Intermedial narratives

For a very long period of time, certainly since before the development of the printing press, literary narrative has been closely associated with the world of the written word. Prejudices about memory, preservation, civilization and improvement, like those voiced by Walter Ong in Orality and Literacy, have led to an unnecessary antagonism between, for example, oral and written narratives. Furthermore, concerns about the end of the book, and the loss of deep reading and attention have also been part of the academic rejection that narratives in visual and digital narratives have suffered.

Increasingly, and thanks to the efforts of various scholars, it is becoming clear that narrative occupies a central place in people’s lives. Narrative broadly speaking, as Mark Turner points out, is a key mental process through which people makes sense of the world. Seen in this light narrative is not necessarily literary, “[a]lthough literary texts might be special, the instruments of thought used to invent and interpret them are basic to everyday thought” (Mind 7). For Brian Boyd, who takes narrative to the aesthetic and literary sphere, storytelling is part of our evolutionary history, the way non-genetical information is passed on to younger generations but also an apparatus encouraging sociality, cooperation, attention and ultimately survival. Viewed in this light, narrative and storytelling need not (and will not) be tied to any particular medium. On the contrary, every new medium will necessarily provide a fresh environment ready to be filled with stories.

The explosion in availability of web 2.0 media is proving to be a laboratory for the flourishing of narratives. New platforms appear constantly and become readily adopted by a myriad of users. Literally millions of new stories are told every day on blogging and microblogging sites. Authors have become present in social networks and other digital platforms in order to interact with their audiences and, in return, audiences have engaged more personally not just with the authors and other readers, but also with the stories they follow. Furthermore, stories have stopped being contained in just one medium. Authors are increasingly building their stories through the use of several media whether digital or analogue. The result of this process is what I call an intermedial text. This kind of text is really a collection of texts constituting a larger narrative. Although this seems to imply a degree of narrative fragmentation, content that exists in a single medium might stand on their own, frame, repeat or complement content from other media. Although this poses an aggregate set of work and skills for authors, readers’ level of involvement is amplified. In this kind of texts, readers face the task not only of grasping the narrative on a fenomenological or cognitive level as it usually happens, but also of, literally, finding its parts and pieces and shaping the larger story from them.

Intermedial narrative, which is comparable to convergence media as proposed by Henry Jenkins, is by no means new. The most famous examples of intermedial narrative are movie and TV franchises such as Lost and The Matrix. The business and entertainment side of intermedial narratives have often be used to question its cultural value. Nevertheless, the evident appeal they hold for their audience – who cannot be considered mere consumers – makes it impossible to ignore them. Moreover, it is pressing to begin understanding the mechanisms at play that make these narratives so personally engaging to their readers, and the common set of skills they tap into and/or develop. We might be facing a change of paradigm regarding what deep reading means leaning towards a deep involvement with the stories.

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