Narrating Space/Spatializing Narrative: Where Narrative Theory and Geography Meet (Ohio State University Press, 2016) by Marie-Laure Ryan, Kenneth Foote, and Maoz Azaryahu was my favorite academic read this summer. The book brings together narratology and geography to examine how space works in narrative and how narrative works in space. With a traditional narrative the space of the story world provides a context for the plot. The authors suggest space can play an expanded role outside of the page or screen, contributing to new forms of engagement, emotional investment (especially through objects and spatial contexts) and as an organizing structure; the classic balance of plot, story world, and character can be reconfigured with new narrative possibilities. The authors use the phrase “narrating space” to refer to the notion of space as an object of representation and “spatializing narrative” to refer to the notion of a physically space through which narrative is expressed. This book provides a lively analysis of location-based narratives, street names, historical sites, and museum experiences. By crossing the streams of narratology and geography we can further our understanding of storytelling by drawing attention to the spatialization of narrative. This book makes a significant contribution to the spatial turn in narrative that has been precipitated by new spatial experiences made possible by new technologies of interaction, location, and augmented realty.
Narrative as Virtual Reality 2: Revisiting Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015) by Marie-Laure Ryan is a timely revision of a book that engaged in insightful and technologically saavy narratological analysis across multiple story forms from the pages of books of yore to the immersive virtual environments of the future. Marie-Laure Ryan investigates the question: Is there a significant difference between immersion in a game and immersion in a movie or novel? What are the new possibilities offered by virtual reality? Ryan observes that as a culture we are becoming more concerned with interactivity and less concerned with narrative reverie. She suggests that virtual reality is a metaphor for “total art” and develops a phenomenology of reading based on immersion (akin to narrative) and interactivity (akin to game play). Part IV, “Reconciling Immersion and Interactivity” is a particularly interesting section as it provides a framework for understanding the divide between the production and reception cultures of film vs. games. Ryan has enlivened the debate over whether readers imaginatively participate in the text’s creation or do they simply immerse themselves passively in the world, character, and events of a story.
Featured image: Performance by The Trinity Session, Afropixel Festival (Courtesy Kër Thiossane, Afropixel 2010)