Alice Project Description

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Alice Adaptation Project: Description


Team Members: Salman Bakht, Robin Chin, Sarah Harris, Rama Hoetzlein


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Project Description





Project Description

This project takes as its subject the notion of “rules” – how they are made, and how they are broken in certain closed fictional systems, as well as how they may be translated (and thus transformed) across the boundaries of different media. In order to probe this complex topic, our team has chosen to examine four different primary texts, each one a recognizable revision of Lewis Carroll’s famously eclectic work of juvenile fiction, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). These “Alice adaptations” – Martin Gardner’s 1960 The Annotated Alice text; Cecil Hepworth’s 1903 Alice in Wonderland silent film; Walt Disney’s 1950 Alice in Wonderland cartoon; and Jan Svanmajer’s 1988 hybrid claymation/live-action film, Alice – have been selected for their historic range, their cross-medium diversity, and, most importantly, for their common interest in retelling and revitalizing Carroll’s original rule-breaking/making work.


Our team began its project by examining The Annotated Alice, and in particular editor Martin Gardner’s articulated rationale for adding annotations to Carroll’s nineteenth century text. Curiously, in the first few lines of his “Introduction,” Gardner expressly acknowledges that there is “something preposterous about an annotated Alice” (7), as the original work seems to pride itself on its inextricable relationship to “nonsense,” or the disruption of the normal rules of social and linguistic meaning. However, continues Gardner, “In the case of Alice we are dealing with a very complicated kind of nonsense” that “is not nearly as random and pointless as it seems to a modern audience" (7). As such, he concludes that the annotation of the story is necessary: “we need to know a great many things that are not part of the text if we wish to capture and preserve its full wit and flavor.” Essentially then, Gardner’s seeks, as much as possible, to reveal in his annotations the “sense” that structures Carroll’s “nonsense” – the system of rules that is invoked in the original Alice, even as it is simultaneously rejected.


Fig-1 A Sample Page from A Revised Edition of Gardner's Text


However, while Gardner’s attempt to investigate the relationship between sense and nonsense is certainly very interesting, our team has come to the conclusion that his preferred method of investigation – using chunks of written text to analyze and comment upon another written text – is ultimately inadequate for accomplishing the goal that he proposes. To borrow a quote from textual scholar Jerome McGann: “When we use books to study books, or hard copy texts to analyze other hard copy texts, the scale of the tools seriously limits the possible results” (see “The Rationale of Hypertext”). The problem with Gardner’s text in other words, and why its effort to balance sense and nonsense ultimately results in a series of overly wrought pages (see Fig-1 above), at least partially stem from Gardner’s choice to employ the same physical medium as Carroll’s text, to critique Carroll’s text. Our group, having recognized this fundamental physical limitation, has sought to follow McGann’s advice, and has consequently decided to move beyond “the logical structures … of the material being analyzed.” By removing ourselves temporarily from the original written work and its literary adaptations, and instead focusing this project on a systematic analysis of our three selected film adaptations of Carroll’s Alice, we hope to be able eventually to return to the original literary work with a new, “decentered” perspective, and with a new theory on how rules are made, broken, and “adapted” across various media lines.


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