The Genre of the Database Prof. Alvarado MDST 3705 26 February 2013
Business• We will have class on March 7th – My conference has been cancelled – Our schedule will change some
Review• Last week we looked at how texts can be modeled by relational databases – The Princeton Charrette Project – Colby’s study of folktales (implicitly)• The database allows us to reverse engineer the text into a set of tables – The text becomes a database – What is usually called the text becomes just another view – Many other views are possible
Interactive view of the Charrette poem
A "hypergraph" ofthe samedata, showingrelationshipsbetween charactersand figures.
A graph of words, classified by themes (Colby)
Colbys data model DICTIONARY TEXT THEME (Links words to(WORDS) themes) VIEW of THEME in TEXT
These are all “views” of a databaseViews are created from databases through queries and algorithmsThey “emerge” from the database
The Database as Symbolic Form
What is a symbolic form?
A symbolic form is a cognitiveframe that links thesocial, psychological, andtechnical practices of a culture.Symbolic forms internalize andexpress worldview. For example, the idea of perspective in the Renaissance
Linear perspectiveA mathematical system forcreating the illusion of space anddistance on a flat surface. Thesystem originated inFlorence, Italy in the early1400s.
What kind of worldview is expressed by linear perspective?
Humanism, or Rational IndividualismRational• Use of geometryIndividual• Paintings are literally from an individual’s point of view• But objective too Vitruvian Man, da Vinci, circa 1487
The Battle of Wagram (July 5–6, 1809) was one of the most importantmilitary engagements of the Napoleonic Wars and ended in a decisivevictory for Emperor Napoleon Is French and Allied army against theAustrian army under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen. The battle virtually spelled the destruction of the FifthCoalition, the Austrian and British-led alliance against France. PERSPECTIVE CAPTURES THE INSTANT
Another kind of symbolic form is “montage”
Muslin painting of Battle of Little Big Horn done by Dakota artist, Kicking Bear, circa1896. 1026.G.1. From the Irvin S. Cobb Collection (Southwest Museum of the AmericanIndian, Autry National Center) MONTAGE CAPTURES THE EVENT
Compare to photography, thequintessential realist form
Which is more real?
Symbolic forms arelike Colby’s culturalmodels TEXTS, IMAGES, etc.
How can a database be a symbolic form?
Database as Symbolic Form• Order does not matter (“random access”) – Tables are meant to be sorted and filtered – Tables have no natural beginning or end• All records functionally equal – There is no fixed hierarchy of entries in a table• Boundaries between objects are blurred – For example, a table of texts will mix them up
Database as Symbolic Form• These characteristics infuse all media forms that make use of databases• This includes many things: – Web pages – Social media – CDROMs – Games – Archives and Thematic Research Collections• Effects include: mash-ups, retweets and reblogs, lists of links, etc.
Database as Symbolic Form• At a deeper level, Manovich argues that databases produce a radical structural transformation in media – Databases expose the paradigmatic level that is normally hidden – Make the syntagmatic level ephemeral, where normal it is fixed and dominant• To understand this, you need to know something about structuralism – Closely related to semiotics, the study of signs
Structuralism can be used to describe the media forms studied and created by scholars Books and paintings, for example, are syntagmatic expressions of cultural paradigms However, these cultural forms present only syntagm, not paradigm
? ?paradigm syntagm ?
Digital media are differentParadigm can be exposed as well This is a big deal
In other words, when an artist creates a story, painting, or film, the paradigmaticparts – notes, index cards, raw footage -- are usually lost Thrown away or in the headBut with digital media, this stuff becomes part of the work itself
In a game like Civilization IV, the “Civilopedia” governs playThe “board” is the interface to the database
In a game like Skyrim, the databaseunderlies all decisions
The game is an interface to the database
Playing the game is interacting with the database
The database is foregrounded andconstant, whereas the narrative – theoutcome of playing – is variable andephemeral
This is true of most games – this is how youcreate something in Minecraft
Manovich’s argument is that with digital media, paradigm is bothmaterialized and foregrounded, and this shapes how we thinkOne effect is that digital media make narrative problematic
Table of Symbolic FormsSYMBOLIC FORM PARADIGM SYNTAGM WORLDVIEWLinear Perspective Backgrounded Fixed snapshot of Individual a single eventTraditional Backgrounded Fixed sequenceNarrative of many eventsMontage Projected onto Collocation of Social syntagm many eventsDatabase Foregrounded Dynamic, ephemeral result of interaction
Would Dante today spend histime creating a database ofClassic Greece, Rome, andChristendom?
Does narrative matter?
Narrative• Narratives oppose database logic – Order matters – There is a “sense of an ending”• The “database” is internal, unexposed – In the head of the author• The result of an internal algorithm – The author’s in the act of writing
Tragedy and Comedy different modesnarrative resolution. C there be tragedy database
This is the problem faced by digitalhumanists in creating digital archives of primary source materials
Do archives do violence to the work theyrepresent? Do they have advantages totraditional forms of remediation, such as the critical edition?
Is there a good fit between Whitman’s work and the form of the database?
According to Folsom, yes: “Not only is Whitmans work rhizomorphous, so also is a database.” And Price: “If the Walt Whitman Archive resembles a database …so, too, does Whitman’s own process of composition.”
Folsom also asserts:“What we used to call the canon wars were actually the first stirrings of the attach of the database on narrative.” (1574) What do you make of this?