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 (see sidebar).  You must also submit a 250-word reflection on the results (comment on the choices you made and how you think your translation changes the reader's experience of the original).




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.

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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 N. Katherine Hayles, “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: 



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 text.

The due date is Thursday, 2/16, at the beginning of class.