Reframing is a process in which one positions an object, idea or event in a new contextual framework, thereby creating a juxtaposition that generates new insights about both the object and the frame. I relied on this process every time I made a transmedial or transdisciplinary move to a new object of study or new mode of production. One of the reasons I was drawn to my new project, Narrative and Neuroscience: The Discreet Charms of Serial Autobiography and Database Narrative, is that it enables me to reframe many of the ideas I addressed in my earlier book Playing with Power.
Reframing Roger Rabbit
MK essay, “Screen Wars: Transmedia Appropriations from Eisenstein to a TV Dante and Carmen Sandiego.”
pp. 160-161, “Reframing Eisenstein’s Analogies. In his 1929 essay, “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram,” Sergei Eisenstein contrasts the Japanese method of teaching drawing with that used in the west, claiming that the former provides a wonderful model in cinema for “the most fascinating of optical conflicts: the conflict between the frame of the shot and the object.” He observes that whereas in the western approach students are given a four-cornered piece of white paper and then asked to “cram onto it” some objects artificially placed in the center, in Japan they are shown the branch of a cherry tree and then asked to cut out “compositional units” from this whole object, with a square, circle, or rectangle, as if “hewing out a piece of actuality with the ax of the lens.” By appropriating his analogue from Japanese culture, Eisenstein not only helped defamiliarize his own approach to cinematographic montage (making it appear a more radical departure from other Soviet and American alternatives) but he simultaneously made it seem universal (since it had analogues in other cultures and art forms). It was not just the conflict between the object and its framing that provided a new resource for dialectic montage but also the way he framed this conflict through a comparison across contextualizing media, cultures, and periods, a process that generated a productive analogy between framing and adaptation. Having demonstrated that frame and object are positions which can be occupied by a wide range of signifiers, he remained open to new analogies, for (like new technologies such as sound and color) they provided raw material for expanding dialectic montage.
p. 162, “This essay will build on Eisenstein’s `promiscuous” use of analogies by reframing it as an ongoing process of transmedia adaptation, in which earlier works are appropriated as a “screen” through which artists and audiences perceive and thereby shape a new medium. While the designated “pair” in the analogy is a temporary point of collision with historical and cultural specificity, it provides access to other multi-directional comparisons that lead us farther afield temporally, spatially, and culturally and thereby destabilize a topography of center and periphery—a strategy that is analogous to the decentered, multi-linear structures of hypertexts that increasingly characterize our own postmodernist period.
For example, Eisenstein’s comparison between Japanese drawing and Soviet cinema could lead us to Chinese classical gardens, which have a conception of framing that is closely analogous to that found in the Japanese approach to drawing—a move that would give greater resonance to Eisenstein’s choice of the cherry branch as his illustrative object. When one enters an architectural structure within a classical Chinese garden, one frequently finds four diversely shaped windows to gaze through, each facing in a different cardinal direction. Like the variously shaped cuttings of the Japanese drawing paper, each window frames the outer landscape in a distinct way and thereby generates a different dialectic conflict. Moreover, the four landscapes themselves are also deliberately cultivated to maximize the differences. Thus, when the spectator turns from one window to another, she experiences a complex montage effect that is analogous to cinema—particularly if that perception has been filtered through a reading of Eisenstein.
p. 180, “By now it may be apparent (especially from the endnotes) that this essay reflexively traces the trajectory of my own career, which began thirty years ago with a dissertation on Fielding’s experimentation in the theater in relation to his novels, and then turned in succession through an ongoing process of “promiscuous” analogic thinking to movies, television, video games, CD-ROMs, and other forms of popular culture. While each new project was screened or reframed through my previous objects of study, they all remain deeply engaged with the ongoing process of transmedia appropriations and transcultural reinscription.
Narrative and Neuroscience: The Discreet Charms of Serial Autobiography and Database Narrative
(a work in progress)
From Chapter 1, An Autobiographical Preface, p. 16-17,
"In A Tale of Two MAO Genes we historicized many of the issues. For example, we included interviews with psycho-pharmacologists, who described how they were laughed at when they were in graduate school, when psychoanalysis was still the dominant approach, and then how those power relations were reversed when there were advances in brain research and neuroscience. Eventually we all get historicized, which means we keep having to reframe our arguments as we tell the next version of our emergent cultural narrative or serial autobiography. This process does not imply that culture is less important than we assumed, but rather that the changes it undergoes must constantly be re-negotiated."
Most important for this book, while working on A Tale of Two MAO Genes, I came to understand new dimensions of Eisenstein’s argument for the creative power of dialectic montage, especially when reframed through neuroscience and its attempts to explain neurodiversity. In a fascinating article in Scientific American by Gil Ast (2005), Chair of Human Molecular Genetics & Biochemistry at Tel Aviv University, he describes what he calls, “the Genetic Splicing Machine.” Here he reverses the analogy that Eisenstein had used in the 1920s (before the discovery of DNA), comparing the creative force of “dialectic montage” with the generative power of the human cell. But in 2005, Ast uses film editing as a metaphor to describe the generative power of genes, claiming we have only recently come to understand how widespread alternative splicing is in complex organisms: “The RNA transcripts of genes that encode a protein are ultimately ...translated into a corresponding linear sequence of amino acids (like building a sentence or narrative).” This editing ability, Ast argues, “significantly increases any gene’s versatility...and helps explain why, mice and men can have such similar genomes, and still be so vastly different.“ In other words, remix is another form of reframing, and it’s this recurring remix that generates new forms of plasticity in molecular biology, which is the basis of neurodiversity. One factor responsible for expanding neurodiversity is epigenetics, the interplay between genes and environment. When originally working on A Tale of Two MAO Genes, we referred to ”introns” (the parts of DNA that didn’t code proteins) as “junk DNA,” but neuroscientists now consider those introns to be important regulators of gene expression, especially in triggering de-novo mutations and determining if and when certain genes are expressed. Clearly this material needed to be reframed.
Reframing Plasticity and Neurodiversity: From
Playing with Power to Interacting with Autism
These issues of reframing neurodiversity and epigenetics became even more central to our latest health science project, Interacting with Autism, a video-based website launched in September 2013. My collaborator and co-investigator Mark Jonathan Harris, and I are frequently asked why we took on this project. As a documentary filmmaker, for him the answer is easy: his grandson is on the spectrum. But for me it was less clear. What I now realize is that these new projects (both the website on autism and the book on narrative and neuroscience) enable me to return to and reframe several key issues from my earlier book, Playing with Power: the role of narrative in the emergence and development of consciousness and the self; the reframing function of serial autobiography; the significance of dreams as an early model of database narrative; and the relations between plasticity and neurodiversity, facial close-ups and joint attention. I hope to demonstrate not only that neuroscience sheds new light on narrative but also that narrative theory and the narrative arts can contribute to neuroscience.