Great American Novel (physical vs. digital)

Let’s reflect upon the relation between the Great American Novel and its physical properties.  As I’ve said throughout the semester, Moby-Dick is a whale of a book.  Melville remains keenly aware of its dimensions and uses puns to comment on the scale of his ambition, and the magnitude of the themes addresses.  For the first time ever, this semester I read a commercial (rather than scholarly) edition of the book–an edition from 1930 (published during the “Melville Revival”).  It includes drawings from the artist Rockwell Kent.  Have a look at the link at the bottom of my post for pics.  For me, this created an experience unlike any I’ve had before.  I was reading a book that had a historical appearance and importance in reviving the study of the book.  This was a new kind of “physical.”  In all cases, one has a long-term relationship with Moby-Dick.  One does not consume it in one sitting, but as a long meal.

So, I’d like you to think more generally about the relation between the physical books you’ve been reading for this class (Moby-Dick and/or the one you are currently reading for your separate paper).  Question: In what ways is the art of that Great American Novel linked to the physicality of the book?  Is there a real difference between text as data on a screen with a scroll-down function, and text that is carved into place as words on a tangible page?  What happens to page counts and how do they impact the reader differently depending on the interface?  Does the difference matter?  Can digital texts still be “monumental”?  “Maximalist,” as their authors intended them to be?

As children of the digital age, you’ve thought about these questions.  Some worry about this; some don’t.  What I am asking for here is a consideration of how this applies to the Great American Novel (the ones we’ve read precede the digital era).  Perhaps a good analogy here is a rock album, like Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” cut in 1973 (smack in the middle of the LP vinyl era).  It’s got two sides and a story-telling/thematic sequence in place for the listener to process the music in the grooves, with certain pauses in place.  Then it’s digitized in 2000.  Same thing?

Please reflect on this question in 100 words.  Your blog posts are due this Thursday by 3:30 pm.

Rockwell Kent’s drawings for Moby-Dick, or The Whale

The Wizard of Oz

Now that you’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) and read the first chapter of the original book from 1900, I’d like you to comment on the translation from text to image.  Every act of adaptation is an act of interpretation.  So, how does Victor Fleming (the director of the film) understand the literary text?  What words and themes are most relevant to him?  What does he decide to discard?  Explain based upon your engagement of both version.

Please respond by Tuesday, April 2nd, at 6 pm.  This gives you a full week.

James Baldwin

After Reading “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (1955), I’d like you to relate it to some aspect of the course.  It might be a point of view expressed in another text, or perhaps some part of “Moby-Dick” (or even the novel you are currently reading for your paper).  Please post in 50 words, and reply to each other, too.  Your post is due this Thursday, March 26th, by 3:30 pm.

Film Adaptation

For this unit on adaptation, we will observe medium-specificity.  What this means is that we will treat books and movies as apples and oranges.  One is not inferior to the other.  They just use a different language to communicate.

Literature uses a wide array of linguistic constructions, from the utilitarian to the most poetic.  You might think of something like metaphor or rhyme as examples of the latter.

On the other hand, cinema uses mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, and sound.  Think of how much attention David Lynch placed on all of these details to direct his films.

So, let’s try this exercise.  Here is the first sentence from E.L. James’s 2011 bestseller, 50 Shades of Grey:

“I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.”

How might I adapt this sentence if I were a film director?  “I” and “myself” indicating a personal narrative (should I use a first person camera?).  There are, technically speaking, two persons here (including the reflection).  The mirror seems like an important artifact–its place in the sentence suggests more than a mere decorative prop.  Questions of identity, and possibly body dysmorphia loom large.  The words “scowl” and “frustration” are redundant.  Does one “scowl” without feeling “frustration”?  And yet there is an opportunity here for cinematic emphasis.  What will it be?  A close up revealing an actress wearing heavy make-up? No make-up at all?  A particular type of speech/noise sound coming from her to indicate how she feels?  What other possibilities exist?

You see that I am giving this one sentence a very thorough reading, and then thinking about how I might adapt it.  I’d like you to do the same with a novel that you’ve read.  Give me the first sentence, and then tell me how you might go about adapting it.  You may choose any novel.  No need to read a new one.  Please include the name of the novel and the sentence, and then write a 100-word blog post of how you’d approach your job as director.

Please post by next Tuesday at 6 pm.  That gives you a full week.

Moby-Dick (finale)

A major opposition in Moby-Dick: human beings vs. the environment.  Consider how Melville represents this tension throughout the book.  Now turn to the cataclysmic ending.  Who wins the battle of man vs nature in the book?  What, if any, is the statement Melville seeks to make in his contribution to American Literature?

Please answer in 100 words. Although I will count this as participation, it will serve as an important indicator of how well you have kept up with the reading, and how much you’ve absorbed class materials.

Your responses are due this Thursday by noon.  I will be posting my own long response to your submissions at 3:30 pm on that same day (our normally scheduled class period).