Monday, January 21, 2019

Rock Sheffield

A friend gives me a small pebble that he found at a beauty spot on the edge of town, browny grey in colour and worn smooth by time. It fits snuggly in the hollow of my hand as some pebbles seem to do. To me, and perhaps to him, it is simply a pebble - a gifted pebble at that. I flip it over and it becomes more - there is writing on it. Someone has written Rock Sheffield with a black marker pen and then drawn a blue square with FB inside it. The words re-hide or keep are there underneath as well. Suddenly, or so it seems to me, the pebble carries more meaning. It's face - I refer to it now as the face since it has now become the front of the pebble to me - is a text. And it's a text with a history and a future, both of course much briefer than the total life of the pebble, but still it has been drawn into a new set of relations, a Facebook page (someone set it up I suppose) and a project of finding and re-hiding, a thing with a journey in a human as well as a more-than-human world. Again, I'm thinking with that small pebble, it has become special.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Library of Things

Good ideas, the ones that provide solutions to problems you didn't think you had, are things to celebrate before they become taken for granted. Think of suitcases with wheels - Google tells me we owe that to one Robert Plath, an airline pilot. Of course we wouldn't need wheels if we didn't have so much stuff to lug around. But since we've got them, why not put them to good use and cram them full? I digress. We'd been painting the hall and stairwell, my nephew and I. Bleached Lichen or was it Bleached Linen? The wall from stairfoot to ceiling was a good twelve foot. You could get most of it with some judicious placing of stepladders, staying just on the right side of safe and sensible, but then there'd always be a couple of square feet just out of reach. You need longer ladders, I'd said, telescopic ladders, but he'd never heard of them. Later on the High Street, where we went for lunch, I caught sight of the very ladders - telescopic - leaning against a wall, through a shop window. There! We stopped. Telescopic ladders. And slowly it dawned on us that we were not at a shop, it was the library - Crystal Palace Library, and the random collection of things we were looking at, amongst which were the telescopic ladders, was actually inside the library, part of the library. And, by peering further into the window, our heads wedged against the glass, hands above our eyes to cut the glare, we saw that this was indeed The Library of Things. And that's what I call a good idea. We decided against borrowing the telescopic ladders, but it's still good to know you could.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Metafiction and Black Mirror

Towards the end of his story, Simon Herzog, the protagonist of Binet's postmodern detective satire 'The Seventh Function of Language', begins to wonder if he is really just a fictional character. 'How do you know you are not living inside a work of fiction?' he asks. This sort of literary self-consciousness is a familiar metafictive device and it works well against the backdrop of literary theory and the walk-on cast of poststructural theorists that populate Binet's tale. Something similar happens in 'Black Mirror: Bandersnatch' in which Stefan Butler, an obsessive videogame programmer, suspects that he may be a character controlled by Netflix viewers. Of course, that's partly true, but then the play is in the carefully plotted choose-your-own-adventure story. And just like Binet's use of the device it's a neat fit, Stefan is working on branching narratives as well as being in one. But maybe we, as viewers, are also being 'played' by Netflix, as they learn whether there's a market for this sort of interactive experience. That's an intriguing question. For a while there has been the suggestion that some sort of interactive videogame/film/narrative hybrid is about to break, and of course there have been experiments. The real question is whether Black Mirror goes far enough. Given the possibilities of a more immersive experience through VR might it just end up being a dud - a choose-your-own-adventure story that works well as a 1980s nostalgia piece but little else? Or could it gain enough attention to finance some bolder experimentation, something that moves beyond self-referential fiction into a more developed form? Maybe Netflix already has the answer.