Literature and Media: Productive Intersections

by Magdalena Cieślak (Volume editor) Michał Lachman (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 224 Pages


This volume reflects on the complexity of relations between traditional and new media. Articles collected here focus on the increasing dynamism and fluidity of dependencies between literature, visual arts, digital media, or internet artistic projects. They analyse the abrupt evolutions of the media through which art is made available to the public, as well as describe the changing status of audiences and viewers within the new communicative paradigms. Verging on the non-human, computer-generated, or virtual reality, texts and projects analysed here provide case studies for a better understanding of the contemporary cultural reality whose most significant feature is the fact that it is an inherent part of our everyday experience.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Word, Image, Visuality: Creative Confrontations (Michał Lachman and Magdalena Cieślak)
  • Writing Experience: Textual Construction in Contemporary Multimodal Performance (Andy Lavender)
  • The Demon Drink: Charles Dickens and George Cruikshank at a Literary and Graphic Intersection (Wojciech Klepuszewski)
  • Reworkings of an Icon: Hector Pieterson, Intermedial Adaptations, and Transmedial Narratives (Ewald Mengel)
  • The Cyber-Poet or the “Ghost in the Machine?” Computer-Generated Poetry and the “Virtual Muse” (Ana Pușcașu)
  • “Mimmo Perella Is No More:” Cadaveric Imagery and Poetic Verse in Tony Harrison’s Film-Poem (Agata Handley)
  • Remediating the Memory: Posthuman Medialities, Poetry and Geophilosophy in an Intermedial Project Letterfrack Poetry Trail (Katrzyna Ostalska)
  • When “Words, Words, Words” Become Image: Intermedial Translations of Shakespeare on the Twenty-First Century French Stage (Nicole Fayard)
  • The Second Lives of Performance: Selected Examples of Recording, Archiving, and Reinventing Live Arts (Edyta Lorek-Jezińska)
  • The 2019 Kargi Theatre for Development: Experience and Multi-Media Realignment for Sustainable Community Development Actions in Nigeria (Daniel Steve Y.)
  • Transmedia Adaptations by Pemberley Digital (Izabela Rudnicka)
  • Going Digital vs Going Mainstream: Macbeth in the Digital Era (Kinga Földváry)
  • For the New Novel. Interfaces of Literature and Media in Marisha Pessl’s Night Film and Eli Horowitz’s The Pickle Index (Bartosz Lutostański)
  • Contributors

←6 | 7→

Michał Lachman and Magdalena Cieślak

Word, Image, Visuality

Creative Confrontations

The intention behind selecting articles for this volume has been to reflect on the complexity of relations between traditional and modern media. The increasing dynamism and fluidity of dependencies between conventional literature, whose central concern is still the word, and visual arts, digital media or internet artistic projects define limits of producing art and engaging with it in new ways. The abrupt changes of the media through which art is made available to the public, as well as the evolving position and status of audiences and viewers, necessitate the assumption of multidimensional and intersectional theories and methodologies. The chapters in this volume reflect precisely on this aspect of modern culture and theoretical concepts employed in its analysis. Actively engaging with social and cultural environments, artists and their works as well as audiences and their tastes relate to multiple interpretative contexts, dependent on powers or tensions lying far beyond the scope of any single artist’s or viewer’s analytical capabilities. Verging on the non-human, computer-generated, or virtual reality, texts and projects analysed here provide case studies for a better understanding of the contemporary cultural reality whose most significant feature is the fact that it is an inherent part of our everyday life on which it critically comments.

The composition of the volume reflects the logic of evolution from word-oriented projects to digital presences of art, artists, and viewers. The first section, “Between Word and Image: Visual Translations,” discusses works that combine written texts with various forms of visuality. The effect of such a relation is the multiplication of interpretative perspectives in which ideas and concepts are represented in different media and adapted to different formats of reception. Viewers are thus challenged beyond merely absorbing senses from a printed page; they are invited to encounter content of composite visual, aural, or performative nature, and engage with physical, phenomenological, and performative capacities of texts. For Andy Lavender, this “combination of media” constituting performative scene for art and theatre provides a “necessary liminality” that exposes the natural “inherent plurality” of contemporary intermediality (“Writing Experience: Textual Construction in Contemporary Multimodal Performance”). Intermediality challenges the traditional and rigid relation between the audience and the work of art and, activating varied senses and communication channels, ←7 | 8→makes for a more situated experience or, as Lavender points out, moves towards “the concrete, the actual, the phenomenal” of human experience.

It is important to see this feature of today’s art as a reflection of our natural habitat, in which orientation in multimodal, layered experience has become the standard demand for proper navigation through reality. Analysing three intermedial, site-specific artistic projects, Lavender not only shows to what extent art remains “contingent on space, place, and experience,” but also proves that art has the power to convey “embodied” experience of a “witness,” which naturally defines a deep and reliable form of engagement. The audience’s perspective marks also the expanded limits of reception and possible reinterpretation through time and different media. Especially when the reason behind such adaptations of a theme or motive is an individual or communal tragedy, the multiplication of images, their proliferation, and dissemination through various representations acquire a particular topicality and reflects back on public emotions.

Sometimes, an accidental photo of a single event or action leads to an overwhelming social response and simultaneously triggers a chain of reinterpretations and adaptations. The original image rises to the status of “iconicity” and is subsequently “appropriated” and “manipulated” by artists and news outlets (Ewald Mengel, “Reworkings of an Icon: Hector Pieterson, Intermedial Adaptations, and Transmedial Narratives”). The 1976 photo of Hector Peterson by Sam Nzima shows a dead body of a schoolboy who was shot by the police during school protests against apartheid cultural policy in Soweto. Apart from the human and political tragedy that the photo refers to, what is fascinating about this medial event is the process in which it turned into, as Mengel observes, the “phenomenon of iconicity” incorporating and attracting a number of “transmedial narratives.” What is more, its initial fame is both nurtured and challenged by the artists who adapt its theme and form for their own purposes, recontextualising the original background story for the particular moment in time that they wish to confront. This is particularly clear in the case of The Children of Soweto, Mbulelo Mzamane’s fictional memoir. The novel attempts, in Mengel’s words, to “rewrite” the iconic history of Hector Pieterson by deliberately mixing fact and fiction. In this competition between visual media – photography or art – and a traditional novel the point of similarity is that of fictional manipulation of reality. Although new media possess greater power of influencing audiences, they might be accurately checked for their factual reliability by such skilled “counter histories” as Mzamane’s novel, which, by operating according to its own rules of fiction, exposes the omissions and misinterpretations that have been generated by the original iconic photo. Thus, Mengel advocates the importance of literature ←8 | 9→for its ability to take a “critical stance” and for breaking the monopoly of the “visual media.”

Adaptations that aim both at multiplying the artistic effect of the original and amplifying the didactic impact of the message are also interesting examples of multimedia treatment of a socially significant theme. A good case in point are Charles Dickens’s “The Drunkard’s Death” or The Bottle (1847) and The Drunkard’s Children (1848), George Cruikshank’s etched plates representing the downfall of a drunkard and addressing the issue of temperance (Wojciech Klepuszewski, “The Demon Drink: Charles Dickens and George Cruikshank at a Literary and Graphic Intersection”). Dickens’s interest in representing alcohol consumption and its abuses reflects the general didactic tendency of the epoch and relates to a number of recognisable maladies of the times, like madness or neurosis. Inspired by William Hogarth’s famous didactic stories depicted in the form of copperplate etchings, Cruikshank followed with his pictorial depiction of the alcohol malady, tracing individual stages of decline. Using visuality to illustrate the same social affliction that had been illustrated by Dickens in his stories provides an interesting example of collaboration between artists keen to contribute to the debate on a sensitive topic. What is more, the visual representation of the topic whose earlier presence was dominated by the literary medium expands its circulation and accessibility to the general public. In an abbreviated and concise form of a cycle of images, Cruikshank’s plates built a visual narrative more likely to communicate its pedagogical message.

The interrelation between literature and visual media opens a vast territory for meaningful combinations that produce genres existing between different sensory perceptions and narrative plotting. The second section of the volume, “Poetry and Visual Media,” shows how various forms of artistic expression benefit in their richness and depth from connecting across media. Tony Harrison’s film-poems offer a good example of how verse and image collaborate not only to marry hearing and seeing into one compound form but also to offer sensitive and precise documents of a creative mind (Agata Handley, “‘Mimmo Perella Is No More.’ Cadaveric Imagery and Poetic Verse in Tony Harrison’s Film-Poem”). Harrison’s poems show the workings of the “visuality of verse” together with its “inclination towards cinematography.” His filmic rendering of traditional Neapolitan funeral customs plays the role of a documentary that is characteristically reformulated with the intermedial transgression of borders between conventional arts. Harrison’s creative method, as Handley points out, allowed him to work simultaneously in both media, and formed a process in which “the image, and the rhythm of the edit coincides with the rhythm of verse.” Supported by extensive research, Harrison carried out the writing stage on location and was ←9 | 10→stimulated by both the place itself and the visual medium his crew was working with. The interplay between the image and the verse was based on the rhythms provided by Harrison in his lines of text. As Handley stresses, the “advantage of poetry, allied to film, is that it offers the possibility of economic use of language and compression of meaning.” Handley’s interpretation of Harrison’s method perfectly captures the productive relation between the two media: “the verse takes the viewer beyond the frame, and simultaneously, the image extends the verse.” The multimodal extension of perception is particularly efficient when it acquires a special, geographic dimension. In the multimodal project Letterfrack Poetry Trail carried out in Connemara’s cultural center, works of recognized Irish poets are available on plaques located along the natural track (Katarzyna Ostalska, “Remediating the Memory: Posthuman Medialities, Poetry and Geophilosophy in an Intermedial Project Letterfrack Poetry Trail”). The multimodal quality of the project relies on CD recordings attached to the printed anthology of the poems as well as on the contents of the dedicated website. As such, Ostalska argues, the poetry track and its components can be seen as “hyperobjects,” which, according to Timothy Morton, maintain a non-local quality by being under the influence of global processes such as pollution, warming, or hurricanes. Their poetic quality, therefore, although rooted in the locality of specific geography and often overtly inspired by it, escapes the full view of the reader or visitor whose situated locality does not respond to all of the complex sensualities produced by globalized realities and states.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (November)
visuality transmedial adaptation archiving digital poetry multimedia performance multimodal narratives
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 224 pp., 3 fig. col., 1 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Magdalena Cieślak (Volume editor) Michał Lachman (Volume editor)

Magdalena Cieślak is Associate Professor at the Institute of English Studies, University of Łódź, Poland. She specializes in Renaissance drama, especially Shakespeare, and film adaptation. She works in the areas of presentism, feminism, and gender studies. Michał Lachman is Associate Professor in English and Irish Drama at the Institute of English Studies, University of Łódź, Poland. His research interests include the history of the twentieth-century British and Irish drama, literary theory and translation.


Title: Literature and Media: Productive Intersections
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226 pages