Coyne (Technoromanticism) – Narrativas

This is the narrative of this book, a romance in its own right, the story of how the myths of unity and disintegration have been variously translated into the forms we see in the digital age. Ancient myths of a transcendent reality of the whole and the parts caught in a cosmic antagonism have been transformed through Neoplatonism, rationalism, romanticism, and the technologies of an age enamored with the primacy of information. I will also show that this grand romance, this story of transformation, implicates the adherents of “commonsense” empiricism as much as the extreme devotees of new age technoromanticism. No one is entirely immune from the romantic legacy.

The concept of narrative is important to the theme of this book.1 Why do I present IT commentary as an issue of narrative rather than description or explanation? The concept of narrative need not presume something to be described, nor does it presume artifice or construction. Narratives are evaluated primarily on criteria of efficacy, and their ability to disclose, prior to a consideration of their correspondence with a state of affairs. Contemporary understandings of narrative do not presume some notion of facts in distinction to the elements of a story.2

Narrative operates all the way to the determination of facts. In this area of study, there is no essential computer science in distinction to the stories we construct about computers.

Narratives present as open ended, fully implicated in the hermeneutical circle, the process by which we interpret a situation, a text, an image, a work of art, or a narrative.3 Insofar as narratives follow a structure,4 it is the indeterminate hermeneutical process of excursion and return. There is a position from which the subject of the story departs: Alice ventures from the comfort of the sitting room ( Through the Looking Glass), Pilgrim leaves the city of destruction ( Pilgrims Progress), humankind embarks from the world of the tribe (McLuhan), and the cybernaut leaves the body (in cyberspace narratives). The encounters in the new world, the looking-glass world, the land of temptation, the Gutenberg galaxy, and the virtually real bring one back to the start, which is a world transformed: a world in which one can entertain the possibility of being a part of someone else’s dream ( Through the Looking Glass), the Celestial City is the world redeemed, the electronic age is again the age of the tribe, the disembodied virtual world is informed and challenged by the embodied. The cyclical process applies to the details of narrative as well. In looking-glass world, Alice encounters and reencounters the familiar chess pieces, cats and the paraphernalia of afternoon teas, rendered unfamiliar through various inversions, Pilgrim encounters traits of his former self as virtuous and untrustworthy traveling companions, McLuhan’s Gutenberg world re-presents the interaction of the senses in different measure in each epoch, and the world of the disembodied cybernaut is already invested with the language of the body (front, back, in, out, up, down, prosthesis). The process by which one interprets narratives, and by which one constructs narratives as interpretations, follows the same cyclical structure. One approaches a text from a position, a point of view, a particular set of prejudices, which are transformed through the encounter with the text.

The narrative of this book inevitably bears the same cyclical structure. A conception of the ancient theme of unity and multiplicity provides a point of departure, to which the narrative returns periodically, culminating in the world as presented through digital narratives. But this is not the end of the story. The endpoint is also a rediscovery of the unity theme, transformed through the provocative insights of Lacan, among others, which in turn informs the concept of the hermeneutical circle. Another account of the hermeneutical process implicates the relationship between the whole and the parts: to understand the whole of a narrative you need to construct an understanding from each of the parts, but the parts do not make sense until seen in the context of the whole. By this formulation there is a hermeneutical circle, which presents as a paradox, or a vicious circle, addressed by various hermeneutical theorists.5 So my theoretical position is that of hermeneutics, which will resurface periodically as a means of resolving some of the disputes between the antagonists in the grand narrative, and in the end, the hermeneutical process falls subject to its own scrutiny as an unresolved aporia.

What is the role of information technology in this drama? Information technology is intimately bound to language, and hence interpretation. IT discloses the strengths and limitations of various views of language. It operationalizes, as far as it is able, the correspondence view of language. If words correspond to things, then the words, codes, and symbol strings in a computer can represent the world and construct new worlds. If, by a more contemporary account, language trades in endless chains of reference, within a vast system of self-reference, then the linking of texts in global communications networks (hypertext) speaks profoundly of language and human practice.6 If narrativity is at the core of the information technology world, then IT is subject to the workings of the hermeneutical process but is also disclosive of it. IT brings issues of language into sharp relief in ways unlike other technologies and, in the process, discloses aspects of the themes of unity and fragmentation.

  1. Here I derive the link between unity, narrative, and hermeneutics from P. Ricoeur in Time and Narrative. 

  2. The identification of facts is party to the processes of narrative, the various conventions through which particular parts of a story are corroborated and legitimated. See S. Fish, Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies, 56. See also H. White, Tropics of Discourse, 43. 

  3. See H.-G. Gadamer, Truth and Method, for an explanation of the workings of the hermeneutical circle. I am indebted to Adrian Snodgrass for elucidating the theme of hermeneutics. See A. Snodgrass and R. Coyne, “Is designing hermeneutical?”; A. B. Snodgrass and R. D. Coyne, “Models, metaphors and the hermeneutics of designing”; and A. B. Snodgrass, ”Can design assessment be objective?” 

  4. For postmodernity, the narrative becomes “plastic and manipulable . . . heterogeneous, ambiguous, pluralised” (A. Gibson, Towards a Postmodern Theory of Narrative, 12). Here I begin with “teleological” digital narratives, the ambiguities and ironies of which have yet to be revealed. 

  5. Notably, H.-G. Gadamer, Truth and Method. 

  6. See E. Barrett, Sociomedia: Multimedia, Hypermedia, and the Social Construction of Knowledge.