Editorial: Reflecting on Ten Years
By Elsie M. Walker
Volume 41, Number 4
The sight of a young and once-vulnerable Nobody looking manifestly
inspired by William Blake’s poetry is movingly and sweetly imaged as a
nostalgic vignette within Dead Man.
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My Co-Editor Dave Johnson began the editorial of our last issue with the subject of writing. He expressed a desire to see more instructive writing about writing, especially in terms of exploring the conditions necessary for processes of creation. In this context, he noted that scholars are frequently reluctant to think of themselves as “writers” per se: it is, after all, a cliché to think of critics as being parasitic upon the texts that they write about, rather than as being creative beings in their own right
With this issue, I myself reflect back on ten years of work for
Literature/Film Quarterly. As Editor, I have been in a position to review well over a thousand submissions. Those we have published represent outstanding examples of creative thinking, and I believe they all make a case for regarding scholars as writers in the fullest sense.
This issue also represents the expansiveness of adaptation studies today. Back in 1973, when
Literature/Film Quarterly was first published, adaptation studies was a new field. Today, as this issue demonstrates, we can enjoy a multiplicity of theoretical approaches within that field. None of these approaches need seem forced upon the given text/film. Indeed, as the articles of this issue demonstrate, the most fruitful theoretical engagement is intertwined with the act of reading the text/film and repeatedly returning to its details, even if that means reading against the grain of its ostensible meaning.
In the first essay, Åke Bergvall offers us a provocative exploration of how William Blake’s “And did those feet,” aka “Jerusalem,” has been used in disparate contexts. As Bergvall notes, the poem has gathered patriotic, militaristic, and British nationalistic associations (especially through being adapted into a hymn composed by Hubert Parry), which would have certainly surprised the politically radical Blake. Bergvall traces the poem’s use in various contexts—from films, to Monty Python skits, to the grand opening of the 2012 London Olympics.
This essay reminds me of the malleability of Blake’s writing more generally, especially in relation to Jim Jarmusch’s revisionist Western
Dean Man. In that film, just two lines from Auguries of Innocence are repeated by Nobody (Gary Farmer), the sympathetic indigenous character who leads the protagonist named William Blake (Johnny Depp) through most of the narrative. The lines are
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night. (123-24)
Nobody learned the poetry of Blake in England when he attended “white man’s schools,” so they are directly connected with forced enculturation. But Nobody makes the lines his own too, using them to assert his comprehension of Blake’s journey toward death. Within the full context of
Dead Man, they reflect a cold binaristic truth associated with hard living in the Western genre. Equally, they reflect a more philosophical acceptance of unequal fortunes, in keeping with Nobody’s ability to accept all things. Ironically, Blake himself has no knowledge of the poetry that Nobody immediately attaches to his name. The author’s name is thus repeatedly heard without being attached to his actual body, much like his words shift conceptually rather than being anchored to any
thing or any one.
Bergvall’s analysis shows how two lines by Blake, much like those within
Dead Man, shift through multiple decontextualizations and recontextualizations. His is an intertextual approach, informed by history and cultural politics, and much broader than the scope of one film.
Our next article is a comparative analysis of the film
Silent Hill as it adapts three video games within the series of the same name. The authors, Betty Kaklamanidou and Maria Katsaridou, also consider how the film operates within the horror genre, as well as exploring its meaning from a feminist point of view. Much like the video game that offers different possible narrative directions, but within certain restrictions, the genre film plays with the expectations of those that know its game sources by incorporating the same fundamental narrative components with some important alterations. More specifically, the gender politics of the film are quite different since the dominant male figure of the father in the game is replaced by a mother: as Kaklamanidou and Katsaridou point out, it is rare for motherhood to be at the narrative center of a horror film.
The next article, authored by Christopher A. Link, is a close analysis of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film
Eine Reise ins Licht (Despair) as it adapts Nabokov’s novel
Despair. In particular, Link considers the impact of the numerous references to the Holocaust that are incorporated in the film as opposed to the novel, and the broken vessel motif in the film that was developed from just a few lines in the novel. Link makes a strong case for esteeming Fassbinder’s film alongside Nabokov’s text because both incorporate symbols rich enough to reward multidimensional analysis and elude final interpretation. Link also illuminates subtexts from the film in terms of queer character dynamics and allusions to Jewish mysticism. Along the way, Link provides anti-essentialist arguments for the cinematic aspects of Nabokov’s text and the literary aspects of Fassbinder’s film. He thus demonstrates the inter-illuminating power of the text and film as their effects cross over as well as contrast with one another.
Our final article is an intertextual analysis of the many versions of
Huckleberry Finn as illustrated books, and as television, stage, and film productions. Kate Newell provides a rich exploration of how the text has been repeatedly resituated as a “sequel” to
Tom Sawyer, as a text by Twain in its own right, as a canonized work of literature that has inspired the work of several distinguished illustrators and film artists, and as a book that has necessarily prompted many reinterpretations in relation to shifting racial politics within America. Because there can now never be a definitive “Huckleberry Finn,” Newell prompts us to understand what the text and its lead characters have meant to “different artists, audiences, and time periods.”
This fall is an exciting one for LFQ, not solely for these exceptional articles. In September, our Copy Editor Brenda J. Grodzicki was honored with a Board of Regents’ University System of Maryland Staff Award. We nominated her for the award due to her selfless and tireless work to ensure that our journal is a lasting publication of utmost professionalism and goodwill for its authors and readers. I take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt thanks to a woman who works behind the scenes and who, like so many Copy Editors, is often not recognized for the creative contributor that she is in collaboration with our writers.
Finally, by way of closing, I announce the second call for entries to win our Thomas Erskine Award for excellence in adaptation studies by a graduate student. The deadline for entries is 31 December 2013, and full details are posted on our website (www.salisbury.edu/lfq/erskineaward.htm). We continue the tradition begun by our founders, James M. Welsh and Thomas Erskine, in championing the work of strong graduate students. Many people submitted outstanding work for our 2012 prize, and we look forward to considering the next group of submissions. The winners of our first award, Kyle Meikle and Nemanja Protic, are already writers in the fullest sense.
Blake, William. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Ed. David V. Erdman, Harold Bloom, and William Golding. New York: Anchor (Random House), 1997. Print.
Dead Man. Dir. Jim Jarmush. Perf. Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henrikson, and Gabriel Byrne. Pandora Filmproduktion, 1995. Film.
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