Personal Blueprint: Mapping Adaptation in the Digital Age

Inspired by Blueprint for Counter Education by Maurice R. Stein and Larry S. Miller, I have created my own Bibliography à la Blueprint as a preparation for my upcoming thesis in Media Studies. So as to not waste a design and paper I’m proud of (and to fill up this recently empty blog) I am sharing my poster and explanation. Enjoy.

Higgins Finished Blueprint

In developing the basic design of my poster I settled onto a handful of major topics I wanted to ensure I addressed in the layout: 1) The distinction of different forms of informational data. 2) The organization of information into narrative sequence to develop “story.” 3) The process of adaptation/appropriation of narrative stories. 4) The conflict between the convergence of data and the splintering of narrative into new forms due to digital reproduction and proliferation. These topics provide the foundation for the poster in the macro, as I discuss the poster’s means of addressing these issues I will also “zoom-in” to examine a variety of more specific details and relationships present within the design.
The most prominent feature of the poster is the centered collage consisting of Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel placed on top of an antique map of the world. The prominence of Bruegel’s painting is both inspired by the use of the pentagon/five-sided-house used in the original Blueprint, a convenient architectural analogue for the creation of a pedagogic foundation, and is also itself a commentary on the power of adaptation (utilizing a painting adapted from a biblical story) and an appropriation of the meaning of the Tower as a symbol: a structure of language, a database, a process. In the Biblical narrative the Tower of Babel is a database that homogenizes, but its destruction subsequently splinters all data (language) into new forms (therefore ensuring that the destruction is itself an act of restructuring). The tower is titled as “fiction” and sits upon the Earth, which is identified as “reality.” Both of these titles should be regarded with some level of skepticism, at least from a contemporary viewpoint, but nonetheless it is important to see the distinction between “reality” as determined by the senses, the so- called objective form of the world, and the development of narrative interpretation and language which allows translation, adaptation, and interpretation lay down the “unreal” atop the “real.” Emerging from behind the Tower is a blank circle simply entitled “Hyperreality,” here is the unseen overlap of “fiction” and “reality,” the facets of subjectivity. It has no particular image attached, as hyperreality is not distinguishable from what we experience, nonetheless, it is identified as hyperreality may be recognized and discussed. It emerges from behind the tower, as it exists behind the perceived reality and fiction of our existence.


Before I engage with the other prominent set of images on the poster (the portraits of the four authors who rest in the corners) I will talk about the division between the right and left sides of the poster. Looking at topics 1. (Data) and 2. (Narrative organization) I split the poster into two sides. On the left is the development of narrative and plot, and the way such organization of information interacts with memory, history, and writing to develop artistic movements. On the right exists a web of different forms of data, with a focus on text, and the way that data is interpreted and reinterpreted. While both sides seem to begin with “reality,” as indicated by the branching arrows, it is actually more ambiguous that it first appears. While there may be a “beginning” in reality, there is no discernible end, with the topics spilling into a jumble. As Julie Sanders points out: “Adaptation has, perhaps, suffered from an emphasizing post-Romantic Western culture on a highly singular notion of creativity and genius but is finding new purchase in the era of global circulations and the digital age of reproduction and re-makings… perhaps it will increasingly serve us better to think in terms of complex filtration, and in terms of networks, webs and signifying fields, rather than simplistic one-way lines of movement from source to adaptation. In the latter model, certainly, the importance of audience, reception and contextualized production of meaning is made properly visible.”[1] It is only natural, then, that the poster resemble more a web (or perhaps a nebula, as the overuse of interconnecting lines would overwhelm the information on display) where the interactions between creators, topics, data, and history is messy and occasionally unclear: as one writer, this bibliography is just as much a map of my personal connections as greater cultural associations.


Looking at this dichotomy between cultural organization and raw data we can use the four figures (Joyce, Burroughs, Borges, and Eco, positioned like the personified winds on an antique map) as grounding cardinal directions in the mess of associations. At the top, Joyce and Burroughs both face each other as archetypal figures of modernism and postmodernism respectively, both within the tradition of writing within the English language and playing within that tradition. Joyce carries the archetype of adaptation from one piece of literature into another (i.e. the Odyssey into Ulysses) while Burroughs plays with the intertext via the rearrangement of personal information with fiction, essay, and other texts (Naked Lunch, The Nova Trilogy). Below, two authors whose work exist outside of the English language, and participate in adaptation as translation, whose careers bridge, deny, skirt, or blend the modern and postmodern categories, both by playing with the interaction of reality, fiction, and conspiracy through use of essayistic form in fiction (Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote; An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain) and through historical analysis and semiotic exploration through narrative form (Foucault’s Pendulum, Name of the Rose). In these cardinal points we have English language, translation, narrative adaptation, collage, and the absorption of history and memoir into fiction.

Around the edges, bordering the diagram, there are a list of specific works (on the top and bottom) and mediums and forms (the left and right). The works listed at the bottom of the poster are primarily chosen as examples of either particularly relevant hypotexts (“the source text of any appropriation or rewriting”)[2] or adaptations or intersexual works that exist within very traditional forms without much attempt to “break free” of their medium or source (The Coen Brother’s O Brother Where Art Thou, for example, is an artfully crafted film and adaptation of the Odyssey/Ulysses, but it exists singularly as a traditional film).

There are a couple of ambiguous choices added to the bottom list, particularly Gogol’s Viy and Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Both of these pieces contain elements of metafiction, Viy claims to tell an old folk tale once told to the author that does not actually exist in any folklore [3], Pale Fire examines a poem by an author that exists only within the fiction of the novel itself. While both of these works do seem to branch beyond the traditional methodology of adaptation and form I decided to include both of them in the bottom since Viy is still a straightforward short story despite its dabbling in metatextual subtext and Pale Fire, while extremely allusory, does not strive to provide a hyperrealist layer to the life of the reader in the way a work such as House of Leaves or Ficciones does. As a work it is more concerned with its own examination of fiction, criticism, and narrative than with imposing itself upon the reality of the reader and their perception of the real.


The top list is more concerned with works that exist as hypertexts (“the appropriative or adaptive text”) [4] such as Joyce’s Ulysses, Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, the opera/album The Black Rider produced by Robert Wilson, W.S. Burroughs, and Tom Waits; or works that seek to play with the notion of adaptation or medium in a way that imposes itself on the reality of the reader, contributing to the notion hyperreality. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (Fig A.) not only tells the story of a (fictional) film, but also does so by completely disregarding the traditional form of the novel, utilizing labyrinthine footnotes, “windows” of text, photographs, citations to nonexistent sources, and falsified quotations from real individuals. The ergodic nature of the novel ties it closely to the contemporary digital form of the hyperlink and computer screen and teases the reader’s perception of what is real. William Gibson and Dennis Ashbaugh’s Agrippa: A Book of the Dead (Fig. B) is a self-destructive electronic poem and artist book. While Agrippa’s examination of memory is itself a form of adaptation, the poem’s encryption and the physical book’s intentional deterioration may also be treated as a commentary on the nature of adaptation and reproduction in the digital age: what is the value of that which may be replicated perfectly and never lost or changed? In this way, Agrippa could potentially serve as a contemporary, artistic companion to Benjamin’s comments on the loss of story and devaluing of experience in The Storyteller.


Two other works stand out within this list, being chosen for rather unique reasons: C.G. Jung’s The Red Book (Fig. C) is present for it’s attempt to translate/adapt the experience of dreams and visions into a literary and artistic form, one which Jung very clearly produced after the fashion of illuminated religious texts in a time of mechanical reproduction. The computer game/digital play Kentucky Route Zero (Fig. 4) by the company Cardboard Computer is an experiment in modernist/surrealist text within an interactive setting, utilizing player choice with dialogue that has no tangible effect upon the direction or narrative of the game itself. The game’s utilization of literary and theatrical practices within the emerging medium of interactive narrative games suggests a form of intertext that exists across mediums via technique as well as narrative allusions.

While there are numerous other subjects, authors, and associations that could be discussed within this poster, I feel that the overview provided above covers the basics of its design and the questions and topics it wishes to address. There is any number of texts that could be analyzed and discussed with respect to the process of adaptation of narrative in the age of digital reproduction, though I will admit I find myself dissatisfied with the traditional methodology of dissecting the process of adaptation (or, indeed, any literary or cultural process) by the analysis of individual work. The zoom-in, the scalping of the text, the pages upon pages of description of dead events within a story as though the depiction of events, the technique, the use of words, is really of any importance at all: the illusion that these are a real happening. What I hope this poster indicates is my interest in the relationship between these works, between the authors and the viewers: that process tied within these works which exists invisibly and in flux.



house_of_leaves2Fig A: Excerpt from Danielewski’s House of Leaves: Exemplifying the play of text as a form of visual information within the contemporary digital age of reproduction.



Fig B: Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) is a poem stored on a floppy disk that self-encrypts after a single use, stored in an artist’s book featuring pages chemically treated to fade after their exposure to light.



Fig C: The Red Book (“Liber Novus”) is a text produced with calligraphic pen, ink, and gouache paint all by hand. The text attempts to reconcile the symbolic and universal experiences of dreams within the modern age. It may be seen as a struggle with the conception of the Monomyth that Cambpell and Joyce dealt with in their own works, as well as Jung’s own work with Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, via a spiritual journey into imaginative and creative practices (i.e. artistic production).


krz1.jpgFig D: Kentucky Route Zero utilizes a hybrid of text, image, sound, and interactivity while containing references to a multitude of texts and real-life objects suck as 100 Years of Solitude, As I Lay Dying, and Project Xanadu. It’s utilization of specific literary techniques and allusion is, in its own way, a unique adaptation ofform from one medium into a (supposedly) incompatible alternative.


[1] Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation 2nd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2016), 33.

[2] Ibid 214.

[3] The claim contained in a footnote from the beginning of the story: “Viy is a colossal creation of old imagination. This name is applied by people in Little Russia to the chief of the gnomes, whose eyelids reach to the ground. The whole story is a popular legend. I did not wish to change it in any way and tell it almost as simply as I heard it.” (Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, 155)

[4] Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation, 214.

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