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Run, Isolde, Run

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Articles by Slavoj Žižek

As Walter Benjamin noted long ago, old artistic forms often push against their own boundaries and use procedures which, at least from our retroactive view, seem to point towards a new technology that will be able to serve as a more "natural" and appropriate "objective correlative" to the life-experience the old forms endeavoured to render by means of their "excessive" experimentations. A whole series of narrative procedures in l9th century novels announce not only the standard narrative cinema (the intricate use of "flashback" in Emily Brontë or of "cross-cutting" and "close-ups" in Charles Dickens), but sometimes even the modernist cinema (the use of "off-space" in Madame Bovary) — as if a new perception of life was already here, but was still struggling to find its proper means of articulation, until it finally found it in cinema. What we have here is thus the historicity of a kind of futur antérieur: it is only when cinema was here and developed its standard procedures that we can really grasp the narrative logic of Dickens's great novels or of Madame Bovary.

And is it not that, today, we are approaching a homologous threshold: a new "life experience" hangs in the air, the perception of life that explodes the form of the linear centered narrative and renders life as a multiform flow — even and up to the domain of "hard" sciences (quantum physics and its Multiple Reality interpretation, or the utter contingency that provided the spin to the actual evolution of life on Earth — as Stephen Jay Gould demonstrated in his Wonderful Life, the fossils of Burgess Shale bear witness to how evolution may have taken a wholly different turn) we seem to be haunted by the chanciness of life and the alternate versions of reality. Either life is experienced as a series of multiple parallel destinies that interact and are crucially affected by meaningless contingent encounters, the points at which one series intersects with and intervenes into another (see Altman's Shortcuts), or different versions/outcomes of the same plot are repeatedly enacted (the "parallel universes" or "alternative possible worlds" scenarios — see Krzysztof Kieslowski's Chance, Peter Howitt's Sliding Doors; even "serious" historians themselves recently produced a volume, Virtual History, the reading of the crucial Modern Age century events, from Cromwell's victory over the Stuarts and the American War of Independence to the disintegration of Communism, as hinging on unpredictable and sometimes even improbable chances). This perception of our reality as one of the possible — often even not the most probable — outcomes of an "open" situation, this notion that other possible outcomes are not simply cancelled out but continue to haunt our "true" reality as a spectre of what might have happened, conferring on our reality the status of extreme fragility and contingency, implicitly clashes with the predominant "linear" narrative forms of our literature and cinema — they seem to call for a new artistic medium in which they would not be an eccentric excess, but its "proper" mode of functioning. One can argue that the cyberspace hypertext is this new medium in which this life experience will find its "natural," more appropriate objective correlative, so that, again, it is only with the advent of cyberspace hypertext that we can effectively grasp what Altman and Kieslowski were effectively aiming at.

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