Friday, November 6, 2015

Two Thoughts about Computation and Narrative

These notes are quick and dirty, and likely a bit obscure. In truth, they’re more for my use than for public consumption. Still, they might suggest something to you. I just want to get them on the record and putting them online is a way of emphasizing them to myself.

Diagrams and the visual

As a first approximation, I’ll say that what is depicted in the visual description of the formal features of texts are computational features of texts. This is most obvious in the case of tree diagrams representing how the text is divided into substrings, which shows the broad temporal structure of the computation. But I believe it is true of other types of representation as well.

Or, to turn it around, identifying textual features that can be diagrammed in an interesting way is a way of identifying computational aspects of texts. Some of this has to do with what I call the armature of the text, taking the term from Lévi-Strauss on myth. On armature, see Literary Morphology: Nine Propositions in a Naturalist Theory of Form, URL:

Diagrams built of simple elements combined in a few ways have computational properties or, if you will, are a good way to represent computational properties. Hence the link between diagrams as descriptive devices and the notion of literary form as being computational in kind. See an encyclopedia article I wrote some years ago on “Visual Thinking”, URL:

Everything Counts

In my notes I’ve got a moderately detailed record of what happens over two episodes (6 & 7) in an anime series, Little Snow Fairy Sugar. Exactly what happens, but generally there’s a quarrel between friends and then a reconciliation. The quarrel was based on a misunderstanding. The episodes show how the misunderstanding happened and how it got cleared up.

My notes follow these events blow by blow. They take the form of who saw what, what they inferred, and so forth. There’s nothing particularly subtle or deep about these events. Everything is obvious. The episodes are rather didactic in they way they show how friends can misunderstand one another and then make-up.

If it’s all so obvious, why did I bother to step through the episodes scene by scene, writing down what happens? Because I wanted to see exactly how things happened. What happens in the story is also a sequence of events, one after the other, presented to the viewers’ minds. That sequence thus gives us clues about how the mind works.

More generally, I’m always simply attending to what happens in any narrative, step by step. I’m fascinated by the sequential details. That’s what we’ve got to attend to if we want to know how narratives work. We’re too greedy for “meaning” to pay attention to underlying processes.

Wikipedia entry for Little Snow Fairy Sugar:

Note: LSFS is dripping in cuteness. But the series deals with a series matter. The protagonist is an eleven year old girl, Saga, who is still grieving for her mother; she died in an accident when Saga was young.

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