Following up on my original blueprint (which can be found here) I did some revisions and a new paper on the design of the piece in relation to my research on adaptation and the Faustian myth. Since I uploaded the originals I figured I should share the new designs and discussions here as well. Enjoy.
“I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.”
“Anyone who has ever experienced an adaptation (and who hasn’t?) has a theory of adaptation, conscious or not.”
When I try to think about what I can say about my poster, I find that much of the difficulty stems from the fact that my final product remains very similar to my original draft that I turned in some time ago. What do I say about the four faces? The Tower of Babel? The interaction between cultural movement and data through the mediation of text? While there are some additions and reorganizations: the presence of Derrida, the dawning Key of Solomon, the centering of “text,” I think there is plenty in the poster that, though unchanged from before, may be reinterpreted and re-contextualized now that the specifics of my project have been fleshed out. It is therefore my intention not to simply indicate how elements of my poster have changed now that my final project has been determined, but to identify the new connections that have opened up between the poster’s own elements and the project that exists outside of it.
Before I begin talking about the new relationships that exist between the already-established elements of the poster, I will discuss the most drastic changes that appear on the surface. First, where there was once the face of Umberto Eco, the Italian semiotician and novelist, there now looms the face of Algerian philosopher and literary critic Jacques Derrida. To include the face (or rather, a reproduction of the face) of Derrida always seems somewhat antithetical to his body of work at first glance, a participation in the fetishizing of the “author” as a figure: “for Derrida, as we shall see, a kind of withdrawal, a sort of solitude, is the proper mark of the expression of the one who appears, in a different way in their writing.” Nonetheless, we cannot escape the notion of life-as-text, nor image-as-text. In fact, that is one of the central questions of this blueprint: the interaction of artifice and reality in a hyperreal world where life is itself represented, recorded, and remade. Derrida’s work, though primarily concerned with the text-as-sign in the traditional “literary” sense – as alphabetical, linguistic signs present upon a page, is central to the questions of adaptation across many mediums that I wish to pursue. His theories of differánce, iterability, and (of course) deconstruction are integral to the exploration I will undergo. In the words of J. Hillis Miller:
“the mode of criticism sometimes now called ‘deconstruction,’ which is analytic criticism as such, encounters always, if it is carried enough, some mode of oscillation. In this oscillation two genuine insights into literature in general and into a given text in particular inhibit, subvert, and undercut one another. This inhabition makes it impossible for either insight to function as a firm resting place, the end point of analysis… [it] attempts to resist the totalizing and totalitarian tendencies of criticism. It attempts to resist its own tendencies to come to rest in some sense of mastery over the work.”
This never-coming-to-rest is integral to my intentions with this project and is central to adaptation as a process to explore: it is at once a struggle between “literature in general” and “given text in particular.” Particularly as such thought applies to my constructed metaphor/model of the Sigil as a creative, adaptive act.
Now that the sigil has taken such an important place in my project it seemed only natural to include a sigil in the poster itself. In this case, the “Great Pentacle” from The Key of Solomon is seen dawning from behind the Tower of Babel. Of course, the poster itself could be said to be a sigil in-and-of-itself: a collection of signs, names, and designs intended to invoke the project-to-come. Nonetheless, this “modern” media-based sigil is containing within itself the concept of a “traditional,” mystical signature. The dawning sigil is here a new symbol of hyperreality, that bridge between reality and fiction that is, itself, the very ground on which we stand. It is Borges’s “Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.” But our reality is not constrained merely by geographic boundaries. It is temporal, and psychological. What we experience in the present is always experienced through our senses, yet in the moment of that experience it is constructed as memory. This is the fissure between story and data in our own minds. Text mediates this; it again takes the memory and reconstructs it into a present object. But in doing so the text again becomes a timeless object that at once looks back to it’s past and forward to its potential. This informs what J Hillis Miller calls:
“an intrinsic feature of written pieces of language that they demand to be read, even though they may never find their readers… They do not cease day and night to clamor for readers, just as, according to Walter Benjamin in ‘The Task of the Translator,’ each text demands to be translated, even though it may never find its translator. This demand will be met only when the text is turned into another language. This demand will be met only when the text is turned into another language, perhaps into all other languages. The ethics of reading begins with the reader’s response to a parallel demand that each text be read, and even read again and again.”
If texts cry out to be read and to be translated that they may be read again and again, so too do they cry out to be adapted. More importantly, we feel a cry within ourselves – an ethical cry – to adapt. The sigil is the conflict between this external demand to read and the internal desire to adapt: an adaptation is a kind of escape from the Kafkaesque law that one must always read. To adapt satisfies the need to re-read a story – it says that one has moved beyond and read for a reason greater than reading itself. It gives the text an escape, to be something other than one book that must be read. But to adapt still requires that one must read.
Of course, the sigil (even one utilized as a metaphor for modern mass-media) cannot be entirely removed from its magickal connotation, one could make the case that this project is a continuation of the work of Austin Osman Spare, Robert Anton Wilson, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and other such Post-Modern artist-magicians. Even William S. Burrough’s place on the poster may be recontextualized – not only was his work with cut-up and his prediction of memetics make him an important figure in the postmodern world of adaptation, but his dabbling in symbols and signs as altered states of consciousness in-themselves makes him a sort of magician. This concept of artist-as-magician extends the metaphor of the sigil. Artists who rewrite, who openly steal, who play with the old-as-new are magicians: they create sigils, the play with the pure holy language that summons the spirit of story. Of course, eventually, any writer who sells themselves to the act of writing may become a demon themselves to be summoned by future writers. These are writers who become their texts. In the poster are numerous names, some are magicians and some are demons, but the distinction is difficult to discern. When I write down “Goethe” I don’t really mean Goethe I mean the Faust myth attributed to the name ‘Goethe.’ When I write “Benjamin” I mean the specific theories and writings collected under the name ‘Walter Benjamin’ that apply to me creating my own work. This is why the names of writers are all in Helvetica: a neutral, almost neo-platonic typeface. I could have put, say, the signatures of each writer, but I am not looking at the embodiment of each writer. I am not seeking their lives. I am seeking the work-as-author.
The other two prominent typefaces utilized in the blueprint are the Hitchcut and Special Elite fonts. The Hitchcut font is used to designate cultural movements (modernism, surrealism, post-structuralism, magical realism, etc.) while Special Elite is used for the “data” or “units” that are at work in texts (language, alphabet, logic, code, archetype, etc.). There are, however, a couple of choices that blend the two, where the Special Elite font is used but the words are situated in the blue-on-white format used normally by the cultural movements. These are intended to designate larger concepts or schools that contain multiple forms of data or interpretations of data (memetics, semiotics, deconstruction, etc.).
The choice for using the Hitchcock font rests on its off-kilter appearance. The different sizes of the letters give the words a cut-and-paste look; it almost appears as if it weren’t printed at all. The blocky lettering recalls, for me at least, something of the soviet revolutionary designs, but the uneven layout suggests that this poster is not embracing a traditional unified, utopic ideal. It is examining all of these movements, with all of their revolutions, together, as a means of determining repetitions as well as exceptions: “the distinctiveness of any historical period, ‘the Renaissance,’ ‘Romanticism,’ ‘Modernism,’ or whatever, lies in its special combination of certain recurring elements rather than in its introduction of anything unheard of before.” Special Elite, on the other hand, was chosen for its similarity to a classic typewriter font: a mechanical type, intended to be uniform and legible. The typewriter is central to mechanical reproduction; it standardizes writing in the act of hand-to-page. While the printing press allows for one to take what has been written and reprint it, the typewriter allows the act-of-writing to mechanized, depersonalized, broken apart into units. Of course, in this act of dissecting text a whole new act of interpretation and personalization takes place, the kinds of acts present within this blueprint and project.
Taking another step back, I would like to talk about the choices concerning the coloration and style of the poster: the shock of black, red, and white: the messy cutups and collage that speckle the surface. Considering that my project’s primary theme is adaptation (as a process) it seemed only right that my blueprint not only look forward to suggest the themes and works I plan on utilizing for my final project, but itself reference the original Blueprint for Counter-Education that it is itself an adaptation of, or homage to. The coloration, the nebula of names and topics, and the framed portraits along the edges are all references to this inspiration. The goal of this project is twofold: first, as already mentioned, I want to examine certain questions regarding the process of adaptation as an interaction between text and culture: how does the culture of the time influence an adaptation? Why is a story updated? While these are certainly questions I’d like to address, I am also interested in the often taken-for-granted issue of the story’s hold on the cultural imagination: how does the story affect the culture that engendered it? How does a story’s transformative power in culture allow it to persist in the imagination and be remade into new forms?
The second goal of this project, one that is just as important, is examining these questions in a way that invites engagement with the reader. That opens up a set of tools that they may utilize to examine these topics for themselves, whether they continue to critique adaptations or make adaptations of their own. I don’t my project to simply utilize the aesthetic of the Blueprint for Counter-Education, but to help continue the goals of radical engagement with literature. While the original Blueprint may not have “succeeded” in its original intent, our utilization of it in class and its continued influence shows that there was something in Stein and Miller’s design that does grab the imagination. This poster is a bridge between the Blueprint’s questioning of academic tradition (as opposed to creative or public opinion) and my own investigations of adaptation and literature. Just as writers such as Benjamin, McLuhan, and Derrida have sought to question the traditions and assumptions of the practice of writing, storytelling, and pedagogy, I want to experiment with the form of the thesis to explore adaptation in new ways that offer new insights in that space between specific works and the general practice of literature.
Ultimately, my greatest hope for this poster is that it can be returned to throughout this project: that it may act as a cornerstone of thought even as my assumptions and plans shift and change. A work of art may carry secrets unknown to the creator, so long as the secrets are known to the work itself. I have no doubt that looking back at this blueprint with new knowledge, and new assumptions, will reveal secrets that can apply and guide my project to its conclusion.
Simon Glendinning. Derrida: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 5.
J Hillis Miller. “The Critic as Host” in The J. Hillis Miller Reader, ed. Julian Wolfreys (Stanford: Stanford University Press 2005), 37.
J Hillis Miller, “The Ethics of Narration” in The J Hillis Miller Reader, ed. Julian Wolfreys (Stanford: Stanford University Press 2005), 41.
J Hillis Miller, “The Ethics of Reading,” in The J Hillis Miller Reader, ed. Julian Wolfreys (Stanford: Stanford University Press 2005), 57.