1st Panel 10:45-11:45

Mark Abel (Brighton): ‘Jameson, making time appear, and music’

It is a central tenet of many theories of liberation that a shared sense of history is a prerequisite for popular movements of radical change. For Fredric Jameson in The Valences of the Dialectic it is the artwork – in particular, the work of literature – which provides the paradigm for ‘making time appear’ as historical narrative, and it is postmodern literary techniques which are best able to do so in a way which avoids the pitfalls of historicism.

This paper will critique Jameson’s argument for a postmodern aesthetic of historical narrative by considering the extent to which another temporal artform – music – is also capable of making time appear. How might Jameson’s distinctions between modernist and postmodernist literary aesthetics be applied to music? Is music capable of performing a narrative function equivalent to literature’s, and if so, what kinds of temporal features are best suited to this role? Or do music’s particular temporal qualities allow it to go beyond the narrativism of literature in generating a more fruitful kind of collective historical consciousness?

Mark Abel is a senior lecturer on the Humanities Programme at the University of Brighton. His area of interest is the relationship of musical aesthetics to theories of social and political change and he is the author of Groove: An Aesthetic of Measured Time (Brill, 2014).

David Francis (UCL): ‘Who’s afraid of large, loose, baggy monsters? In defence of realist narratives in museum exhibitions.’

During the 1990s museums experienced what can be described as a narrative turn. Exhibitions began to be designed to tell a story, constructed around a linear plot that built towards a climax. Techniques were borrowed from theatre and architecture to create immersive spaces, whose stories unfold as visitors move through them. Knowledge itself was reconceptualised not as objective and absolute, but as one among many narratives that were socially-constructed and interpreted in the mind of the knower. This was in sharp contrast to the previous model for museums exhibitions, which envisaged them primarily as tools of reference – encyclopaedias made material in space.

This narrative model for museum temporary exhibitions is still dominant in the second decade of the twenty first century. Yet it faces an increasing number of challenges from different disciplines. Proponents of constructivist theories of learning argue that the imposition of a single curatorial narrative encourages passivity in the visitor rather than active critical engagement with an exhibition’s subject matter. Furthermore, Ludologists have argued that in our increasingly digital age, narrative is now an outmoded concept, and that the game is the underlying format that shapes new forms of media, including exhibitions.

Drawing on qualitative interviews and video observation conducted at three British Museum temporary exhibitions, I explore how the pre-existing narratives visitors bring with them to a museum interconnect with the narratives encoded in exhibitions by museum professionals. Using Bathes concepts of the proairetic and hermeneutic codes, I aim to understand what it is that compels us to visit exhibitions and engage with their narratives. Far from constraining visitors’ intellectual freedom, I argue that the framework of the linear narrative allows visitors to create their own interpretations, which may well be at odds with those the museum wishes to present.

David Francis is a PhD candidate in the field of Museum Studies at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. His research focusses on the role narrative plays in the museum, with the British Museum acting as my case study. More information about his research can be found here.

Sumaya Kassim (Open University): ‘Archives of Memory in Final Fantasy IX’

Videogames are a unique medium for exploring the relationship between philosophy and narrative – abstract notions, such as time, memory and destiny are made concrete through devices like on-screen choices, forked paths and alternative endings. Even purely linear games let us “correct” mistakes or “bad” choices the player may have made through the conceit of “continues”, re-loading a save or restarting the console. No other medium allows you to make such choices and accommodate them in the narrative as you experience it for the first time. Game makers have long been aware that this creates a unique opportunity for exploring philosophical notions of free will and choice as it relates to narrative.

Although all videogames are narrative driven in some sense, role playing games (RPGs) are well known as a genre primarily driven by storytelling rather than gameplay. Final Fantasy is one of the most internationally recognisable RPG series of all time. This paper will explore the notion of free will and the archive in Final Fantasy IX. As a game which signalled the end of the Final Fantasy games on the original PlayStation, Final Fantasy IX is a retrospective of the franchise. Using Derrida’s notion of the archive as a space in which the ‘not yet’ inhabits, I will consider the many ways archives, history and memory are utilised in Final Fantasy IX. The game explores the series’ own mythologies, histories and genealogies, and shows a deep abiding concern for what the future – both the future of its characters and the future of the RPG form. In its self-conscious interrogation of the form, it meditates on the purpose of memories, the function of an archive, and on the debate between free will and determinism. In effect, this paper will examine the underexplored crossover between narratology and one of the most popular mediums of our time.

Sumaya Kassim is a PhD candidate at the Open University studying Caribbean literary archives at the British Library. She gained her Masters at Queen Mary University. Her research interests are diverse, and include theories of the archive, postcolonial sexualities, narratological approaches to literature and culture, and videogame’s sketchy relationship with philosophy.