Databases and Narratives: symbiotic enemies?

“The Database” by¬†Lev Manovich left me wondering what it is I had just learned about. For me, the entire piece was confusing, probably due to my extremely limited understanding of databases and “new media” to begin with. But one thing that left me particularly confused was the relationship between databases and narratives.

Essentially, I understood that a database was a collection, while a narrative was a story. Manovich explains that “the database represents the world as a list of items, and it refuses to order this list. In contrast, a narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events)” (pg 224). Because of these definitions, he says, databases are¬†enemies with narratives. This dichotomy made sense to me.

That is until Manovich says that “regardless of whether new media objects present themselves as linear narratives, interactive narratives…they are all databases” (pg 228). How can a narrative be both a database and an enemy of a database?

The relationship became even more confusing when Manovich began discussing databases and narratives in terms of paradigms and syntagms. This description made it seem like the two things were very intertwined, and that one came out of the other’s existence. He says that “the database of choices from which narrative is constructed (the paradigm) is explicit, while the actual narrative (the syntagm) is explicit. New media reverse this relationship” (230).

To me, the author is trying to argue that narratives and databases are simultaneously opposites, symbiotic, and in competition. Is this what he actually meant, or am I missing the link between all of these relationships?

This image of a crocodile and a bird somewhat illustrates this confusion. It is a symbiotic relationship, but the two animals seem like they would actually be enemies. Is this what Manovich was trying to say?

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