In trying to answer the question of ‘what is a narrative environment?’, the work of Arthur Danto, and particularly The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (1981), as well as that of Susan Sontag, particularly her essay “Against Interpretation” could prove useful.
A narrative environment has a form, a content and has the intention of creating a certain kind of awareness in a particular audience.
Awareness of the relationship between language and perception in narrative environments may be heightened by paying attention to Danto’s thought experiment concerning a series of perceptually indistinguishable canvases painted monochrome red, but bearing different titles.
Danto argues that each canvas is a different work of art, relying on different interpretations. The point he is making is that whether an object is a work of art, or what work it is if it is a work of art, cannot be discerned by merely looking at it.
Relational properties, including those bearing on the work’s origin, its cultural and historical context, are as crucial to its identity as are its intrinsic or structural properties.
The same argument can be applied to narrative environments: whether an environment is a narrative environment, or what narrative environment it is if it is a narrative environment, cannot be discerned by merely looking at it. Relational features are as crucial to its identity as are its intrinsic or structural properties.
In addition, for many if not all narrative environments, looking will be supplemented by other modes of sensing and perceiving, each of which will bring additional dimensions of meaning production into play.
Danto, A. (1981). The transfiguration of the commonplace: a philosophy of art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lamarque, P. (2010). Work and object : explorations in the metaphysics of art. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Sontag, S. (1966) Against interpretation and other essays. New York, NY: Picador