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Symbios and remediation: from written to visual text

Research project How do symbiotic novels function, and what happens when they are transferred between media? How are the texts influenced by cultural, ideological and gender based shifts? The project develops discussions about intertextuality as well as remediation.

The first stage of the study contains analyses of a number of symbiotic novels: “host texts” characterized by open references to original novels, “guest texts”. Genre shifts, paradigm shifts, and altered gender perspectives are at focus. The next stage focuses on the remediation process, when the written guest texts are adapted into film, focusing on how the symbiotic relationship is visualized and how intertextual references and links are remediated. The three-step analyses of symbiosis: from written novel to written novel to film develop studies of both intertextuality and remediation.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2011-05-03 2011-12-30

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Language Studies

Research area

General literary studies

Project description

Film adaptations are often analysed with starting points in discussions about fidelity, and the success of a film is often judged in relation to how faithful it has been to the original, a criteria which has little to offer. Analyses of the inherent intertextuality of adaptations are often carried out, but the project Symbiosis and Remediation has as its focus so called symbiotic texts. In this context symbiosis means that the texts live off each other to a much greater extent than in traditional intertextual relationships. The host text is crucial to the guest text, but the guest text also raises the awareness concerning the host text and offers new possible interpretations. It is thus not a question of a parasitic situation; rather, both parties stand to gain from the relationship. In more traditional forms of intertextuality, the relationship between texts is often hidden or obscured. In symbiotic texts the connection is openly signalled through titles, subtitles, re-used characters, and new perspectives on an already narrated story.

Adaptations of written materials are inherently intertextual, but focus here is on tracing and analyzing adaptations of symbiotic texts, that is, texts that are already openly intertextual. Hence the analyses centre on three steps: from written text to written text to film. The project has its basis in close readings of texts which offer different forms of symbiosis as well as of the process of remediation (the transfer from one medium, the written text, to another, the filmed adaptation). The first stage contains analyses of the host text and the guest text, the first two steps of the process. The next stage has its focus on film analysis, the third step of the process. Media specific modes of narration are considered and juxtaposed.

Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur is the host text of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and the latter has been adapted twice. These adaptations illustrate the options the film maker has to consider as well as genre shifts. The symbiotic relationship between Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly illustrate shifts in narrative perspectives as do Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre). Both these guest texts rework their hosts from feminist positions. The film adaptations of the guest texts are considerably less radical and illustrate the conservative tendency in the remediation process. The adaptation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead builds on the author’s (Tom Stoppard) own play which is in turn a guest text to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The surreal elements found in the stage version emphasize the theatre as illusion while the film adaptation rather focuses on the realism inherent in the text. Stoppard himself has directed the film, which offers opportunities to discuss his own rewriting into a new form and context, a discussion which further develops the remediation analyses. Michael Cunningham’s The Hours is the guest text of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. In this case opportunities to analyse the transition from modernism to postmodernism are offered and as Woolf is one of three central characters, a focus on authenticating strategies is enabled. The clear intertextual references visible in the guest text become more subtle in the adaptation and are handled through various visual strategies.

To rewrite a text is often a project of a political nature: there is a desire to question or change the power structures discernible in the host text. To study symbiotic texts from a gender perspective offers great possibilities to study how gender roles are first questioned or undermined in the guest text, and then visualized in the adaptation. The transfer from written text to film in many cases results in a reduced political dimension, a development that needs to be critically investigated.

In the postmodern society of today, texts and their contents are continuously shifting between different cultural modes of expression. Theories concerning remediation indicate that earlier media can always be traced in later forms and this is an aspect which has not been addressed within the field of adaptation studies. Remediation aspects develop and deepen ongoing discussions about adaptations beyond traditional fidelity arguments. In addition, the project’s focus on symbiotic texts develops analyses of adapted texts in general beyond traditional intertextual analyses.
Latest update: 2018-06-20