Media Inquiry 3

Databases and Narrative

In his article Databases as a Genre of New Media, Lev Manovich observes that

Many new media objects do not tell stories; they don’t have beginning or end; in fact, they don’t have any development, thematically, formally or otherwise which would organize their elements into a sequence. Instead, they are collections of individual items, where every item has the same significance as any other.

Manovich goes on to suggest that “database and narrative are natural enemies,” and we are going to explore this assertion by looking at the database-structured new media works of Jonathan Harris.

(1) Begin by exploring these two works by Harris: We Feel Fine and The Whale Hunt. After becoming thoroughly familiar with both works, select one to write about for this inquiry.

(2) Grounding your response in some of Manovich’s ideas about “database logic” and the “material” change in narrative that new media affords, analyze the tension between database and narrative in Harris’s work. Be sure to use specific elements of the work (user interface, browsing modes, use of text and images) to support your analysis. Make a case for the work being either predominantly a database or predominantly a narrative, again referring to concrete elements about the work’s form or content. Finally answer these two questions:

  • If we interpret the work as predominantly a “database,” then what is it about on a representational and evocative level?
  • If we interpret it predominantly as a “narrative,” then what is it about on a representational and evocative level?

(3) The media inquiry should be about three typed pages (12 point font, double-spaced) and is due in class on Thursday, November 14. Do not waste space on an elaborate introduction or sweeping generalities; dive right into the analysis of the work as a database or a narrative.