Today we are going to look at narrative strategies adopted by contemporary artists. In particular artists who deliberately play with conventional narrative, often misleading the audience, through for fragmentation and discontinuity of the story. These strategies derive from various areas of cultural production such as music, film and literature..
So what do we mean when when talk about narrative? Stories can be and are told in many ways: be it written, visual, theatrical, musical, that’s to say, through film and performance, sound and language. More specifically then we can say that narrative is the telling of a story or the communication of a chain of events,whether fictive or real, or a combination of both. Aspects of narrative include how the story is told, the context in which it is presented, and the construction of the story.
So we need to think about what forms a narrative?Well, generally speaking then, narratives are about characters and events in time. And equally relevant is the analysis of what different types of combinations produce different narratives. Fundamentally there are two basic options for structuring a story: eithertelling the story in a linear, chronological way or in a non-linear, achronological way.Roland Barthes key text ‘Image-Music-Text’ (1977) is productive to refer to as he uncovers the way in which structure generates meaning through Linear and Non-Linear structures.
We can trace trace the geneology of narrative structure even further back to Aristotle whose thesis is captured in the text Poetics, he argued that narrative plots should have a beginning, middle, and end.
We can see that mainstream films on the whole still tend to adhere to these conventions. These are film that are characterised by a clear and comprehensible narrative flow and a complete disguise of the film’s artifice. Linearity and causality are, arguably the main traits.The classic structure of a Hollywood film follows Todorovian principles, also known as the narrative arc and the Fairytale structure: equilibrium - disruption - identification of obstacle - pursuit of goal - struggle - resolution of narrative as a positive outcome, to equilibrium.
What I want to demonstrate this morning is that this structure is just that, a construction, and we will see the ways in which filmmakers and artists undermine, deconstruct, and dissolve these conventional structures.When we examine narratives we can see that the concept of montage is the governing principle of film.Since film is made up of single images, the most basic filmic device is montage. In plain terms, montage can essentially be described as the process of editing that is assembling various shots into a certain order.
There ideas are unpacked in Walter Benjamin, in his famous 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction which analysed film and photography. In it he put forward the idea that realism is an inherent quality in film
However, in Life to Those Shadows, Noel Burch argues that films (and were talking about mainstream or commercial films) have a strong tendency to consciously naturalise their storytelling in order to create an illusion of life and he says that this mode of realism has been dominant for so long that today we perceive it not as one of the many ways the development of film narrative could have gone but as an entirely natural evolution of filmic storytelling.
I want to show you a short clip now from the film The Fountainhead…CLICK PICTURE FOR LINK TO CLIPThis clip Rand uses narrative as the delivery system of a philosophical ideology, one by which integrity and creativity will eventually triumph over the retrogressive forces of society.
Anti-narratives question narrative logic, the rational belief in cause and effect that leads to a resolution in the end. One event does not just lead to the next event but opens up a variety of possibilities that are all treated as equally valid.Challenging the traditional conventions surrounding the concept of a narrative, an antinarrative makes use of those conventions to call attention to itself and the practices and modes being used to convey meaning to an audience.
In film is is notable that nonlnear techniques only really entered into mainstream film in the 1990s despite there being a long tradition of avant-garde film.A number of nonlinear plots, films such as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction for example employ a kind of discontinuous and fragmented narrative.
So as I just mentioned there is a long tradition of unconventional editing in avant-garde film.Avant-garde films throughout the 20th century employed unconventional plot structures. Their main objective was to get rid of traditional Hollywood film ‘grammar”.LuisBrunuel, the highly influential Spanish filmmaker collaborated with the Surrealist artist Salvador Dali on Un Chienandalou in 1929. Its 16mins long so I’m just going to show you a short part of it to give you a flavour of itCLICK ON IMAGE TO SHOW FILM (16MINS LONG)So as you’ll have gathered, there is no plot to speak of in this film, time and space are completely dislocated. Objects are taken out of their usual environment ads place in new and provoking surroundings. Any kind of narrative logic is annihilated, the montage is subject to free association.In a way this film makes fun of cinematic space by illustrating and therefore revealing that we are actually dealing with a sequence of film frames and not real space. Therefore , if a person leaves a frame, they can enter any other kind of frame. There is no causal relation between the various shots, the passing of time is relatively meaningless as well.
Around the same time there the French New Wave filmmakers, such as Francois Truffaut were producing films that strove for realism. they blurred fact and fiction, used natural light, actual locations, and often hand held cameras, and they never tried to disguise the fact that the audience was watching a film. They rejected the clear restrictions of the Hollywood narrative on the basis that is was too restrictive.
And as such methods of unsettling assumptions about narrative through multiplicity, simulation, and rupturing of stories has penetrated into all aspects of visual cultures.
For example being John Malkovich is a challenge of the broader frame of narratological structure concerning the relationship between reality and fiction, since the title embeds a ‘real’ actor within a piece of fiction. Being John Malkovich draws attention to the frameworks of representation, as does the recent novel by Sam Mills which explores The Quiddity (or the inherent nature) of the author Will Self, again through a blurring of fact and fiction.
Cultural NarrativesBarthes concern lies with the system and structures in cultural discourses that seemingly move from mythical invention to natural fact Humans are narrative by nature. We become the stories we tell ourselves then believe as the truth. Such stories create a world that is defended because it upholds our identity. Are we therefore leading our lives according to a linear Todorovianstructure?
What are Cultural Narratives?Used to describe and identify the way culture represents or expresses itself, and the narrativising of cultureIt is usually done through any expressive medium, either visual, such as film, tv, literature, or aural, music, radio etcCulture constructs narratives from networks/relations - these relations can include fashion, nationality, colour, art – to literally form a ‘story’ The visual is also invested with cultural narrative through advertising, however this depends on recognition, knowledge, awareness of cultural ideologies. How stereotypes are formed and maintained… Images, art, films etc are constructed through systems and structures such as cultural narratives to produce certain meanings at certain times for certain effects.
It could be argued that we live in a post-narrative world. Postmodernism encourages a distrust of neatly organized narratives
Lynch – Culturally disruptiveCodes, resistance to codes, self reflexiveWhat these signs denote, but alter the code through which they are readWhich signs dominatePossibility to conform, resist and or exploit the preferred sign in a code David Lynch contradicting ideas about; causality, linearity, identity, multiplicities Lynch defies conventional linear narrative and character development to produce films that in their form, differ radically from other films.Yet much of his films content and plot lines are markedly similar: Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), Lost Highway (1997). Thematically they deal with chaos in morality and atypical representations of love (in US society).
Mulholland Drive/Twin Peaks/Lost HighwayNaomi Watts is templated on Sheryl Lee’s character Laura PalmerIn Twin Peaks Lee plays both Laura Palmer and her cousin MadelineIn Mulholland Drive Naomi Watts plays two characters, Betty Elms and DianeIn Lost Highway Patricia Arquette plays Renee Madison / Alice WakefieldThis undermines the concept of double identity through exploiting issues of representation – a different liminal positioning to other films
(Deleuze and Guattari)Memory in films can be used to confirm or disrupt what characters and viewers expect to see.Untrustworthy and falsifying processIn Mulholland Drive memory is continually asserted to problematise the present and make planning the future almost impossible. (The mystery exists because Rita can’s remember her past, and together the two women try to construct what becomes a joint memory).
In Deleuze &Guattari’s terms memory refuses to grow roots and instead continually extends in multiple directions – rhizomatic In A Thousand Plateaus Gilles Deleuze and FélixGuattari theorize a new way of conceptualizing narrative, as a thing with no fixed beginning or end that exists within the non-structural patterns of a “rhizome”.
Diegesis: Refers to the information related by the narrator and many times is comprised of characters thoughts and actions. That is to say, the narrative's time-space continuum. The diegesis of a narrative is its entire created world. Any narrative includes a diegesis. The suspension of disbelief that we all perform before entering into a fictional world entails an acceptance of a story's diegesis.
Pierre HuygheThe Third Memory (1999)A re-creation of the true-life bank robbery featured in the movie Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Huyghe’s probes the capacity of cinema to distort and ultimately shape memory.He blurs the traditional distinction between fiction and reality and reveals the experience of fiction to be as palpable as anything in daily life. For this two channel film The Third Memory he takes as his starting point Sidney Lumet’s film Dog Day Afternoon, staring Al Pacino in the role of the bank robber John Wojtowicz. Huyghe’s film reconstructs the set of Lumet’s film, but he gets Wojtowicz himself (by this time 12 years out of prison, after serving 14 years). He juxtaposes images form the reconstruction with footage from Dog Day Afternoon to demonstrate that Wojtowicz’s memory has been irrevocably altered by the film about his life. Which leads us back to the earlier point that we become the stories we tell ourselves and that we then believe as the truth.
Duncan Campbell reuses archive footage to make dense social and historical narratives. His quasi-documentaries, delve into the question of how to represent history, and how to sift through, recoup or discard the manifold images that history leaves behind. In this film he pieces together photographs of young working class people and depressed neighbourhoods taken in Belfast during the Troubles in the 1970s an 80s. But instead of being the iconic representations of violence and political unrest that come to mind, his images make place for everyday existence; the hairstyles, fashions and aspirations of the moment
Paul McCarthy,Painter (1995) McCarthy’s works are often non-linear forms that carry a social-critical message.McCarthy shifts socio-cultural narrative towards fragmented sense, he moves away from cinematic consciousness towards maniacal dissolution of meaning.CLICK IMAGE FOR FILM CLIP
McCarthyThe Dwarfs, The Forest (2011)19c German folktale Schneewittchen and the 1937 Walt Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As the viewer attempts to assemble the exhibition into a cohesive narrative they must ingest the various purposefully broken parts, including discarded sculpture tools. The narrative speaks of time in direct reference to the very process used to bring each object to fruition along with a reminder of human hands.
Matthew BarneyCremaster Cycle It isn’t a linear narrative, there is a musical narrative on top of a visual narrative, (notably no dialogue.)Barney employs narrative models from other realms such as biography, mythology and geology.
Narrative is a vital aspect of Moffatt's work. Her films and "photo-narratives" use images to build non-linear and open-ended stories. Moffat’s work deals with meta narratives or grand narratives. So what is a metanarrative? It’s story about a story, encompassing and explaining other "little stories" within conceptual models that make the stories into a whole. In postmodern philosophy, a metanarrative is an untold story that unifies and totalizes the world, and justifies a culture's power structures.
Fragments of "found" video footage from British nightclubs are spliced together, repeated and slowed down, while a perfectly edited collage of ambient sounds – snatches of rave tracks, crowd noise, men bellowing across provincial shopping precincts – filters in and out. Periodically a shadowy figure appears onscreen, disturbing the narrative flow.
This passage illustrates aspects of "antinarrative" in that Calvino is clearly aware of the novelistic conventions he is breaking, not just in his manner of addressing the reader, but in also demonstrating awareness of the reading process and the expectations of the "modern" reader.
I thought it would be a good place to end, with a contemporarymanifestion of the notion of performing our own Narrative. Lady Gaga can be considered to be a physical manifestation of revealing the artifice, exemplified through self conscious artitistic form.She reveals the previously unaccessible and unimagined through exposing the fantastically artificial. In her image and performances (both real and fictive) she reveals herself and thus us and all cultures to be artificalconcotions. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way by Nick Knight
What forms a narrative?What types of combinationsproduce differentnarratives?Roland Barthes’ Image-Music-Text (1977) uncoversthe way in which structuregenerates meaning
Cause and effect Fabula and syuzhet The fabula is "the raw material of a story, and syuzhet, the way a story is organized." Since Aristotle (350 BCE, 1450b25) narrative plots are supposed to have a beginning, middle, and end.
Happily ever after…Todorovian principles: equilibrium - disruption -identification of obstacle - pursuit of goal - struggle -resolution of narrative as a positive outcome, toequilibrium.
Director’s Cut The concept of montage as the governing principle of film. Charlie Kaufman Synecdoche, New York (2008)Synecdoche, New York is meta-referential in that it portrays aplay within a play, sometimes also referred to as mise enabyme.
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
The Institutional Mode of Representation The acquired rules and the arbitrariness of filmic construction
Moral NarrativeThe narrative is framedwithin a philosophicalidea: that we are slaves,clones, machines, withina system that milks ourenergies and reproducesus for its own benefit,which signifies politicalexploitation.
Out of Order Anti-narratives question narrative logic, the rational belief in cause and effect that leads to a resolution in the end. One event does not just lead to the next event but opens up a variety of possibilities that are all treated as equally valid. Momus (Nick Currie) Unreliable Tour Guide
Time space (dis) continuum Time is not treated as a fixed entity, but instead is (mis) used as an important tool in the narrative. The story is altered and so is the response of the viewer when the plot is told in a seemingly arbitrary order.
Violations of orthodox continuity The Nouvelle Vague, or French New Wave cinematographers, rejected the clear restrictions of the Hollywood narrative as too dogmatic/restrictive. Some typical features of French New Wave cinema are extended voice-over narrations, out-of-sequence shots, photographic stills, sudden jump cuts, freeze frames and newsreel footage.
Storytelling Björk: Bachelorette (1997)The video portrays a woman who finds an autobiographical book about herthat writes itself. The book is then adapted into a play, which features a playwithin itself.
Pierre Huyghe The Third Memory (1999)Fact, fiction, and memory collide and merge as the re-enactmentscenes, scenes from the Hollywood movie, and television news footage of theoriginal robbery are interwoven.
History throws its empty bottles out the window Campbell’s work juxtaposes the inherent promise of storytelling with the breakdown of narrative and the inevitable disintegration of meaning. He refuses to adhere to formal or narrative conventions. Duncan Campbell Falls Burns Malone Fiddles (2003)
Dissolution of meaning Paul McCarthy, Painter (1995)
Fractured narrative & narrative immersion Mark Leckey Fiorucci made me hardcore (1999)
Narrative made visible "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvinos new novel, If on a winters night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I dont want to watch TV!" Raise your voice-- they wont hear you otherwise--"Im reading! I dont want to be disturbed!" Maybe they havent heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell; "Im beginning to read Italo Calvinos new novel!" Or if you prefer, dont say anything; just hope theyll leave you alone...its not that you expect anything in particular from this particular book. Youre the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything..."
BIBLIOGRAPHYRoland Barthes, Introduction to the Structural Analysis ofNarratives, in Image, Music, Text (New York: Hill andWang, 1977)Paul Ricoeur, Narrative Time, in On Narrative, ed. W. J. T.Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), andPeter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention inNarrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984)