Lit 400: Reading Cyberliterature and Culture
“Media Translation” Assignment
Directions: For your first major assignment, I ask that you translate an “old
media” (print) text of your choice into a “new media” text. The rationale for doing
this can be found in some comments from e-lit critic N. Katherine Hayles:
I propose to regard the transformation of a print document into an electronic text
as a form of translation—“media translation”—which is inevitably also an act of
interpretation. In invoking the trope of translation, I follow the lead of Dene
Grigar. As she observes, the adage that something is gained as well as lost in
translation applies with special force to print documents that are imported to the
Web. The challenge is to specify, rigorously and precisely, what these gains and
losses entail and especially what they reveal about presuppositions underlying
reading and writing. My claim is that they show that our notions of textuality are
shot through with assumptions specific to print, although they have not been
generally recognized as such. The advent of electronic textuality presents us
with an unparalleled opportunity to reformulate fundamental ideas about texts
and, in the process, to see print as well as electronic texts with fresh eyes. For
theory, this is the “something gained” that media translation can offer. It is a gift
we cannot afford to refuse.
A moment’s thought suffices to show that changing the navigational apparatus of
a work changes the work. Translating the words on a scroll into a codex book,
for example, radically alters how a reader encounters the work; by changing how
the work means, such a move alters what it means. One of the insights
electronic textuality makes inescapably clear is that navigational functionalities
are not merely ways to access the work but part of a work’s signifying structure.
--from “Translating Media,” in My Mother was a
Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts (U of
Chicago P, 2005)
To be acceptable (C or higher), your new media translation must be more than a
simple word-processed version of the original. The translation should make use
of the hypertextual, hypermedial potential of electronic textuality to create a new
experience or interpretation of the original text.
For instance, it may . . .
 be “chunked” (in pieces) and hyperlinked
 employ visual rhetoric/design in interesting ways
 include a new navigational apparatus
 include an audio component
 be electronically annotated
 (for the really ambitious) include a digital video component.
No artifact/object is expected to employ all of these possibilities.
Advice: It is probably best to choose a short prose or verse piece for translation.
You may use any software program to help you create the text, from MS Word to
a web editor like Dreamweaver to hand-coded HTML (if you have the
knowledge). Be inventive, outrageous, clever and have fun with this assignment!
Examples: The first example is one we looked at in class: Maximus Clarke’s
hypermedia version of Borges’ “The Book of Sand.” But, as I said in class, I do
not expect such as sophisticated textual machine from you for this assignment.
Here are some new media translations that demonstrate the kinds of things you
could try:
Some hypermedia versions of poems by Robert Browning (and other
Victorian poets)
Scott McCloud’s online comic version of another Browning poem,
“Porphyria’s Lover” (note: McCloud is a professional cartoonist.)
A digitized video of a reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 (part of The
Favorite Poem Project)
Hypermedia version of Henley’s “Invictus” done in 1997 by a couple of
students in my first class on hypertext and lit.
A hypertextually annotated version of H.D.’s poem “Helen” created by
some WCU Honors students in an Intro to Lit class of mine in 1997.
Check out the documentation of Stuart Moulthrop’s “forking paths,” his
hypertextual translation/interpretation of Borges’s “Garden of Forking
Paths” (NMR CD)
The Rossetti Hypermedia Archive’s page devoted to “The Blessed
Damozel” (again, much more sophisticated and elaborate than what I
would expect from you for this assignment)
The Thirteen Ways site’s use of Wallace Stevens’ famous poem about a
blackbird; or a performance of Stevens’ poem with musical
accompaniment; or yet another multimedia exercise based on the same
A hypertext version of Eliot’s “The Wasteland” (unfortunately replete with
annoying pop-ups and a frameset apparatus)
More Eliot: Hypertext version of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Scrambled Shakespeare
Preparation for workshop: For the workshop on Thursday, 2/2, you should:
 read the print (handout) of Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings,” which I
plan to use as a sample text for translation;
 find that short poem or story that you want to transform into an electronic
Due Date: