No. 2 - Year 13 - 06/2023
Literature and Culture

Medial Translation as a Form of Interaction Between Print and Electronic Literature: The Example of Iain Pears’ Arcadia

DOI: 10.15291/sic/


The relationship between electronic and print literature is seldom researched, even though electronic literature has been around for several decades. This article focuses on one form of such relationship, namely medial translation. Drawing on the concepts from intermedial, adaptation and translation studies, the article develops the definition of medial translation and introduces its various forms, followed by examples of electronic or print literary works that illustrate the described processes. Since medial translations from electronic to print literature are rare, the article emphasizes the analysis of medial translation through Iain Pears’ Arcadia (2015), which first appeared as an iPad application and was later released in print.

Keywords: medial translation, intermediality, electronic literature, print literature, Arcadia

1. Introduction

In Literature in the Digital Age (2016), Adam Hammond declares our present times a transitional period in literary culture between the print and the digital ages, marked by the emergence of such new literary forms as hypertext fiction, e-poetry, or virtual and augmented reality fiction. N. Katherine Hayles, one of the first scholars to provide an overarching definition of what is known today as electronic literature (e-literature), called these forms ‘digital born,’ “first-generation digital object[s] created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer” (3). Later, Bell et al. elaborated on this notion by stating that e-literature is “fiction written for and read on a computer screen that pursues its verbal, discursive, and/or conceptual complexity through the digital medium, and would lose something of its aesthetic and semiotic function if it were removed from that medium” (4). Digital media thus propose new opportunities for the literary-minded. For instance, they allow the incorporation of sound and animation as essential components of literary works, new variations of multi-path narratives that are hard to recreate in print, or a higher degree and new forms of interactivity, wherein readers often become characters in the story and can affect it in meaningful ways, to name only a few.

Whether electronic literature (e-literature) will overtake print literature or not, one thing is irrefutable – with both print and e-literature present in contemporary culture, where old and new media collide, the interaction of these two domains is expected. We are still in an early phase where much about these interactions still eludes researchers’ attention. While some forms of interaction between print and e-literature are being discussed (most notably remediation, as defined by Bolter and Grusin), others are left unexplored.

This article discusses one form of interaction in depth and within a relatively new framework. Drawing on several concepts and ideas from intermedial, adaptation, and translation studies, a definition and detailed discussion will be introduced for what we will call ‘medial translation.’ The discussion will also introduce several subtypes of medial translation and place some existing electronic and print literary works into the framework to illustrate the process and the framework’s heuristic and practical value. Given the limitations, only Iain Pears’ Arcadia (2015) will be discussed in detail, a work that is both a print book and an iPad application. The analysis, as well as the mini-analyses presented beforehand, will rely on a combination of methodological approaches, as suggested in Bell et al. (10). Although the new critical approach and its close reading methodology are undoubtedly essential, the unique characteristics of e-literature and the interplay of two distinct medial systems necessitate the incorporation of other approaches, such as media-specific analysis, which pays close attention to the materiality of the literary work, comparative analysis, or narratological approaches, to examine the narrative structures of each edition. Importantly, Arcadia has rarely been analyzed before and it has never been analyzed from the perspective presented here.

2. Intermedial Studies and Medial Translation

‘Medial translation’ is a variation of the concept of medial transposition[1] that originates from intermedial studies. Both Rajewsky and Wolf introduce a version of the concept, with the former calling it medial transposition and the latter intermedial transposition. Both define it as the process wherein a media product, or its substratum, is transferred from one (source) medium into another (conventionally distinct; target) medium, with Wolf’s definition being slightly more detailed by specifying content or formal features as the aspects transferred and/or transformed. Rajewsky further notes that the process is production-oriented since the result is a new cultural product in a new medium. The original cultural product is merely the source, and only the target medium is present in the new creation. Rajewsky mentions film adaptations of print books or novelizations of films as examples. The wording of the definition and the way it focuses attention on a form of discussion between the source and the new product, the analysis of both being required to comprehend the process fully, is reminiscent of the way researchers define adaptation, the common term for this type of interaction, or even translation. Put differently, while the average reader does not need to have experienced both cultural products to understand either individually, medial translation can only be understood by analyzing both.

The reason medial translation is more appropriate in the current context than medial transposition is twofold. Firstly, the above definitions of medial transposition do not clarify what is transferred or transformed, and for the specific area of interactions between print and e-literature, the scope of cultural products that could fall under the label has to be narrowed down. Therefore, medial translation refers only to the transfer and transformation of the narrative content of a literary work[2] from print to e-literature or vice versa. Secondly, the word translation, as opposed to adaptation or transposition, is more expressive and further specifies this type of intermedial configuration.

While discussing his typology of intermedial relations, Elleström notes that Regina Schober already proposed intermedial translation to cover various intermedial transformation processes – including but not limited to the process discussed in this article – but remarks that he would rather avoid the term because it has strong associations with transfers among different verbal languages, and an even stronger association with the written form of verbal communication. Therefore, these associations are particularly useful in the current context, given that the article focuses on print and, especially, e-literary works where the written text remains dominant. Translation also covers adaptation, and several scholars tend to prefer translation to describe the process of adaptation, as does, for example, Cahir. Cahir’s remarks regarding the implications of translation are crucial. As she states, while on the surface translation also implies that the core of the original text should remain intact in the new version, the process always involves both gains and losses and results in a new product. Translation can never recreate all aspects of the source material. The most illustrative case is perhaps that of translating poetry, which often results in a radical transformation.

Cahir also introduces three modes of translation, adopted here as three forms of medial translation. While Cahir bases her modes on how faithful the translation remains to its source, a further criterium of how much the new product relies on the unique affordances of the target medium is added here, which usually becomes the primary source of transformations in print-digital literary interactions. It is often difficult to define where certain literary works belong. Nevertheless, introducing these categories has practical value, for example, when comparing various medial translations. The three forms of medial translation are:

  • literal medial translation: an attempt to reproduce the narrative content as faithfully as possible with minimal changes. It is also worth noting that e-books or similar formats still do not count in this category since they only transfer the content from one medium to another without using the new medium’s affordances. Since we are investigating the relations between print and e-literature, the result of a move from print to digital media must still qualify as e-literature;
  • traditional medial translation: the narrative content mostly remains identical to its source, though certain aspects are overhauled to fit the new medium. This form of medial translation involves a moderate degree of interaction with the unique affordances of the target medium, and some of the added elements are essential to the resulting narrative;
  • radical medial translation: rewrites the narrative content in substantial ways. In comparison with the previous forms, radical medial translation involves the highest degree of interaction with the unique affordances of the target medium that become indelible parts of the resulting work.

A few examples will suffice to illustrate each category before moving on to the discussion of Iain Pears’ Arcadia. The iPad edition of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), a notoriously complex text, is an example of a literal medial translation. According to Hammond, it was initially released in 2012 by Faber & Faber and TouchPress. The poem’s text is transferred onto a digital interface supplemented with features exclusive to the electronic version. Apart from several audio readings by well-known individuals like Fiona Shaw, Alec Guinness, or the author himself, readers can also access Eliot’s notes by clicking on individual lines, Eliot’s manuscript, and several video essays on the author and the poem’s various aspects. Most notably, as Hammond remarks, the electronic version seems to restore Eliot’s original vision for his poem without footnotes, which were only added to reach the length needed to publish it in book form, and the digital edition allows readers to hide them entirely. All these features combined make for an e-literary work, yet the digital affordances are not used in a way that interferes with the poem’s text. Quite the opposite effect is achieved. The digital edition arguably makes for a faithful translation of Eliot’s original vision, bringing into renewed focus the poem’s central feature, i.e., its collage aesthetic. Similar to how Eliot reflected on the fractured world of his times by having it mirrored in the poem’s structure, the digital version is a microcosm of our contemporary experience in cyberspace, which is in itself a complex hypertextual repository of fragments and voices.

The interactive fiction (IF) Whom The Telling Changed (2005) by author Aaron A. Reed exemplifies traditional medial translation. The work incorporates parts of The Epic of Gilgamesh as a narrative within a narrative. Granted, it is not the best example when dealing with moves from print literature to e-literature – given that it originates from an oral culture and was transferred onto the surface of clay tablets and other materials before it was decoded and moved onto the printed page – still, it encapsulates the essence of the process perfectly. The narrative of this IF concerns a tribe and its custom of gathering around a campfire and telling stories. This time, the event is especially significant as they are about to decide whether to attack or make peace with another tribe. They listen to an episode of the Epic for advice, focusing on Gilgamesh and Enkidu and their quest to slay the ogre Humbaba. The episode stays close to the version we have today, with some details changed and gaps filled. Admittedly, directing serious attention to the issue of fidelity is unproductive in this case. The Epic we have today is itself an interpretation of an original that can never be recovered, filled with gaps, and completed only by inference. What makes this a suitable traditional medial translation is how Whom the Telling Changed retains the essence of the source text. The Epic deals with universal themes, and as George comments, “there is in fact a formal indication that the epic is a work from which one is expected to learn” (xxxv). The same is true for Whom the Telling Changed, but the work’s multi-path narrative makes this aspect more potent. While listening to the story, the main character will often have internal monologues with themselves,[3] thinking through the story and giving the reader-interactor choices based on which the main character will react in various ways. For example:

Perhaps it was a sign of weakness for the demon to plead for his life. Or was the creature wise not to fight to the death? (original emphasis)[4]

Choosing any of the bolded words will make the main character externalize their feelings, leading to a conversation with other members of the tribe. Ultimately, the reader’s choices showcase what they have learned – or failed to learn – and can lead to strengthening friendships or losing them, and most severe, war or peace with the neighboring tribe.

Both Whom the Telling Changed and the iPad version of The Waste Land are examples of a broader trend within medial translation from print to e-literary works. A handful of e-literary works borrow extensively from important print literary texts or rely on an established author’s celebrity to demand critical attention. A subset of these works belongs to what Jessica Pressman dubbed ‘digital modernism.’ These are mostly “second-generation works of electronic literature that are text-based, aesthetically difficult, and ambivalent in their relationship to mass media and popular culture” (Pressman ix). Especially relevant to the present context is their tendency to adapt or remix the important works of literary modernism, culminating in works mainly landing on the radical medial translation side of the spectrum. Pressman’s book, Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media, provides detailed analyses of digital modernist works, of which at least three exemplify the process of radical medial translation.

One example is Dakota (2002), a Flash-based work by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries.[5] It is based on Ezra Pound’s first three cantos, the first of which is itself based on book eleven of Homer’s Odyssey. Pressman describes Dakota as a nearly line-by-line adaptation. However, Odysseus’s detour to the Underworld becomes a cross-country road trip, and characters are reimagined in their modern counterparts (e.g., Elvis takes the place of Tiresias). The language is updated, yet the resemblances are still striking, as Pressman demonstrates through several comparisons: “‘And Anticlea came, whom I beat off’ – so too, in Dakota, is the text describing abject Elie replaced onscreen by, ‘THEN—MY—MØM—SHØWED—UP—BUT—I—TØLD—HER—TØ—LAY—ØFF’” (86). What ultimately pushes the work to radical medial translations is the way the authors employ the affordances of Flash to transform the reading into an almost cinematic experience: the work remediates cinematic practices; the text appears on the screen one phrase or word at a time, in quick succession, at times making it almost impossible to read; and, a jazz score accompanies the work.

3. Arcadia as Medial Translation

One noticeable feature of the previous section is the lack of e-literary works presented in print. Indeed, it is hard to find examples, besides e-poetry,[6] which also means a lack of critical discussions of such works. Hence, more space is dedicated to discussing Iain Pears’s Arcadia, a work that fits the above criteria and demonstrates the complex interactions of print and digital media.

In an article by The Guardian, the author declares that Arcadia is “a novel conceived and written for an app” (Pears, “Why You Need”), meaning that the print edition released a month after the iPad application is a medial translation. This provides an opportunity to investigate how such a translation is carried out, what specific changes are made to benefit from the new medium’s affordances, and how that changes the reader’s experience with the narrative. Before venturing further into this direction, it is necessary to establish a few things about the two versions and the narrative they host.

Arcadia is a celebration of stories and the tradition of storytelling set in three different time periods. One section of the novel is set in Oxford in 1960; another takes readers into a bleak, dystopian future ruled by scientists in 2222, set on the Scottish Isle of Mull; while the third takes place in the idyllic realm of Willdon in Anterworld. The plot consists of ten narrative strands, each having a different focalizing character, but they remain deeply interwoven and, at various points, as characters meet, individual strands link up with one or more other strands.

According to Ryan’s typology of plot types and interactive architectures, the print edition conforms to the “plot as interwoven destiny lines” type, a structure particularly suited to narratives with a large cast of characters (101-02). This type of plot can be made interactive by introducing what Ryan calls a ‘track-switching’ architecture that only affects the order in which the story is told but not the story. In effect, this architecture grants readers the ability to switch between strands and follow another character’s perspective. Still, the shift never alters the written text, and switching to a different track within the textual layer always follows the story’s temporal flow. However, the digital Arcadia comes with an interactive map that allows readers to access individual lexias[7] in any order, allowing the possibility of disrupting the temporal flow.

Interestingly, Pears admits that working within such a structure significantly impacted how he wrote and shaped the narrative; he mentions that scenes became more episodic (“Why You Need”). In practice, this means that instead of more or less unified chapters, the narrative of the electronic version consists of fragments, typically corresponding to a few pages, similar to many hypertextual narratives. In Arcadia, a move to another lexia can signal a shift to a different character, a move to a new location, or a shift to a character’s inner thoughts. This aspect is carried over to the print edition, where single asterisks on otherwise empty lines signal the borders of individual fragments. “Most peculiarly of all, [Pears] found that the story was most easily structured by looking at it visually; whole strands were expanded or even deleted simply to create a more pleasing shape in the writing program” (Pears, “Why You Need”). Otherwise, the author remained quite conservative: there are no illustrations – other than the already discussed map – or a score to accompany the narrative.

The interactive map and the track-switching elements are missing from the print edition. The plot is presented in only one way, though the story is narrated in a nonlinear fashion, with the author alternating between the various strands and locations. Nonetheless, the narrative remains conventional and easy to follow. This comes with advantages and disadvantages. As the note from the author that opens the print edition reminds us, the print book is only one way of reading Arcadia, and readers are encouraged to get the application and “put the tale together” in their own way.

The text presented in the print version, almost six hundered pages, comes directly from the digital version. However, since we are talking about two different narrative architectures, the two versions are not identical. Minor changes in the print edition include linking shorter lexias that appear separately in the digital version and organizing lexias into sixty-six numbered chapters. Further minor alterations to the text are detectable at the beginning of various fragments. For instance, to increase the cohesiveness of the print version, characters’ names are often changed to corresponding pronouns. Since the digital edition includes track-switching, and therefore certain lexias are linked to several other lexias, it is necessary to refer to characters, places, or things by their names to avoid confusion. This becomes unnecessary in the print version, where there are fewer switches between perspectives or locations. More importantly, a careful comparison of the two versions confirms that a significant portion was cut from the print edition. The only remaining questions are why these fragments were removed, other than to be economical, and how important they are to the overall narrative.

In total, sixty-four sections of varying lengths were removed from the print edition. Most of these lexias relate the thoughts of their respective focalizing characters or act as transitions between various episodes. For example, towards the end of the narrative of the print edition, Henry Lytten (from Oxford, 1960) becomes the most important character as he enters his creation, Anterworld, to act as a god and a judge in a murder case. Thus it makes sense that the events are related primarily from his perspective and that we only know how he feels about the various statements he hears. The digital version, though, contains seven additional lexias revolving around the same set of speeches from the perspectives of the other characters participating in the event.

Overall, they do not contain information essential to the main narrative. Adding these additional perspectives in print unnecessarily prolongs the section and disrupts the narrative flow. In comparison, maintaining the narrative flow of the digital version, where readers are allowed to follow the story from the perspective of a specific character from beginning to end, necessitates the insertion of additional sections giving us their perspectives on events or acting as transitions that prevent abrupt jumps. Moreover, the narrative structure of the digital version requires another form of expansion. While the print version has three main characters, namely Rosie Wilson, Angela Meerson, and Jack More, the digital narrative allows us to follow ten strands. Following the narrative from beginning to end from a particular character’s perspective inevitably makes them the main characters of their respective strand. To support this, the digital version contains lexias that reveal additional information about the focal characters’ backgrounds, fleshing them out and giving us more insight into their preferences and motivations. For example, “The Weather”[8] lexia from Henry Lytten’s storyline describes his love-hate relationship with England or the sources of his inspiration when creating Anterworld – the setting of his novel, while ‘A Reputation’ gives a detailed account of another character, Henary, his personality, past, and connection to other characters. Much of the information outlined in these lexias is never discussed in the print edition, making the affected characters less round versions of the ones presented in the digital edition.

The additional details play an essential role in the digital version since they support the shift of secondary characters to the main character’s position. This process is especially noteworthy in two cases: Alexander Chang and Robert Hanslip. Both are essential to the narrative as they set important events into motion, yet figure only marginally in the print edition as most of their story is cut. The likely motivating factor is the retainment of suspense, which works differently in the print narrative.

The two fundamental mysteries of the narrative are the identity of Thenald’s murderer (the ruler of Willdon) and the exact purpose of Angela Meerson’s machine. Ryan distinguishes between four types of suspense, according to which the two mentioned mysteries belong to the who suspense – concerned with finding the central culprit; the “suspense relies on the intellectual satisfaction of solving a problem” (Pyrhönen 579), and the how and why suspense types – “readers must find out the cause of an already established event” and “suspense concerns curiosity for the solution of a problem” (Pyrhönen 579). Much of the suspense of the print edition comes from these two sources.

However, following the characters who know the answer in the digital narrative removes the suspense these elements generate. Following Chang’s narrative, for instance, reveals early on that he killed Thenald. In fact, so much information is given that readers will understand his motivation (i. e., getting back to Oxford 1960, as he has been stuck in Anterworld for years) and sympathize with him. This state can never be achieved without the extra details revealed in his narrative – making him more antagonistic in print. Likewise, Hanslip’s narrative reveals earlier what Angela’s machine does (time travel) and how it will ultimately destroy the dystopian society. All of this is revealed in the last few chapters of the print book. Thus, the kind of suspense generated by these mysteries might be eliminated or reduced in the digital narrative depending on the order in which one reads the individual lexias or strands.

While the previous two types of suspense are also present, ‘what suspense’ and ‘metasuspense’ take over as the dominant types in the digital narrative. The former involves the reader’s concerns for the characters and is amplified in the digital narrative since each focalizing character is the main character of their individual strand (i.e., readers feel more connected to them). The latter, ‘metasuspense,’ “concerns our curiosity about how the author will tie all the narrative strands together and give the text narrative form,” (Pyrhönen 579), understandably significant when reading a highly fragmented text, which the digital narrative is. Reading one narrative strand in isolation is not enough to understand the story. Therefore, a handful of questions will remain that generate suspense; and that can only be satisfyingly resolved by reading at least a few others – the number being dependent on the reading order.

It is also notable how having ten narrative strands of relatively equal importance, focalized by ten different characters elevated to the position of main characters in the digital version, is linked to the thematic level of the narrative. As noted earlier, one of the dominant thematic preoccupations concerns the human tradition of collecting and telling stories. In Anterworld, stories are significant enough that only a privileged class, namely scholars, can access the archives and share stories with others. The archives are revered as repositories of the knowledge and wisdom of a civilization long gone. However, not only do these grander stories play an essential role in the narrative but also the life stories of every individual – these are the essential parts of Anterworld’s funeral rites. Before a person passes away, they have the right to share their story with scholars who are obliged to write them down. The process is illustrated when one of the minor characters, Callan Perelson, is dying, and another character has to write his story. He can only sit and write while Callan speaks and ensure that the story “may remain behind you and the memory of your life be preserved” (Pears, Arcadia 473). According to Anterworld’s philosophy, every person’s story is equally important, which is why a track-switching structure gains further relevance as it highlights and strengthens one of the narrative’s central themes.

The juxtapositions and dramatic irony that emerge at the intersections of narrative strands are an additional element of the digital Arcadia. The essential difference between other hypertextual narratives, where such juxtapositions are typical, and Arcadia’s version of one is in the latter’s intentionality. Hypertextual narratives typically consist of lexias that are largely independent of one another and can be combined in various orders, though they still revolve around a central theme, event, or cast of characters. The reader’s role is to employ associative logic to find connections between lexias and reconstruct the narrative (Husárová). Arcadia’s lexias, on the other hand, form steady narrative threads, and most lexias at intersections were written to form more or less coherent units. This aspect is particularly marked at the introductory and closing lexias that connect to most narrative strands. The introductory lexia, “A Landscape,” serves as the beginning of six different narrative strands in the digital edition – in contrast, in print, it is added to the first paragraph of Jay’s (Anterworld) storyline, forming one single opening paragraph.

The lexia starts with the words “imagine a landscape” and continues with an upbeat description. The landscape in question is not identified, which allows readers to connect it to other lexias mentally, but it is a description of Anterworld, confirmed by the position of this lexia in the print edition. Consequently, it links organically to the storylines set in Anterworld. In two cases, however, the pairing adds a further dimension to the characters’ narratives. The combination of “A Landscape” and “Shopping,” which follows Rosie Wilson, suggests that the fifteen-year-old girl only imagined this idyllic landscape. The opening line of “Shopping,” “Rosie Wilson breathed in the air with appreciation” (Pears, Arcadia 12), combined with the introductory lexia, might even suggest that she just woke up from a pleasant dream. What makes this pairing interesting is how it emphasizes Rosie’s unhappiness with her reality:

It was Saturday, and she was free until Monday. Of course there were tasks to fill up the time she could have spent enjoying herself. Walking the next-door neighbor’s dog. Doing the shopping. Peeling the vegetables and washing up after meals. Her brother never did any chores. He was at work today and on Sunday would go off with his friends to play football. That was normal. That was what boys did, and she was doing what girls did. (Pears, Arcadia 12)

Rosie lacks friends because she chose to be educated, and as her brother mockingly notes, in 1960s Oxford, that makes her unappealing. Hence, it makes sense that she would try to escape in her dreams to a more forgiving place – a foreshadowing that eventually materializes when she goes through the machine that transports her to Anterworld. Only there does she feel like an active heroine and is treated as an important and knowledgeable traveler.

The second pairing with the lexia “A Corridor Conversation,” which starts off Jack More and Angela Meerson’s storylines, is similar. Like in the previous case, a contrast is generated by placing the idyllic landscape of the introductory lexia next to the grim dystopia that is Jack and Angela’s reality. The narration of “A Corridor Conversation” focuses on Jack’s thoughts, characterizing his world as unhealthy, artificial, dangerous, and frightening. The opposite of what he sees on the large display screens decorating the corridor. The display screens are meant to replace windows and project images of the nature that once was – a possible image being the one from the introductory lexia. Jack and many other characters yearn for a world like that. Much like Rosie’s example, the combination here is another foreshadowing, though this time, it foreshadows the concatenation of events that causes Anterworld to replace Jack’s reality as the storyworld’s future.

Interestingly, this moment is recreated at the end of Jack’s narrative. At that point, Angela’s narrative has long diverged, and Jack’s synched up with another character, Oldmanter’s strand. Jack and Oldmanter prepare for the launch of nuclear bombs meant to clean a parallel universe for those that wish to escape the harsh dystopia. Since Oldmanter does not believe time travel exists, he unknowingly destroys the past and changes his own present from dystopia to the idyllic Anterworld. Right after the bombs are launched, the two are looking at a projection:

(…) of tranquillity in front of them; another ideal landscape (…) an artistic imagining of a nightfall as, behind them, the monotonous tone of a technician called out the last seconds. “The world will be a better place, because of what we are doing here,” Oldmanter said quietly. “It is about to change forever.” (Pears, Arcadia 585)

The corresponding chapter of the print version ends with a variation of these words; however, the digital version includes another lexia, “Evening Sky.” It serves as the closing lexia for all narrative strands and as an invitation to continue reading the remaining strands (“it was the sort of evening which promised well for the next day, when the world would come to life once more”). Much like the introductory lexia, “Evening Sky” is an organic ending that provides closure for the narrative strands set in Anterworld. Yet, in a few instances, the meaning of those last lines is altered by what came before. Dramatic irony plays a more significant role here than in the previous examples. In Jack and Oldmanter’s narrative, “Evening Sky” confirms that everything did change, though not how Oldmanter and others intended. It is also noteworthy how at the beginning of the digital version, it is Jack’s dystopian reality that overtakes the idyllic landscape presented in the first lexia – by reducing it to a virtual projection on a wall – but in the ending, it is the projection of nightfall that closes the narrative, which mirrors how Anterworld becomes real and replaces the dystopian narrative.

A similar dramatic irony arises at the end of the strands taking place in Oxford in 1960. The characters finish their individual journeys, and Angela’s machine is shut down, but she loses the documentation that eventually enables Oldmanter to recreate it in the future and destroy the past. Angela and Rosie are resigned for a moment but soon collect themselves and decide to try and stop the nuclear catastrophe that will take place in a few decades. The lexia preceding “Evening Sky,” titled “Last Things,” projects hope, ending with the phrase: “quite a day… let’s see how tomorrow entertains us” (Pears, Arcadia 577), which is sustained in the last lexia with the last line – for readers who already know what happens – that hope is replaced by dramatic irony.

The two versions furthermore differ in the available set of intertextual references, with the additional lexias and elements of the digital version containing further references. Most instances are of marginal importance since the references do not add much to the narrative. However, one stands out. As mentioned earlier, the interactive visual map is not present in the print edition – it is impossible to recreate it there. Nevertheless, curiously it contains one element that holds enough additional information worth investigating: the ten narratives strands are all named in the digital edition, e.g., “The Teacher’s Tale” or “The Oligarch’s Tale,” and the names point to a more or less obvious reference: Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

While it might not seem relevant initially, the reference allows readers to draw parallels between the two literary works. There are resemblances on both the thematic and structural levels; however, the latter is arguably more prominent. Like Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the digital Arcadia is a collection of layered stories that celebrate the tradition of telling and recording stories. Each tale works independently, but collectively, an overarching frame holds them together. Chaucer’s stories are linked through the frame narrative of a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket located in Canterbury, and even this aspect is mirrored in Arcadia, where several of the narrative threads converge at the fictional shrine of Esilio, known to the people of Anterworld as their creator. These similarities seem superficial, but the structural ones are more noteworthy. While the version(s) of The Canterbury Tales we can read today show the poems organized into fragments and plausible sequences, that is not what Chaucer left behind. As Pearsall notes, “Chaucer did not intend the Tales to be read through as a continuous and integrated sequence as they now stand in print editions” (26), meaning that the individual tales form autonomous units and the overarching framework of a pilgrimage “often creates sequences or juxtapositions of tales in which the meaning of the individual tales is suggestively enriched” (xii). It is thus not far-fetched to imagine that Pears was inspired by this structure and tried to replicate that vision in the digital Arcadia. The narrative strands form semiautonomous units that can be read separately yet are fused by an overarching narrative and shared characters, and the order in which we read them affects and enriches the reader’s interpretation, as was demonstrated earlier.

4. Conclusion

Contemporary culture is characterized by increased interaction between various forms of media, with this article presenting one that occurs between print and e-literature, identified as ‘medial translation.’ Medial translation is best understood as the transfer of the narrative content of a literary work from print to digital media or vice versa. As authors are often expected to take advantage of the target medium’s unique affordances, the literary work’s form and content will be affected to various degrees. Thus, medial translation can take several forms based on how faithfully the original content is preserved and to what degree the resulting works rely on the target medium’s unique affordances. ‘Literal medial translation’ remains faithful to the narrative content and introduces new elements that remain marginal and do not necessarily contribute to the meaning-making process. Some changes and more reliance on new elements are allowed in ‘traditional medial translation,’ and radical changes with deeper integration of the new elements characterize ‘radical medial translation.’ Several works were placed within this framework, such as The Waste Land iPad application as an example of literal medial translation, Aaron A. Reed’s Whom the Telling Changed as a traditional medial translation, or Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ Dakota as an example of radical medial translation.

Although medial translation works in both directions, examples of e-literary works presented in print, besides e-poetry, are not easy to find. One example analyzed in depth in this article is Iain Pears’ Arcadia, written for digital media, namely iPad, but also released in print. An analysis and comparison of both versions reveal the complex processes that medial translation initiates and highlights the unique affordances of both formats.

For example, Arcadia’s digital edition enabled the author to implement a track-switching narrative and allow readers to follow the story from the perspective of ten characters – at certain points, readers can switch to another character’s perspective and continue from thereon. The track-switching narrative also resulted in a more fragmented narrative composed of episodes – this aspect is carried over to the print edition. However, in contrast to the digital Arcadia, the print edition offers only one version of the narrative, and it allows for a traditional narrative steady narrative flow that might be less alienating to readers, though it eliminates some of the additional features of the digital edition.

One of the additional features of the digital edition is that it elevates certain characters to the position of main characters and presents more rounded versions than those seen in print. The digital Arcadia offers more information about their motivations, thoughts, and backgrounds. Moreover, since one of the main thematic preoccupations of the novel is that every person’s life story is equally important, the thematic layer is strengthened by the narrative structure of the digital edition.

The narrative structure also affects how both editions develop and maintain suspense. While the print edition mainly relies on two major mysteries as the sources of suspense, the digital narrative’s multilinearity might resolve these earlier and generate less suspense. Thus, the digital narrative primarily relies on what Ryan calls ‘what suspense,’ generated by caring for the fates of the individual characters, and ‘metasuspense,’ generated by our curiosity about how all the narrative strands will be tied together. Additionally, track-switching creates combinations of lexias at intersections. Depending on the reading order, different combinations can provide interesting juxtapositions and lead to dramatic irony – affecting how readers interpret the story.

Since the narrative revolves around the importance of stories and storytelling, it is worth mentioning how the digital edition contains further intertextual references. Most are of marginal importance, yet the one in the interactive map, to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, proved significant. A careful comparison reveals similarities on both the thematic and structural levels. Thematically, both are composed of individual stories or tales and are preoccupied with the custom of telling stories, and many of Arcadia’s stories converge at the shrine of Esilio, mirroring Chaucer’s frame narrative. Structurally, both works are composed of fragments designed to be read independently and held together by an overarching framework.

Thus, the print edition is a traditional medial translation that offers one way of reading Arcadia that is less alienating to the average reader, with the narrative developing as steadily as expected. Since e-literature is still marginalized, and creators are most often not financially rewarded, presenting a work initially written as an iPad application in print makes commercial sense – even if substantial changes are necessary – confirmed by the fact that most readers first encounter the print edition. Having a print edition like this one also makes sense from the perspective of analysis and interpretation, as it aids readers and scholars for whom the digital edition is too alienating or fragmented to assemble all pieces of the narrative puzzle easily. However, the original digital edition, fragmented as it may be, is still essential as it offers more possibilities for character development, allows a deeper connection with more characters and enriches readers’ interpretation thanks to the additional signs enabled by the unique affordances of digital media. Finally, as evidenced in this article, investigating both editions simultaneously enables an even richer interpretation.

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Note About Contributor(s)

Erik György, Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, Slovakia


Erik György is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of English and American Studies, Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, Slovakia. He teaches English language, literature, culture, and history. His research focuses on contemporary forms of literature, mainly electronic literature, and its complex relationships with print literary forms.