Following are two examples of my critical work. The first is an abstract and excerpt from the critical portion of my 2017 creative dissertation, entitled Good Looking in the Dark: A Narrative Across Three Mediums. The second sample is excerpted from an article published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2016, “Something is Rotten in the Unreal City: Hamlet in The Waste Land.”
ABSTRACT: Good Looking in the Dark: A Narrative Across Three Mediums is a single story presented in three distinct formats: short story, stage drama, and graphic narrative. This project is an exploration of the creative process and its relation to medium, reader anticipation, participation, and response. Reflecting my position that narrative meaning is made primarily in the dark space of the reader’s mind, the story selected for this project is one that takes place almost entirely in the dark. In Good Looking in the Dark, two strangers are locked in a closet and engage one another without seeing the other—just as an author engages her reader without seeing her. Creation and reception are parties in an ongoing blind dialogue, a space in which author and audience are influenced by a variety of external factors. In presenting this multi-modal narrative, I am encouraging an aesthetic dialogue between author/reader and reader/reader. I am also confirming the ways in which narrative medium matters. An artistic medium carries with it material boundaries as well as historical and cultural values. Whether by crossing those boundaries or remaining constrained within them, an artist imparts a specific significance to the work. By adapting a single narrative across three mediums, this project engages with implicit and explicit reader expectations for each form, as well as expectations for the story being told. This work emphasizes that creative meaning, like the act of creation, is a process rather than a finite product.
EXCERPT: On the Vagaries of Adaptation and the Semiotics of Labeling
Comparative media scholar Henry Jenkins, when defining the term transmedia, distinguishes between adaptation and extension in Convergence Culture (2008). An adaptation takes the same story from one medium and retells it in another, whereas an extension seeks to add something to the existing story as it moves from one medium to another. Transmedia, Jenkins argues, necessitates extension. By employing the phrase “a narrative across three mediums” in my project title, do I mean to say that the work is transmedia? The term is commonly used as an alternate for the term franchise, as in the Marvel Comics Universe where world-building extends to a multiplicity of interlinked comics, films, and merchandise, all designed to engage the audience on many levels. Jenkins argues that transmedia is more than marketing, and more than the use of multiple media platforms. Further, he states that transmedia works are dispersed across multiple delivery channels “for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (p. 93). In other words, transmedia allows the further development of the story through each new medium. Critic Christy Dena challenges this distinction in her essay “Transmedia as UnMixed Media Aesthetics” (2014), arguing that adaptations may be highly literal or deeply transformative. Rather than being a mere reproduction of the work, an adaptation is an interpretation of the work, and thus all adaptions add to the range of meanings attached to a story.
With both perspectives in mind, I don’t believe the work I present fits neatly into the category of transmedia narrative since the individual works were not composed for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Instead, the process was one of adaptation. That said, in its hybridized form it is, in fact, a unified and coordinated experience. Further, it meets Jenkins’ secondary criteria for transmedia in which each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.
Good Looking in the Dark is also an example of a multimodal text. According to the earlier definition of mode, one might assume a multimodal text is one in which several literary styles are used. In the larger semiotic sense, however, mode refers to the public venue for a text. Contemporary multimodal texts are strongly associated with digital communication, though a multimodal text can also be paper, digital, or live performance. Further, a multimodal text can also be transmedia, where the story is told across multiple delivery channels. According to Gunther Kress, a leading scholar in semiotics and multimodal theory, a multimodal text changes its effect by placing the work in a new context. He argues that readers understand information differently when written text is delivered in conjunction with a secondary medium, such as image or sound. Doing so draws the audience’s attention to “both the originating site and the site of recontextualization” (Bezemer and Kress, 2008, p. 166). By shifting the narrative from one medium to another, the audience perception of the work is altered. Creating a multimodal text, then, is an act of meaning-design.
From “Something is Rotten in the Unreal City: Hamlet in The Waste Land,” published in The Hilltop Review, 2016. This essay excavates literary tradition as a means of reading Modernist existential writing. It specifically locates Hamlet (the character) and Hamlet (the play) within Eliot’s The Waste Land.
T.S. Eliot’s poem of 1922, “The Waste Land,” lays philosophical ground for the entire Modern literary movement in which human experience takes the performative shape of inner dialogue or soliloquy for the benefit of the reader/audience. This essay will argue that Eliot’s poem is a prime example of existentialism and, further, that Eliot’s work is not merely informed by Shakespeare’s Hamlet (possibly the earliest example of British existentialism), but is directly modeled after it, in Eliot’s attempt to rectify the play’s perceived failings.
Existentialism as a key to unlocking the mood of Modern literature is overlooked by those critics who relegate existentialist literature to the years following the Modern period. While the official “start date” of the movement begins after World War II, this paper will argue that the questions most posed by existentialism are not new to literature. They are at least as old as Shakespeare, in fact, and we see evidence of “the old questions” (to which Beckett alludes in the 1950s) in Hamlet, dated to 1600.
Specifically, Hamlet speaks to the Modern British development of inner narrative and the literal translation and evocation of thought. Readers have long referred to Hamlet as the depressive Danish prince, yet his thoughts are reflected in the minds of characters throughout Modern British literature, and such vapors swirl most gloriously in Eliot’s The Waste Land. It is my argument that, while Eliot’s critique of Hamlet concludes with its failure, there are clear parallels between his own poem and Shakespeare’s play. Similarities exist in terms of structure, theme, motifs, protagonist/speaker, and style. Despite Eliot’s critique, within the Modern literary tradition (which at its heart lionizes individual consciousness) Hamlet is never far from the page.
Hamlet, as a tragedy in five acts is repeated in The Waste Land, a tragedy in five parts. That there are striking similarities between the format and movement of both works cannot be overstated, and that Eliot is nodding directly to Hamlet at least twice in The Waste Land (first, with Ophelia’s line, and second with the mad protagonist of The Spanish Tragedy) should be enough to warrant a closer inspection of shared themes, motifs, and styles between the two works.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare creates the consciousness of a character which persists through the ages, haunting, in particular, those writers seeking to use character consciousness to express the feeling of an entire era. British Modernists looking for an existential literary source for their writing need look no further than the annals of British canon for a singular character consciousness expressing existential angst from the start: “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,/Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” (from Act I). Similarly, the body of the The Waste Land is preceded by a Latin and Greek epigraph from The Satyricon of Petronius. Translated to English, it reads: “I saw with my own eyes the Sibyl of Cumae hanging in a jar, and when the boys said to her, Sibyl, what do you want? she replied “I want to die.” And while The Waste Land’s speaker may use different voices, the keen reader understands that each voice reiterates the same problem. The tone of both Hamlet and The Waste Land is one of alienation, sorrow, resentment, and impotence. Both works end, too, with a plea.
Their adoption of poses, of soliloquy, and of internal and external performativity suggests that both Hamlet and The Waste Land find the locus of their existential perspectives in the theatre of the mind. The theatricality in the varied voices of both protagonists points to a drama which exists in the mind, rather than on the stage. Hamlet is at one moment wry, then maudlin, then slapstick, then cruel. His persona changes as quickly as his temperament, but this is not to say that he is mad—only that he is many, within one. Hamlet is beyond body, beyond object. He is consciousness itself. Ghose emphasizes that Hamlet’s despair is “that he cannot escape the trivial banality of existence, for after the opening statement, his first thought is one more philosophical proposition” (Ghose, 85).
Hamlet justifies, here, his perpetual questioning as mankind’s raison d’etre. If he ceases to pontificate, he is no more than a beast. The reader is free to conclude that she, too, must exist for the purpose of exercising her mind. Is this Shakespeare’s intent? To use Hamlet to speak to the collective consciousness of his time? To urge his audience to question their purpose and meaning? And, if so, is this the same provocation Eliot is shaping with his work? It is tempting to read The Waste Land as a treatise concerned with a specifically Modern era alienation, of a specific time and place (post World War I, England), however, we mustn’t overlook the individual artist’s claim to express the anxiety of his own soul. In T.S. Eliot’s Negative Way, Hay examines the author’s intent, and insists that The Waste Land is a personal expression, rather than a universal one (Hay, 50).
Does a Modern or historical Hamlet assert himself vigorously in The Waste Land? I believe so, and will give Eliot’s younger self the final word in this essay, keeping in mind the poem he will write in two years, and his later claims (as they contradict his early imperative) that The Waste Land is not of or about his generation, or about anything other than his own experience of disillusion. Here is what Eliot believes before taking up his existential experiment:
“…the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order…No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.”