Panel 1A: Literary Transcodifications/1
Session 1 – July 1, 11:00 – 13:00
Terms of visual and trans-medial debate in Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust.
My proposal concerns the relation between literature and cinema as it was made theoretically visible and questionable in a specific subgenre called “Hollywood novel”. The main focus of my contribution to the conference will be The Day of the Locust (1939) by Nathaniel West, which stands out among other Hollywood novels for bringing to the fore of its narrative stance issues related to the interplay of visual arts. Though set in Hollywood, the novel’s main character is a painter, whose artistic ambitions have to be tackled with a much less rewarding job as a film set designer. The whole story, though, is filtered through and embedded with the protagonist’s own visual perspective, which requires a different theoretical framework than the usually biographical and regional one that has been mostly applied in the critical approach to the novel.
Actually, a developing tension is being built between narrative and images since the beginning of the novel, when the realistic impression of seeing a military parade is subtly substituted for with a crowd of Hollywood extras heading for their settings. Still today, this tension provides us with one of the most accomplished examples of what W. T. J. Mitchell means when describing the different stages of ekphrasis in his works, up to the point when, by overlapping with the explosion of public hysteria during the film premiere, the apocalyptic images painted by the protagonist visualize the realization of the ekprastic fear. I intend to reinterpret West’s novel in terms of its relevance to this image/word relation.
As the novel is introduced via parading extras, the main characters, too, are representative of marginalized figures in the film industry, whose perspective gives us a new insight into the novel as a trans-medial genre. The focus on cinema as a microcosm allows for a restructuring of character relationships inside the novel. This reshaping of narrative media made visible in West’s novel will also be taken into consideration in my paper.
Vincenzo Maggitti teaches English in high schools. He is PhD in Comparative Literature (Roma Tre) and has extensively worked on the dialogue between literature and cinema, such as discussed in his book Lo schermo fra le righe (Napoli: Liguori, 2007). Lately his interest in intermediality has included journalism and literature, some case-studies of which are covered in his book The Great Report (Milano: Mimesis, 2018). His essays on the topic have been published in several academic reviews and on-line magazines (Arabeschi, Between, Letterature d’America).