Marina Grishakova and Marie-Laure Ryan, editors. Intermediality and Storytelling.
In the "Editors' Preface" Marina Grishakova and Marie-Laure gyan explain that they chose the word "intermediality" in the title because "it covers any kind of relation between different media" (3). The present collection expands Ryan's earlier Narrative Across Media by treating additional media and placing additional emphasis on relations between media. The editors distinguish two categories of storytelling media, the artistic (words, sound, and images that are the material used by writers, composers, and visual artists) and the technological (channels of communication such as cinema, television, print, electronic books). The relations between and among media that they mention include intermedial reference (texts that thematize, quote, or describe other media), intermedial transposition (adaptation), transmediality (phenomena, including narrative, that can be represented in more than one medium), multimodality (the combination of more than one medium in a given work: e.g., opera, comics, or the words and gestures of oral discourse), and what they call "a generalized form of ekphrasis" (4), perhaps better known as remediation, in which a work in one medium is re-represented in another medium.
Since the collection is devoted to relations between media, it is not surprising that the fourteen essays all, to some degree, are organized as comparisons. Several essays, including those by the two editors, offer comparisons of categories. Ryan looks at the distinction between fiction and nonfiction, approaching the issue from the perspective that the distinction matters because it affects our interpretation of the information offered. Comparing language to the image, she argues that "the judgment of fictionality is most important for language, because language articulates clearly defined propositions that make a truth claim," whereas the image, unlike language, "does not unambiguously force some [specific] features to the attention of spectators at the expense of others" (15). Developing the differences among truth claims from medium to medium, she extends her analysis to photography, film, representational painting, abstraction, architecture, and music, and finds in each an indeterminate zone between fiction and nonfiction. She concludes by recognizing that the general public cares about fictionality in cinema and verbal texts, and that only the theorists "ponder fictionality in painting, architecture, and music" (25).
Also comparing categories, Grishakova differentiates between two types of intermedial representation: the "metaverbal," an attribute of verbal texts that evoke images "to compensate for the lack or inadequacy of verbal information" (314; e.g., the ghosts in Henry James's Turn of the Screw), and the "metavisual," an attribute of images that reflect on the incomplete nature of visual representation (e.g., portraits in which the subject's pose "turns portraits into first-person narratives"  or juxtaposed word and image that "reveal their discrepancy" ). Paul Cobley compares styles of representation in film, the "neutral" versus the "paranoid" (i.e., a narration made ambiguous by a paranoid focalizer), specifically of the surveillance theme, to propose that the greater use of the paranoid style since 9/11 indicates an increased awareness of the general phenomenon of surveillance. Samuel Ben Israel, developing a distinction in social psychology between the "intrapsychic" and the "relationist" perspective, compares the classical single-protagonist film to the multi-protagonist film. In the former, the primary character's goal-oriented action moves chronologically and causally from conflict to resolution and the character's motivations, which are revealed, offer ethical and ideological implications about who human beings arc. In ensemble films, in contrast, the emphasis is on relationships among members of the group rather than on the goals of any one individual; the characters' motivations can be discerned only from their actions, and the structure is often episodic, ending without closure.
Two essays compare media. Jan Baetens and Mieke Bleyen, writing jointly, extend Baetens's important work on sequential images and word/image combinations. In this article they point out that photographs, arranged linearly, may constitute either a narrative sequence or a nonnarative series. To illustrate the difference, they compare two versions of the photonovel: the intermedial and the monomedial. In intermedial (multimodal) photonovels, which are popular in many French- and Spanish-speaking countries, photographs arranged in a sequence are each combined with words, presented in captions or speech balloons, to tell stories that are often similar to the stories told by the television soaps. These intermedial photonovels, with their accompanying words, illustrate the narrative sequence. In contrast, monomedial photonovels, sequences of photographs without captions or speech balloons, challenge spectators to interpret the work narratively. Illustrating the nonnarative series, photonovels without words that do not provide sufficient clues to allow spectators to establish a specific story exemplify a "radically indeterminate narrativity" (181). Markku Lehtimaki, who analyzes Let us Now Praise Famous Men, considers how the separation of images and words--Walker Evans's photographs are printed without captions and in a section separate from James Agee's text--affect readers' response both to the images and to the tenant farmers who are the nominal subject of the book.
Two essays compare genres. Brian McHale continues his investigation of relations between units of meaning and units that are demarcated spatially on the page. Developing Rachel Blau DuPlessis's idea that "segmentivity" is the defining characteristic of poetry, he has previously explored patterns of convergence and divergence between, on the one hand, narrative units and, on the other hand, the lines and stanzas of epic poetry. Here McHale extends that methodology to a comparison of the formal and the narrative units in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, in his words "a quasi-narrative poem" (32), and Martin Rowson's adaptation of the poem as a graphic novel, also titled The Waste Land. His detailed analysis of the opening sections of both reveals sometimes surprising similarities between comics and poetry. William Kuskin compares comics (primarily Dave Gibbons's Watchmen) to William S. Burroughs's "cut-up" novels to argue that comics and prose and poetry alike take "the book not as a fixed sequence but as an object the reader moves within" (66).
Several writers build new theoretical approaches based on existing theories. Ruth Page cites Ryan's analysis of categories of interactivity that digital technology enables: "external" versus "internal" (perceiving a storyworld from outside versus participating within it, for instance through an avatar) and "exploratory" versus "ontological" (restricted to perceiving events versus empowered to choose events, for instance by selecting one path rather than another). Analyzing the further possibilities offered by what she calls "web 2.0" ("blogs, social networking sites, wikis, and discussion-enriched archives" (208]), Page shows how interaction between and among writers and readers expands the possibilities of the ontological category, giving perceivers new ways to contribute to determining what happens. Elsa Simoes Lucas Freitas applies traditional narrative theory to the condensed economical representations of advertising to show, for instance, how the time and space limits inherent to the medium introduce gaps that perceivers each fill in their own way, thus individualizing the message received. Alison Gibbons extends David Herman's description of the "you" in second-person fiction as doubly deictic (pointing to the character and the reader simultaneously) to argue that multimodality enables characters and readers to share an experience. Although any text within a text that a character and readers both read (e.g., the letters Elizabeth Bennet reads in Pride and Prejudice) provides this shared experience, the example Gibbons offers from Danielewski's House of Leaves is an excellent illustration of the further possibilities that multimodality offers: a double page that requires readers first to turn the book ninety degrees, then read from the bottom of the page line by line to the top, to learn that the character is slowly and painfully climbing a very long ladder.
Three other essays--by no means the least interesting--offer only nominal reference to studies of other media or genres. Analyzing film musicals of the 1950s, Per Krogh Hansen discerns three strategies for integrating the musical acts into the ongoing story they interrupt: assimilation (in the world the characters inhabit, singing and dancing is a common occurrence); differentiation (the "backstage musical," for instance, in which characters in the ongoing story perform the musical acts); and conceptualization (the musical acts comment on a common theme or issue in the story)--strategies that are parallel to the relations Gtrard Genette describes between the events of the metadiegesis and those of the diegesis into which it is inserted: direct causality, the story that is narrated in the diegesis, and analogy (Genette 232-33). But Hansen further perceives that the hierarchical relations between the two types of expression can vary. In one strategy, "the diegesis' realism is subordinated to the musical mode" and in the other "the musical universe is subordinated to the diegesis' realism" (161). David Ciceoricco proposes that third-person action-adventure games, where players see their character acting in the storyworld, allow the player to interpret their character in much the same way that readers of novels interpret characters. Taking as his example Kratos in God of War, he argues that players "reconstruct the character of Kratos according to information that they gather from varied sources throughout their experience of the game. Processing this information--continually updating and synthesizing it -equates to the 'bottom-up' mode of character reception common across cognitive modes of textual reception" (245).
Inspired by cognitive studies of memory, Jason Mittell examines ways that serialized television has developed to "manag[e] the memories of viewers" (81). Pointing out that cinema requires from the perceiver only short-term memory and novels enable readers to return to previous pages, he delineates the constraints particular to television serials: the need simultaneously to remind viewers of information presented in previous episodes and to provide information for viewers who have not seen previous episodes while avoiding redundancy for those who have. Among the many strategies he catalogs are the "recaps [that] filter the hours of story information that an ongoing viewer accrues, activating the most crucial bits of narrative into working memory while allowing other moments that will not become relevant in the upcoming episode to continue to reside in the archives of long-term memory" (91). In addition, he describes ways that viewers' emotional responses can be guided by the selection of information brought into their working memories. All three of this last group of essays, perhaps Mittell's most of all, and several others, particularly those by McHale and Ben Israel, not only develop approaches to narratives in new media but at the same time expand our toolbox of approaches to all narratives, print narratives included.
Together, the fourteen essays cover a number of media and, as published, are organized sequentially by medium. Between the essays by the two editors, which bookend the other twelve, we move from graphic narrative (McHale, Kuskin) to television (Mittell), film (Cobley, Ben Israel, Hansen), photography (Baetens and Bleyen, Lehtimaki), digital technology (Page, Ciccoricco), advertising (Freitas) and multimodal fiction (Gibbons). As is the case in any collection, individual readers will undoubtedly find some essays more pertinent and of more interest than others. The copy-editing, which a further careful reading by a human being could have greatly improved, too often overlooks the mistakes that a spell-checker does not catch: missing words, repeated words with a word in between, even subject-verb disagreements. As annoying as this problem is, it does not limit the value of many of these essays for anyone who is thinking about narrative and media, or for that matter anyone who reads or views narratives in any medium or media.
Washington UniversiO, in St. Louis
Other Works Cited
Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse. An Essay in Method. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980. Print.
Ryan, Marie-Laure, ed. Narrative Across Media. The Languages of Storytelling. Lincoln: U of Nebraska p, 2004. Print.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2012|
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