lord of the Ring trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien are amazingly popular on a global scenario, being featured among top 50 books in all far easter, european and american charts. This is of course due to franchise strategies based on popularity of blockbuster movies and reproduction of contents on all disposable platforms, exerting new convergence culture, as defined by Hanry Jenkins.

Dan Brown’s best sellers achieved the status of very global literary reference just on the basis of certified literary effectiveness, as other as in the case of literary sensations like Tuesdays with Morrie and The five people you meet in heaven by Mitch Albom, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini or La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruíz Zafón. Indeed, as it happens for franchised series, such books basically top every possible chart emerging from digital shelves featuring books uploaded by enthusiastic readers from Europe, America and Far East. Moreover, super-classic novels as O Alquimista by Paulo Coelho, Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel García Márquez, Das Parfüm by Patrick Süskind, Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí by Milan Kundera are equally top ranked in every pop list. They basically emerge as masterpieces, that is typical specimina of the genre, and, accordingly, they play a crucial role in the global scenario.

Some other literary classics from the 20th century play a global role to a minor extent, being just very popular in some of the major communities, as in the case of 1984 by George Orwell, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (English, Spanish, Italian) or L’étranger by Albert Camus and Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (French, Italian, Spanish). Some novels play a crucial role in limited regional systems, as the ones by Daniel Pennac, mostly uploaded on Italian and french shelves or Isable Allende, very popular on Spanish and Italian. Popularity of many others is just limited to their original birthplace, as in the case of masterpieces by Italo Calvino and very popular ones by Stefano Benni in Italy. Likewise, novels by Yu Hua are on top of pop lists emerging from Chinese shelves, but keep been basically absent from international rankings, besides the amazing success of internationally acclaimed movies by Zhang Yimou they actually inspired.

So, the novel prevail as a genre and some novels prevail as paradigmatic specimina of the genre, the extent of their popularity being absolutely global. Still, popular novels are always included into library systems entailing plenty of unpopular other ones and of course, plenty of books that doesn’t seem to be very popular and are not novels at all. That is, single digital shelves typically feature popular novels side by side with unlucky ones and, of course, essays, scientific books, comics, gardening manuals or other references. Digital shelves basically reflect a dynamic, interactive idea of private libraries, conceived as networks of books interacting with each other to a variable extent. Since, literary canons are interactive systems based on mutual interaction of objects they include, they shouldn’t anymore be addressed as series of independent entries, that is lists of books to be read or included into syllabi, as the one proposed by Harold Bloom (1994). Indeed, they actually work like plastic networks to be surfed, their emergent meaning being defined by permanently mobile paths connecting single items, which identity and shape is not given once and for all.

Assumption of books as milestones of a static literary system has to be addressed as faulty and misleading, as far as the identity of novels, poems, literary works of any kind is defined by their interaction with readers and other books they read. Connective patterns subject to permanent plastic reshaping, questioning status, position, presence of single literary works. For instance, Raimbaud’s Une saison en enfer plays a different role into reader-specific literary systems entailing Petrarca’s Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta and Elliot’s Waste Land rather than, say, Wedding Season by Katie Fforde or To Hell in High Heels by Helena Frith Powell. Since the same point apply to every single literary work uploaded into a digital library, every shelf can be basically addressed as an interactive system, defining the meaning of any item it features in terms of actual or potential connections with any other listed one and they all together.

Novels are sunk into systems which borders are designed so as to include essays, memories, philosophical investigation as comics or cookbooks. Moreover, pop books are integrated into digital shelves in which readers uploaded very peculiar, individual readings that are not very popular at all. In this sense, literary canons entailed by digitally shelves have to be addressed as long-tailed systems, in the terms described by Chris Anderson in his very popular works about The Long Tail, his book being even featured as #17 in the aNobii Semplified Chinese top list and #89 in the English one! The concept has been originally coined in a ground-breaking Wired article aiming to describe niche market strategy introduced by business companies as book-based one Amazon, realizing significant profit out of selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers, instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items.

Literary canons emerging from digital shelves may be addressed as long-tailed systems both in terms of being based on shelves featuring a few very pop books and plenty of peculiar, not-very-common other ones and in respect to the bottom-up process they arise from. Indeed, according to Anderson, the group of persons that buy the hard-to-find or ‘non-hit’ items is the customer demographic called the Long Tail. Likewise, ‘non hit’ Italian housewives as Australian free-climbers or Chinese accountants, or anybody else who may like to upload his library on a digital shelf, are basically contributing in defining plastic contemporary canons of World Literature with their own likings and personal options. If literary social network services will keep growing, future canons would hardly just depend on cultural strategies planned by critics, intellectual, academicians belonging to prestigious institutions, neither on marketing-based ones established by publishers, agents, editors, authors or journalists.

Needless to say, being the game still up and running, these very general remarks just aim to provide a first assessment of slowly emerging and self-defining system of World Literature from current point of view of digitally competent book readers. Present appraisal may be compared in the future with updated ones, so as to measure and assess variation in the literary system through time. Further investigations may even very interestingly focus on locative-sensible data, eventually describing very small local systems in respect of the general one. Moreover, emphasis on long-tailed systems may help in re-defining current literary systems as by identifying peculiar patterns of co-recurrency of clustered books on digital shelves, even taking into account locative and linguistic pertinence.

Still, even a very general assessment allows to conclude that literary social networks seem to be providing some interesting answers to the ‘problem’ of World Literature, as Franco Moretti (2000) properly defined it. In particular, collaborative nature of web 2.0 services and communities makes it possible to quickly embrace relevant segments of ‘the great unread’, as Margaret Cohen (1999: 23) defined the huge amount of literary leftovers stockpiled into analogical libraries. New paths for literary criticism emerge, while communities of readers keep sharing individual readings, so as to make it possible for everybody to surf through millions of books instead of sticking with the few hundreds listed in syllabi, histories of literatures, anthologies, typical canon in general. Indeed, huge amounts of typically unread books become part of global literary system and regional ramifications as far as occasional readers upload them on digital long-tailed shelves.

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Aknowledgments

The full version of the paper, complete with accurate data, will be published on the International Literary Journal «Critica del Testo» 10/1 (2007). I am largely in debt with Alessandro Lanni, who introduced me to Convergence Culture and the Long Tail, Sergio Brunori for all the help with Chinese books, Christa Zacchei, who introduced me to aNobii, Nicoletta Costantini for plenty of suggestion helping a better understanding of literary social networks.

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Bibliography

Anderson, C. 2006
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, New York, Hyperion.

Antonelli, R. 2000
Il canone Nobel, in «Critica del Testo» 3 (2000), pp. 321-336.

Bloom, H. 1994
The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, New York, Harcourt Brace & Company.

Cohen, M. 1999
The Sentimental Education of the Novel, Princeton (NJ), Princeton University Press.

Jenkins, H. 2006
Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, New York, New York University Press.

Moretti, F. 2000
Conjectures on World Literature, in «New Left Review» n.s. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 2000), pp. 54-68.

Pavel, T. 2002 then 2006
Il romanzo alla ricerca di se stesso, in Il romanzo. II. Le forme, a c. di F. Moretti, Torino, Einaudi, 2002, pp. 35-63, then reprinted as T. Pavel, The Novel in Search of Itself: A Historical Morphology, in The Novel. Volume 2: Forms and Themes, ed. by F. Moretti, Princeton (NJ), Princeton University Press, 2006, pp. 3-32.