Postcard Narrative

“Stick any two postcards to a wall and you’ve got a narrative.

-Iain Sinclair and Dave McKean, Slow Chocolate Autopsy, p.88

This quote jumped out at me from a book that, for the most part, I was having a hard time keeping my interest in (after struggling through a couple chapters I ended up just reading all the parts that McKean did as comics).

The idea of putting two images to together and having a narrative is really the basics of comics. The viewer fills in the gap between image one and image two. In his Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud calls this “closure” and lists six different types of transition from one image to the next. Two postcards next to each other would most likely be of his type six, non sequitur.

Closure of a slightly different sort is also used in film and television when we fill in the image between frames or pixels, but this is a more passive version. Any narrative, though, can be produced with requiring a heavy element of closure by the audience. These are the parts where we (the audience, reader, viewer) have to fill in the gaps.

This is a vital part of good literature. If a novel tells the reader everything explicitly, point-by-point, something is lacking from the power of the story, I find there is a proportional relationship between the amount of closure I need to put into a novel and the amount of enjoyment I get from the work. At the low end of this spectrum is so-called “popular” literature which requires less work and gives me less enjoyment. Above that are the “literary” novels and then the ones that require a bit more work (like Robbe-Grillet or Queneau). The scale peaks with works like William Gaddis’ JR, which requires a high level of closure–thanks to the pages of unattributed dialogue (the reader has to figure out who is who) and his tendency to show the passing of large amounts of time through implicit clues–and offers a higher level of reading satisfaction. Of course past the peak is the decline where so much information is missing that I just get frustrated and give up, not wanting to put that much effort into the book over such a long time (this is where I’d put Burroughs’ cut-up novels).

What interests me here is the potential for the two postcard narrative as a generative device. To put images next to each other and create some kind of narrative that is coherent but requires a maximal amount of closure by the reader. I’m considering some way to use the online photo-sharing site Flickr to randomly select images to juxtapose as a basis for a written narrative. This would provide an almost limitless deck of cards, so to speak, to work with in a similar way to Calvino’s tarot novel. Another replacement for the mystical inspiration.