New Perspectives on Narrative and Multimodality

Post-structuralist devotees of Jacques Derrida tout the famous phrase, “il n’y a pas de hors-texte:” there is no outside-text. Interestingly, the phrase is applicable quite broadly depending on one’s interpretation of the phrase “text” and the scope it may encompass. In the field of digital humanities and regarding themes orbiting around the mandate of Stories in Play, the generative, multimodal element of text is embraced through the ways in which meaning is generated. Such is the case in the collection of academic works edited by Page Ruth and compiled under the title: New Perspectives on Narrative and Multimodality. As the collection’s introduction asserts, it has become inadequate to apply a narratology derived from the study of verbal resources alone. Rather, the study of the broad term “storytelling” requires an “interdisciplinary expansion of narratology across the humanities and beyond “(Ruth 1). According to Ruth, the oral performance of a story employs many extra-textual elements that convey meaning such as one’s gesture, movement, expression, etc. (1), and it is on that understanding of the relationship between mode and meaning on which the collection is based.

This annotation focuses closely on one particular article from the collection written by Christy Dena. Dena’s chapter titled, “Beyond Multimedia, Narrative and Game: The Contributions of Multimodality and Polymorphic Fictions” takes a look at the critical landscape of digital humanities and takes up the idea of multimodality and polymorphic fictions. Dena’s article is helpful in its robust examples of multimodal texts such as the urban tourism game You are Not Here, Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233 by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and more. Dena’s article engages in the definition of “multimodality” as proposed earlier by critics Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen, specifically the ways in which multimodality contributes to scholarly engagement with polymorphic fictions. Dena takes up the understanding that multimodality functions as a practice and perspective in which all communication is considered to be multimodal, and she highlights how the analytical skills of this genre are contemporary since a practice that considers meaning to reside in language alone is “no longer tenable” (184). As Ruth mentions, the collection of essays serves to mark a shift away from mode-blindness and to, instead, focus on narratives as multimodal phenomena. For Dena, scholarship must pay attention to the link between multimodality and polymorphic fictions—polymorphic fictions being articulated through “the intra-systemic use of combinations of distinct articulations for meaning” (185). Dena highlights how polymorphic fictions draw attention to the literacy involved in both receiving and creating works that are published or presented across distinct articulations (186). Another important term and consideration offered by this article is the concept of transmedia storytelling, a concept Dena takes up from Henry Jenkins who asserts that in the ideal of transmedia storytelling, that is, a story that unfolds across multiple media platforms, each medium does what it does best and ultimately enhances the narrative (Jenkins 2006 qtd in Dena).

Dena’s article is useful to the consideration of the Stories in Play Initiative because of the comprehensive attention it gives to multimodal storytelling and the space in academic consideration that the ever-changing nature of storytelling affords to the expansion of stories across media and the subsequent expansion of fiction as regarded beyond simply literariness or narrative. Dena offers the reader a summary of many other scholars engaged in the Digital Humanities and as a result her piece is useful to those looking to conduct further research in transmedia, multimodal storytelling and polymorphic fictions. Ruth’s collection as a whole offers a varied collection of essays engaging in multimodality and covers other topics such as fanfiction, the multimodal literary text, video games, speech theory, and semiotics. The shift from text to context, and meaning to medium are prevalent throughout the collection’s contributions leaving the reader with a healthy dose of critical terminology and theory. However, while New Perspectives does well to offer a qualitative summation of the field of multimodality and polymorphic fictional studies, the reader may be overwhelmed by the abundance of terminology and theory, and left invested in the future of scholarly approaches to multimodality.

Works Cited

Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. London: Doubleday, 2000. Print.

Dena, Cristy. “Beyond Multimedia, Narrative, and Game: The Contributions of Multimodality and Polymorphic Fictions.” New Perspectives on Narrative and Multimodality. Ed. Page Ruth. Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2009. Ebook Library. Web. 4 Mar. 2016.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Ed. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2016. Print.

Page, Ruth. New Perspectives on Narrative and Multimodality. Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2009. Ebook Library. Web. 4 Mar. 2016.

Stewart, Sean, Jordan Weisman, and Cathy Brigg. Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233. Philadelphia: Running, 2006. Print.

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