Epic Life: Immersion and Flow, 2

I ended up like this, last time: “the ruleset of knitting is not humanistic because its narrative varies so little.” In this post, I want briefly to explore some of the implications of that statement. Or, really, I want to try it on for size.

First of all, the converse of this formulation implies that humanistic rulesets allow variation in practomimetic performance as a fundamental condition of their provision of humanistic affordances. If I’m right about the meanings of the words I just wrote, that translates to: stories and ongoing storytelling are an absolutely essential element of what humanities does.

Over the Epic Life series to this point, and in the Rules of the Text series before it, I have maintained that the basic activity of humanism is performance within humanistic rulesets, which performance creates new rulesets for subsequent performances. My twin models for this kind of iterative performance, which I have called the Great Chain of Practomime, are the epic tradition and the modern digital RPG. Bringing the discussion of knitting into line with those models may help clarify the relationship of immersion to flow. I’m thinking that if knitting is in some sense the ultimate example of flow, providing as it does a kind of paradigmatic absorption with which we can all identify, even if we’re not knitters ourselves, to isolate its non-narrativity (that is, to ask “Why, exactly, doesn’t knitting tell a story?”) may let us ask other, more interesting questions like “What are the parts of immersion that do tell a story?”

Three of the candidates, as Peter Christiansen really helpfully laid out in a couple of comments on my last post, are “realness,” (which Peter calls “immersion”), engagement, and presence. Note that Peter distinguishes those from immersion, while I describe them as essential parts of it; in the end, that may or may not simply be a question of semantics, where we agree to call what Peter calls “immersion” by a name like “realness” or “virtuality,” and use “immersion” for the juncture of immersion, engagement, and presence. Only further discussion can settle that sort of thing, and I welcome it!

That’s enough for a Wednesday after Memorial Day. Next time, drilling down to the essence of the question “Why, exactly, doesn’t knitting tell a story?” I’m pretty confident that that post will include one of my favorite things: a ridiculous thought-experiment providing conditions under which knitting would tell a story.


  1. Are you sure knitting doesn’t tell a story? What about the rich symbolism of many of the patterns – cable stitch to represent ropes, diamond stitches to represent fishing net mesh, honycomb stitches to represent the rewards of a good life. These and many more were combined in traditional fishermen’s jumpers such as ganseys or guernseys.
    And surely yarn bombing / guerrilla knitting is creating new stories and narratives?

    1. Author

      Oh, absolutely! Thanks so much for the comment, Rebecca–as I carry this on in two weeks, I need to be much more specific about what I mean by “telling a story”! I think every immersive performance, whether it be knitting a jumper, or “reading” a jumper, or reading Paradise Lost, enacts an emergent narrative. The distinction I’m hoping to get at is the point (or perhaps the zone) where the pure flow of knitting a scarf becomes the immersion of knitting a narrative jumper. More soon!

  2. I’ve just come across another example of knitting as narrative and thought I’d share it: ‘Spyn: Augmenting the Creative
    and Communicative Potential of Craft’ -Daniela K. Rosner and Kimiko Ryokai, from CHI 2010.
    I may be wandering away from immersion and flow with this reference – but maybe it points to a different aspect of immersion and flow – the fragments of thought, story and memory that surface as part of the experience.
    I guess that was something that happened as bards produced their stories – they incorporated some of the fragments that came into their minds during their performance.

    1. Author

      That’s wonderful, Rebecca! Thanks so much! Yes–I think that’s exactly it: what made the oral epic rule-set so very immersive was the potential for that kind of development both of the performance and of the ruleset on the fly.

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