Introduction: SCRIPTjr.nl & Issue 1.1
by Quimby Melton
Since it invites examples and readings of a number of marginalized textual forms, SCRIPTjr.nl could be, and has been, accused of having an overly broad editorial interest. Despite its diverse content, though, SCRIPTjr.nl is essentially concerned with just two relationships:
(a) that between textual culture and visual culture;
(b) that between mainstream literary culture and fringe writers and texts.
Every issue of SCRIPTjr.nl will engage these two relationships in some way, and issue 1.1, our very first, is no exception.
While it's undeniably broad-minded, SCRIPTjr.nl nevertheless has an especially acute interest in (screen)writers and "entertainment" literature (i.e., script forms). As the journal's meta-information articulates here and here, one could consider this interest SCRIPTjr.nl's primary raison d'être. Issue 1.1 confirms this since the editors have dedicated a full five-eighths of its content to (screen)writing and script forms.
My article on the largely unknown "Lesescenario" is part exposition and part argumentation. It introduces the "closet screenplay" and situates this twentieth century genre in a historical literary context by articulating its relationship to Western closet drama. The article also argues that the Lesescenario, like closet drama before it, serves as a tool of literary subversion whereby practitioners work in a performance mode only to intentionally bypass production.
SCRIPTjr.nl's interview with up-and-coming screenwriter Caitlin McCarthy (Wonder Drug and Resistance) not only offers vocational insight into the screenwriting profession. In it, McCarthy also reflects on the literary bona fides of filmscripts and the narratives they help create.
Two members of SCRIPTjr.nl's editorial board generously contributed work to our inaugural issue. Andrew Horton filed a report from the Fourth Annual Screenwriters Festival in Cheltenham, UK, and Marsha McCreadie takes an amusing look back at her relationship with director Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally ... and Julie & Julia).
Issue 1.1's "script excerpt" is an intriguing selection of film scenarios from a proposed chapbook project by writer and artist Richard Kostelanetz. Part homage to the script forms of the early 1900s, part logline montage -- Kostelanetz' 248 film scenarios are appropriate to SCRIPTjr.nl for several reasons. Historically, a chapbook was a small, inexpensive book or pamphlet filled with popular stories, ballads, and/or poems which were often illustrated with woodblock prints. Not only does the act of compiling a series of loglines into a traditional genre shrewdly assert the literariness of script forms, one could argue that inexpensively-produced, illustrated webpages and open-access, online journals like SCRIPTjr.nl serve as modern chapbook analogues. It seems more than appropriate, then, that SCRIPTjr.nl would include a tribute to the chapbook in our first issue, and the editors appreciate Kostelanetz making this unexpected homage possible.
Issue 1.1's prominent interest in (screen)writers and script forms grows out SCRIPTjr.nl's guiding assumption that the literary alterity of screen and teleplays, as well as other script forms, isn't the result of dark magic, inherent formal deficiency, or even professional esotericism. (Myopic classism, however, can't be completely ruled out as a root cause.) Instead, there simply isn't much of an intellectual or commercial economy surrounding entertainment scripts as literary texts. If, for example, commercial publishing gave screen and teleplays the same attention it gives novels and, to some extent, stage plays, interest in script forms would likely increase as would the form's intellectual capital. One could draw similar conclusions about the literary intelligentsia, within and without the academy, and, perhaps most importantly of all, the creative writing circles to which the former are symbiotically and inextricably attached.
After all, many writers stubbornly cling to lyric poetry and the novel even as they etiolate these and other genres, such as the memoir, with somnolent forms of bourgeois realism and, likely as a consequence, preside over a monumental decline in these genres' viability. Moreover, it's fallacious for class-minded, literary intellectuals and creative writers working in traditional genres to identify script forms, and the flickering film and television narratives they help create, as mortal enemies. This unenlightened opinion reveals little about "dumb" visual culture, but it suggests a good deal about many critics and writers':
- dedication to rigid class hierarchies and the outdated "high"/"low" cultural binary
- lack of self-awareness regarding the role they play in the public's waning interest in traditional textual culture
- reluctance to embrace inevitable literary evolution
- topsy-turvy privileging of the genre species (e.g., novel) over the discourse genus (e.g., narrative)
Those of us who hail from traditional literary backgrounds, and who practice the ancient literary arts, would do well to realize the fault for our decline doesn't lie in our entertainment stars, as it were, but, rather, in ourselves, in the limitations to which we are underlings. But this, the editors would add, is only by choice and because of an all-too-often stubborn ignorance.
Largely single-use; by nature adapting, adaptive, and adapted; narrative commodities born of the marketplace and ineluctable participants in it; instigators of cosmopolitan matrices of collaborate creative action -- those things that compromised the aesthetic legitimacy of script forms in the twentieth century now make them seem decidedly contemporary and empower them to remain, when alloyed with the screen narratives they help create and the novels they frequently adapt, the dominant narrative artform of the twenty-first century.1
As Caitlin McCarthy suggests in her SCRIPTjr.nl interview, "'The Great American Novel' was the dream of the 20th Century. In the 21st Century, the dream appears to be 'The Great American Screenplay.'"
Of course, none of these conclusions in and of themselves mean script forms have literary value. But most arguments against them as such center on empty, unexamined tradition; simple nescience; various perceptions of Otherness and exoticism; class identity; and economic paranoia. Moreover, it raises a host of interesting, yet-to-be-fully-answered questions if we assume entertainment scripts have the same literary value as novels, poems, and plays.
The assumption that script forms have literary value already circulates, of course, and fascinating questions are already being asked: in the various monographs and periodicals listed in the first section of SCRIPTjr.nl's "Resources" page, in mass-market publications like Vanity Fair, and in entertainment industry trade press. Likewise, resources like The New Post-literate and ArtCrimes serve as repositories of other marginalized script forms. And now, at the beginning of 2010, SCRIPTjr.nl begins playing its part in this emerging discussion.
In an economically feasible, rapidly circulating way, SCRIPTjr.nl offers:
(a) interested parties a forum for engaging with entertainment scripts and other abject texts as literary objects
(b) (screen)writers and other marginalized writers a forum for experimenting with new "on-page" expressions
(c) these writers a means of sharing their work in the way short fiction, novel/play excerpts, and poetry traditionally have been
While script forms are still decidedly Other within creative writing circles, literary commerce, and academia, SCRIPTjr.nl editors are sanguine that such interest groups can, quite readily, begin considering (screen)writers "real" writers and begin reading their texts as literary objects. As such, these writers and textual forms can -- because of their accessibility compared to asemic writing, code poetry, graffiti, and tattoos -- help us engage with and better understand the nature of literary alterity generally. In so doing, the editors also hope (screen)writers and their script forms can act as a bridge between textual culture and visual culture, between the literary mainstream and the textual hinterland.
In fact, they've already operated this way, educating the editors about the other abject textual forms SCRIPTjr.nl concerns itself with and introducing them to a vast hinterland of outcast literary artifacts mainstream literary culture routinely overlooks. Once exposed to these outliers, the editors couldn't help but feel they'd create an uncomfortable irony if, after accusing mainstream literary culture of certain hypocrisies vis-à-vis entertainment scripts, they themselves marginalization other abject scripted utterances by ignoring them.
This, then, represents the best explanation for SCRIPTjr.nl's heterogeneous content and broad editorial interest.
The editors hope issue 1.1's dominant concern with script forms acts as a bridge to work by Italian screenwriter, director and graffiti writer Filippo Soevv, Finnish (visual) poet Satu Kaikkonen, and Seattle-based multimedia artist Allison Urban.
Soevv's diverse artistic interests reflect those of SCRIPTjr.nl, but in issue 1.1, he shares his graffiti writing. This body of work merges intricate, jumbled word forms (which themselves read like urban, calligraphic, asemic text) and commentary-charged murals with arresting, often lyrical titles.
Kaikkonen's asemic paintings and comics put tension on the graphic/text binary and, in her own estimation, hearken back to Babel -- the mythological root of all languages -- and therefore serve as a projection of human beings' desire to (re)connect with one another.
Urban's installment Threshold, with its intricate, light-based forms of aleatory language, effectively challenged SCRIPTjr.nl to extend its notion of "code poetry" and serves as a reminder that nature is constantly speaking a sort of asemic tongue to humanity, one organized around the sorts of complex rhythms and patterns common to discourses like Chaos theory.
Admittedly incomplete with respect to tattoos, programmatic code poetry, and the other abject textual forms the editors hope to feature in future issues, issue 1.1 nevertheless serves as an accurate compendium of many of SCRIPTjr.nl's major interests. And in time, the editors hope the journal will be able to facilitate discussions involving, and share examples of, the various textual forms that populate literature's last frontiers.
- My essay "Ghidorah Attacks! Modern narrative's three-headed monster" (Bright Lights Film Journal 65 [August 2009]. http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/65/65ghidorah.php [1 January 2010]) argues that the dominant narrative genre of the twenty-first century is the novel-screenplay-film compound. ↩