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Storytelling as metaphysics

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Could linear Aristotelian narrative be seen as a metaphysical system? And if yes, what sort of new metaphysic are we constructing when we experiment with non linear narratives in digital documentaries? The following extract from an interview that artist Tobias Hülswitt did with Ray Kurzwiel in 2008 made me think a lot… Here is the extract:

Tobias Hülswitt:

In my opinion, the Aristotelian way of storytelling, i.e. storytelling that’s

based on Aristotle’s Poetics, which was brought to perfection in Hollywood,

is a metaphysical system. First because the storyline functions as the

literal metaphysics above the characters and the action, since everything in

the narration has to obey the storyline. Secondly because the storyline

represents the superior order, in which everything, even the death of the

character, makes sense, since it supports the dramaturgy. Thirdly because

Aristotelian storytelling contains the assumption that there is a true self, an

inner core, to the story – if you take away all the scenes, there is still the

inner strong idea, the true self of the story, it’s just not embodied anymore,

it became an animus, a specter or ghost. People are stories too. People

who are told stories in the Aristotelian way tend to believe they have a true

self. The same goes for nations. The true inner self is another

metaphysical concept. Many problems arouse from these concepts. (For

example a general life panic.) – Now if you look at youtube as a narration,

that’s different. There’s no true inner self, if you take away all the ‘scenes’

or narrative units, there’s nothing left. Everything can be replaced. Is that

the narrative of the future?


If you look at phenomena like youtube or blogs, they are tapping into a

wisdom of crowds, which is not directed as an Aristotelian concept of a

story. It is self-organizing instead, but it ends up having a lot of wisdom. So

any one blog might be just series of flames, but the whole blogosphere is

very powerful in uncovering the truth of a situation. And Google doesn’t

have its library to decide what link is going to come up when you search an

elephant – it’s a self-organizing system that is based on the decisions of

millions of people. It’s really tapping into the wisdom of crowds. So these

new technologies are actually allowing us to create a supermind from all of

our minds, which can outperform the most brilliant mind. There’s not that

much difference between different people, but if you can actually tap

thousands of millions of people it leads to insights that would be impossibly

any other way. There are limitations to storytelling, I mean, Hollywood for

example, there’s a certain Hollywood paradigm, like love wins in the end,

and certain rules, and you can pick out the story that will come out in the

end based on those overriding concepts. Real life tends to be messier than

that. But people have some idea of the narrative of their own lives, they

tend to overlook some of the real complexity of their lives based on the

narrative that they tell themselves. And I think we can come to deeper

insights by looking at the messy reality of the world. There is a content that

goes beyond just the videos on youtube and the content of blogs, it’s

interacting with each other and it’s self-organizing, and it does come to

some deep insights.

Extract taken from an interview with RAY KURZWEIL (Boston, January 10, 2008) done by Tobias Hülswitt  (full interview available at )

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 1st, 2010


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