One hundred years ago the modernist tendency thrust itself upon western society through one keen shift in the way the act of creation was approached. Modernist artists discovered the uniqueness of the media in which they worked and exploited those differences in order to define their styles. With the trend of self-criticism, artist such as Pablo Picasso were able to approach three dimensional presentations through a lens that only a painting can recreate, cubism. Music saw composers like Igor Stravinsky who sought to redefine musical composition by experimenting with dissonance and narrative composition. Lastly in literature writers like Virginia Wolff and Franz Kafka used the narrative form of expression itself to aid their narrative styles of storytelling. From an observational point of view cubism and Kafka share very little, but when looking at how both Picasso and Kafka approached their work, they become similar in that they used what makes the medium unique. Medium specificity established the course of art for the twentieth century, paving the way for the convergence of media in the internet age of the twenty-first century.
The modernist course of art has evolved into the contemporary, postmodernist art world of today. Speaking generally, and utilizing postmodernist tendencies, the walls erected by modernism in exploring the specificity of media are being knocked down as the focus of exploration shifts from what is unique to what is shared. New works of art are exploring the relationship between media rather than the characteristics unique to each medium. Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book best emphasizes this new exploration. The film can be described as a visual representation of literature. The film uses literary tools to communicate while also transforming language into a visual art. The premise of the film revolves around a fledgling writer seeking to stake her claim in the publishing world. Frustrated by the rejection from her late father’s publisher, and lover, she seeks to use the publisher’s new lover in order to manipulate the publisher into publishing her work. She manipulates both the publisher and the lover by seducing the lover and using his body to transmit her text to the publisher. Thus the audience is given both a cinematic narrative between the three characters as well as secondary references to this literary narrative being created and distributed via a human body. The film uses, as its language of communication with the audience and with the characters, the written form in multiple languages. This form is presented visually, not aurally, and does not provide translation when presented in a foreign language. Ultimately the text in the film is not presented to be read by the audience but rather to be viewed. The characters, however, see the visual text as literature and seek to own it as quickly as possible. Were a text made cinematic it would not be interpreted for cinema like the multiple adaptations of classical literature currently popular in American cinematography, but rather it would be transformed into the cinematic image. Joy Sisley in an essay on the intermediality of The Pillow Book suggests “that as a radical mediation of writing The Pillow Book not only upsets a conventional separation of word and image as two separate entities and mutually exclusive media, but also figuratively closes the conceptual gap between word and image by reminding us that writing is a visual medium” (Literary Intermediality, 36). By closing the gap between word and image The Pillow Book skates the line between literature and film. Now it is very apparent as to which side of the line this “film” falls on, but nonetheless there are elements of the film that are more reflective of a literary narrative, such as the lack of any one character describing that which is written on numerous bodies throughout the film. The film’s inspiration is a real book written by Sei Shonagon at the end of the 10th century in imperial Japan. Shonagon’s pillow book was a journal of sorts where she kept detailed lists, comparisons, poetry and various other entries she felt a need to remember. The movie pays homage to this text through paying homage to the literary tradition. By emphasizing the visual aspects of literature, this film acknowledges the intermediality between the two forms of art. The essence of the book is preserved literally through the words on the body, while the film narrative seeks to create a relationship between text and image.
The late 20th century saw an increased focus in this intermediality with the rise of adaptations as well as new original works. It is very easy to brush off adaptations as unoriginal works of art reflective of a financially driven industry, but it is naïve to suggest that these reinterpreted narratives do not provide their own “original” elements. Take for example A Charlie Brown Christmas animated short, the first animated version of the famous Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz. Today the film and its soundtrack, composed by Vince Guaraldi, are seen as synonymous with Charlie Brown himself. But the original Peanuts comic strip was only a comic with no musical accompaniment. Once the Peanuts characters were combined with Guaraldi’s music, a relationship formed that transformed the narrative for a new medium, television, giving it a whole new depth and perspective. This new version is not a stand alone television special however, its style of story telling is completely reflective of the comic strip character that originated the story, thus it is a hybrid animation created through the combined processes of comic narrative styles and animated. auditory elements. The idea of retelling a narrative through a new medium is not a new concept; artists have been visualizing mythical narratives for centuries. But the way in which these different medium interpretations are interacting is. For example when the NBC television drama, Heroes premiered in the fall of 2006 it was accompanied by an online graphic novel that was published once a week, with the airing of every new television episode. The comic described back stories to the characters featured in the series while foreshadowing events to come. The comic was not a retelling of the show but rather it added additional narratives to the ones featured on screen. While it helped to advance the narrative it also reflected the intermediality of the show itself, a cinematized comic strip. Though the show’s narrative was completely original, it was inspired by earlier comic strips such as Superman and X-Men. Thus in the late age of modernism or rather in the age of postmodernism, media are integrating to evolve the narratives they are telling; giving The Lord of the Rings trilogy a cinematic equivalent complete with theme music or showing the tragic hero behind the wicked witch of the west from The Wizard of Oz in Wicked.
On the other side of this push towards intermediality is the immersion of a new medium of artistic expression, the computer and more specifically the internet. Thus far the medium of the internet has been mostly used to present preexisting art to a wider audience. The medium specific art for such a tool is still be debated, the argument of the artistic merit of video games and websites has not come to a close just yet. But it is important to understand that too many who are exploring the artistic potential of blogs and the internet at large do believe to a certain extent that the creativity behind the creation of a webpage deserves the same kind of respect as the artists who use brushes and canvas to express themselves. What can be agreed upon is the artistic potential of such a tool. The internet, using the computer as its tool for communication, acts as a fully interactive virtual space where anything from a painting, song to even video clip can be transmitted. This versatility allows it to be extremely adaptable to our growing desire for intermediality. As mention above, the NBC television show, Heroes, used the internet to publish its graphic novel that accompanied the show’s weekly airing. This novel could have been put into print, in fact in its online form it used many of the signature characteristics of graphic novels in print, such as the thought bubbles and organizational structure, the latter of which does not aide an internet reader in following the narrative. Because they placed this graphic novel online there were able to present it in multiple forms: a printable version, an interactive version, and an animated version. Each version of the comic told the same story but used different attributes to tell it, attributes that before the internet would have been considered medium specific. The internet as it is being used in the year 2008 (this distinction is extremely important as the uses and design of the internet are very rapidly changing in its ever growing popularity) has defined the idea of multimedia. Therefore the concept of an internet based artwork utilizing multiple media to present the creative idea is neither unique to blogs nor does it originate from them. But as we will see blogs have served a crucial role in expanding the concept of the internet’s multimedia capabilities.