data maps and a re-asserted narrative structure

In reading Simanowski and Mamber for this week (and Manovich last week), I can’t help but be repeatedly reminded of Fredric Jameson’s notion of postmodernity as being without historical referent: the capabilities of technology have removed linearity and allowed a simultaneous dispersal  and compression of information. If modernity still relied on the historical imperative of industrialization to connect it (through exploitation) to nature, postmodernity’s database removes that link (OK, fine…practically, we still need to exploit nature for stuff…that’s not what I’m talking about here.) Echoing Manovich, Simanowski notes the “endless and unstructured collection of images, texts, and other records” (qtd 160) that make up the database. And it does follow that our aesthetic would shift as well. We don’t just see in these maps. Work becomes winkingly self-referential, relying on the audience’s internal database of meaning (for example, an episode from The X-Files that pokes fun at David Duchovny’s work on Twin Peaks relies on the audience’s ability to recall both.)

The re-imagining of data as art (real-time, malleable art no less) does seems to follow this aesthetic shift. At the same time, doesn’t this re-structuring of the de-structured affect content? Simanowski seems to say no (even with that head nod to McLuhan that form is content) because the underlying data still exists. The map only represents the data in a different way. I’m not sure I buy that completely, especially since Mamber’s work in mapping The Birds fundamentally alerts the experience of that piece. The same could be said of any data-based narrative map because it flattens the narrative (imagine the same thing being done with a movie like Psycho that relies on the ending’s big reveal.) A similar narrative map of Memento that tells the story forward would drastically change the story and the analysis that could be done of it.

This isn’t by way of simply saying that “this is new and I don’t like it.” But these visualizations and networks seem to reassert the narrative even as Simanowski suggests that they do not. It seems that even in the seemingly structure-less age of the database, narrative reasserts itself in ordered imagery.