The Intermediality of Literature

BA Seminar, Spring semester 2018, English Department, University of Zurich ///

Marshall McLuhan in his groundbreaking book „Understanding Media“ famously states that „the content of every medium is always another medium.“ This implies that although different medias need to be distinguished from one another in their unique way of functioning, they nonetheless do not stand in clear-cut opposition to one another but rather have to be thought of as being caught in a form of mutual entanglement, constantly reframing and revising one another.

For the medium of literature we want to ask ourselves in this seminar how different media are not only referenced but actually theorized and eventually reworked in the literary text. What do literary texts tell us about medias such as painting, theatrical performance, music, photography, cinema or television? But also, conversely: How do medias such as these ultimately change the medium of literature? How do new media enable new forms of literary experimentation and expand its possibilities of expression?

In order to do so, we also experiment with new forms of literary analysis, namely the visual essay and the video essay. By using devices such as the camera or the video editor as tools for close readings of literature, we hope to find out more about the specificity of the literary text.

The texts we want to look at range from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the crime stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle and from Anne Bradstreet’s poetry to the novels of Virginia Woolf or Don DeLillo. We will contrast these texts with readings of other media, with film and audio clips, photographs as well as with theoretical texts by thinkers such as Paul Valéry, Marshall McLuhan and Julia Kristeva.