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The Fragmented Digital Gaze: The Effects of Multimodal Composition on Narrative Perspective

Skains, R. L. (2016). The Fragmented Digital Gaze: The Effects of Multimodal Composition on Narrative Perspective. Qualitative Inquiry, Special Issue: Hypermodal Inquiry, 22(3), 183–190.


As society as a whole moves more and more into the multiplicative frames of the digital world, it is important to understand how using these interfaces affects how we think and how we communicate. In this article, the focus is on a creative genre of human communication: narrative. Emerging technologies have historically had various impacts on narrative fiction, from the emergence of mimetic narratives in novel form, to the camera’s influence on techniques such as flashback, and character gaze and perspective. These technologies can be seen to engage in an authorial partnership with the composer, “collaborating to create new media,” new narrative forms and practices. The specific affordances of digital media introduce multimodality, polylinearity, and reader/player interaction to fiction; the practice of composing such multimodal works affects narrative perspective, leading to fragmented and layered narration, metalepsis, and “unnatural narrators.” This article presents research based in the practice of creating a multimodal project, Færwhile (the digital component of this article), examining the progression of narrative perspective from mimetic to unnatural, analyzing the various narrative perspectives. While Richardson argues that the postmodern narrative perspective (utilizing contradictory, permeable, and dis-framed narrators) leads to “postmodern unreliability,” this examination of the Færwhile multimodal narrative will argue that a cohesive voice and its communicated metaphor can be created from the layering of disparate narrative perspectives. The effects described herein have implications for digital engagement and communication on a wider scale, as we attempt to understand how our rapidly evolving technology is also effecting change in our cognition, composition, and understanding of events communicated in digital spaces.

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