Fall 2019 HC 221H: The Song, the Book, and the Bandersnatch: Interactive Stories from Homer to Netflix

Fall 2019-2020

Professor: David Chamberlain

4.00 credits

  • CRN 12747: Tuesday & Thursday, 10:00 - 11:20 @ CHA 301
  • CRN 17249: Tuesday & Thursday, 12:00 - 13:20 @ VIL 201

This seminar will explore ideas of reader interaction and the reader as creator or controller of the story in western narrative from ancient Greece to the present day. The oldest Greek narratives were crafted as oral performances, which drew from a vast repertoire of pre-coded choices, according to the desires of both poet and audience. The Romans created textual versions of these narratives but programmed into them a range of metaphors for the persona of the author and the participation (even complicity) of the reader. In the modern period, the novel arose as a kind of technological device which seems to stand between the reader and the story, as if a puzzle to be solved. Now, in the internet age, every narrative is a collection of embedded links, and as we make our choices and navigate that network (and as our devices record those choices and use them as proxies for our identity) the user—no longer the reader—grows more and more aware that she, somehow, has become the story.

We will explore this history with particular reference to three rich and influential ancient texts: Homer’s Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Apuleius’ Golden Ass. We will sample a range of more modern novels that offer a sense of reader choice, in particular Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Cortazar’s Hopscotch; we will wonder what happened to the imaginitive hypertext literature of the 1990s, especially Michael Joyce’s Afternoon and Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl; we will be eaten by a Grue in Zork; and we will ask ourselves whether the future of the form lies in experiments in video storytelling like Neflix’s Bandersnatch, or in immersive video game narratives like Firewatch or Nier: Automata. Also, we will each write our own interactive story, either digitally or as a physical artefact.