for their classes.
Photo by Michael Jerch
Bringing to Life Queer Lit
Professors infuse Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood with fresh multi-media
By Renan Snowden
When English Professor Erin Carlston was
assigned to read Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood as an
undergraduate, she hated it. She now considers it
one of the best novels written in the 20th century.
Like many readers, Carlston initially was put off
by the book’s excessively ornate prose, Shakespearean
language, heavy symbolism and lack of traditional
character development. Written in 1936, the novel
follows the life of Robin Vote and the women and
men she romances. The story is set in Paris during
the rise of fascism that would lead to the persecution
of Jews and homosexuals throughout Europe.
Today, Nightwood is considered a seminal book both
in queer literature and the modernist era.
To lighten the burden of teaching such a
challenging text, Carlston teamed up with UNC
English Professor Maria Deguzman, Hofstra
University English Professor Patricia Smith and
UNC Political Science graduate student Carisa
Showden to piece together the multi-media onhne
project “A Hard Day’s Nightwood.” Using
themselves as actors, the four they are photographing
scenes from the novel.
Online, these images are formatted to change
when a cursor is placed on them. For instance, a
picture of a female character with her doctor changes
into one with a looming shadow when users scroll
over the photo. Eventually, the completed images
will be used in a slide show presentation.
Both the website and the slideshow will create a
more dynamic setting than a gallery wall. Deguzman
says they “allow for possibilities of blending and
mixing and a heightened sense of moving through
or from one space-time to another.” Because the
media change, they call on the viewer to interact with
the piece in order to understand it.
With visuals accompanying the text, the viewer
must make meaning of different forms of
information in order to capture not only what is
occurring, but also to step back and analyze how we
create meaning from different sources of
information. Especially for a text so focused on the
transitory nature of identity, hj'pertext is a
complementary medium that lends itself to making
meaning by accumulation of information.
Professor Deguzman has produced conceptual
photography series before, including “Theft in the
Doll’s House,” a collaboration with Jill Casid from
Women’s Studies that featured staged mannequins
alongside text. It is this interplay between text and
the visual that has made the form of conceptual
photography beneficial to her project on Nightwood.
Though the novel centers on queer individuals, it
is not to be read as a text of marginalization. There
is no interaction against a society. Instead, characters
become the society, and thus the norm. Nightwood
also deals with the clash of Jewish and French
cultures. For Deguzman, Nightwood “foregrounds
the notion of difference.” Difference, whether
defined as sexuahty, gender, religion, or nationality,
is an important element throughout the novel.
Nightwoods characters do not seek acceptance from
“A Hard Day’s Nightwood” can be viewed at
the website and
will create a
setting than a