Database as Symbolic Form
After the novel, and subsequently cinema, privileged narrative as the key form of cultural expression of the modern age, the computer age introduces its correlate - database. Many new media objects do not tell stories; they don't have a beginning or end; in fact, they don't have any development, thematically, formally or otherwise which would organise their elements into a sequence. Instead, they are collections of individual items, where every item has the same significance as any other. Why do new media favour database form over others? Can we explain its popularity by analysing the specificity of the digital medium and computer programming? What is the relationship between database and another form, which has traditionally dominated human culture - narrative? In addressing these questions, the article discusses the connection between the computer's ontology - the way the computer's organisation of data represents the world - and the new cultural forms privileged by computer culture such as database. Saussure's notions of the paradigm and the syntagm are used to theorise the relationship between database and narrative. A possible history of a database form in modern media and culture in general is sketched. The last part of the article addreses the tension between database and narrative in the history of cinema. It considers the works of such filmmakers as Peter Greenaway and Dziga Vertov as part of the tradition which can be called 'database cinema'. This cinema tries to merge databases and narrative into a new form, thus anticipating one of the key problems of new media art.