Introduction: A Fun Crowd-sourced Literary Experiment That You Can Help With
This 'ible is a work in progress. We will update it throughout the process, but we posted it now to give our Instructables readers the opportunity to contribute and collaborate in this project.
To mark the grand opening of the Hive, a new makerspace and creative community resource at downtown Tampa's John F. Germany library, Eureka! Factory will participate in the Deconstruction hackathon. Our contribution will be a crowd sourced literary experiment. Let's get the self-indulgent art school verbosity out of the way first. If you are aware that the emperor is indeed quite naked, then just skip to the next step.
There’s no new tale to tell. Every story is just a retelling of the same archetypal mythologies that we’ve been passing around since the cave days. The hero’s journey, the love triangle, the hidden value or talent revealed- We may dress them up with light sabers, glittery vampire make up, or youthful wizardry but they’re all just echoes of some distant ancestors sitting around the fire trying to make sense of the world around them.
These stories are part of our evolution. They represent the fears and urges that turned us from hunter-gatherers to townsfolk. They offer us hope, balance and justice in a world that often gives none and pass down a surprisingly consistent view of who ‘we’ are, literally through time and space. We see the same basic thematic elements in the folklore of cultures around the globe and throughout our history. These stories are what make us human.
Where do these memetic narrative archetypes come from? Why do we want to see the same story with the same outcome over and over again? If the whole of human folklore can be categorized into a handful of basic thematic equations, what does that say about the nature of creativity?
These ideas have been played with before. J. G. Ballard gave us a near future with ‘writers’ inputting story elements into writing computers. Orwell’s 1984 had the Party producing lurid literature for the proles with automated writing machinery. These authors both posit a future where the basic elements of narrative entertainment have been reduced to a simple enough logical structure to be handled automatically- a literary programming language.
How do we go about hacking the basic symbolic language of archetypal narrative forms?
The Dadaists, and later William Burroughs among others, experimented with ‘cut ups’, where a text was physically deconstructed and rearranged to create new meaning- the literary equivalent of the classic ransom note. Burroughs thought of the technique as a tool for divination to tap into subconscious symbolic associations like some Jungian Tarot. This idea went hand in hand with the growing use of collage and mixed media to expand the possibilities of art and create a new aesthetic that defined the second half of the twentieth century.
This was the initial spark of remix culture where media is filtered into art and made into media again until the two are indistinguishable and context becomes the metamedia. To paraphrase Orwell, If you want a vision of the future, imagine a generations of DJs remixing the same beat – forever. ‘Hip’ is a pop culture Ouroboros. A soup can becomes a masterpiece, an item of clothing is only cool if your in on the joke of just how ‘uncool’ it actually is and Banksy is a thing. The ultimate outcome of this esthetic movement was best summed up by Joel McHale’s character on the TV show Community- “I learned at an early age that if I talked long enough, I could make anything true”.
We’ve reached peak cut up. Consensual reality is in fact remixable- parsed and edited to mean whatever our hopes and fears may project, but still ultimately conforming to the same familiar semiotic patterns lying just below the surface of our conscious minds- the source code of our dreams. Language is a multichannel communications protocol. Not only does it convey the meaning strictly interpreted from the actual words, it also contains a wealth of semantic connotation as well as information about the education level, cultural background, age and world view of the speaker. This metadata exists outside of the grammatical construct of traditional language; a fuzzy, organic layer of secondary communication.
The previous experiments with cut-ups would suggest that the real meaning of language is a fluid thing, dependent on arbitrary rules and situational variables. By remixing and rearranging a random selection of literary samples it may be possible to find emergent patterns within the new text, divorced from the original semantic connections between the literal and subjective interpretations of the actual words. Hacking the metalanguage of the folklore archetypes could be as simple as using the subjective data content of the literary samples to convey meaning rather than the literal meaning.
There may be no new tales to tell, but there’s plenty of new ways to tell them. For the Deconstruction, we want to take the cut up right to the source- the collective subconscious. We will facilitate a collectively curated, crowd sourced narrative experiment.
Step 1: Writing As a Collective
During our grand opening celebration on November 15, 2014 guests will be invited to write a single sentence on an index card. There will be no guidelines given and contributors will be encouraged to delve into their own imaginations to give us a random sentence from an imaginary story. Sentences will also be solicited from our social media network and the comment section of this Instructable. At 7PM EST we will stop collecting contributions and start the task of arranging the collected sentences into some kind of literary form- a story, vignette or poem. Our editorial team, consisting of writers, gamers, library staff and other creatives, will work through the night and the results will be transcribed and posted to our project blog on Sunday, November 15th. We will also update this 'ible to document our collection and editorial process so you can recreate this experiment with your own community.
Step 2: Give Us Your Input
You can help us make this a fun and successful experiment by contributing a sentence in the comments of this 'ible. Don't sweat it- just type the first sentence that pops into your mind. In order to fit the time frame of the Deconstruction, we will only accept sentences posted before 7PM EST on Saturday, November 15th. Come back after 7PM EST on Sunday the 16th to see the results.
Step 3: Saturday Evening Update
Wow what a fun day! We set up at the Hive makerspace for the grand opening and centennial celebration. I had the surreal pleasure of debating labor relations with a very dedicated Andrew Carnegie impersonator who had a snappy comeback to each of my anarchist rabble-rousings. We also managed to collect quite a few sentences which we will organize and assemble into a story at Terri and Steve's house a little later.