Epic Life: Immersion and Flow, 3

In a comment on my last post Rebecca demonstrated that the thought-experiment of narrative knitting is not at all ridiculous–there are several knitting practices that create emergent stories as they provide meaningful variations on the known patterns. Rebecca cited the symbolism of many of the traditional patterns, and the wonderful practice of yarn-bombing (knit graffiti, more or less) as examples of narrative knitting.

Surely it is the opening of the ruleset to allow what might be called “fictive variation” that makes both these practices (symbolic patterns and yarn-bombing) both narrative and humanistic. To the extent that it is possible to knit unique guernseys based on the available symbols, the knitter is composing in exactly the same way, if on a smaller scale and with very different materials, as the ancient bard. Indeed, the bards both of the Iliad and of the Odyssey would seem to have known of this potential in the manufacture of fabrics–Helen’s weaving in the Iliad and Penelope’s and Circe’s weaving in the Odyssey have clear meta-fictional implications, and almost certainly played a role in the eventual adoption of the long-dead metaphor “text” to describe words woven into a coherent performative whole.

Yarn-bombing opens out the ruleset in a different way, but with a similar result: the variations possible in the way the knitting is placed in the “real world” are what makes the occasion for emergent storytelling arise.

Either way, I want to suggest that knitting becomes humanistic the moment it becomes narrative in each of these instances, and that that humanism comes about in the creation of immersion independent of flow. In fact, it comes about the moment the performance of the knitting and the performance of the “reading” it (examining a guernsey or a tree covered with knitting) become links in the Great Chain of Practomime: both are performances within rulesets that allow a sort of identification beyond the confines of the immediate occasion, and thus present the potential for immersion, whether or not immersion actually occurs in the creation or in the reception of these objects.

One final example will complete this point and launch me towards my next: even without the symbolism of traditional patterns or the transgression of innovative graffiti, one can imagine a knitter, perhaps simply of a scarf, experiencing both flow and immersion. He or she could identify with the ruleset in such a way as to become part of a humanistic tradition of knitting, whether or not the scarf he or she produced showed any sign of that identification. All he or she need do is invest his or her imagination into the act, and think of the scarf as a performance in a humanistic tradition: to remember ancestors who knit scarves, to think of the person who will wear this one.

He or she would be living an epic life, as I define it, through that knitting. Flow, the state of absorption, would be accompanied by immersion, the state of identification.

To continue the argument, then, I must demonstrate the usefulness of understanding immersion that way, independent of flow. The usefulness lies principally in two areas: first, in helping us describe the way designers of rulesets like games use immersion to shape the meaning of player-performances; second, in helping us describe the way more obvious instances of identification (above all, the way players identify with characters) relate to that use of immersion. In my next post, I’ll return to Papo & Yo to give an example.

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