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  • Dark Creative Passage: A Derridean Journey from the Literary Text to Film
  • Jessica Duffin Wolfe
Roberta Imboden . Dark Creative Passage: A Derridean Journey from the Literary Text to Film. Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier 2005. 129. €19.00

Taking Jacques Derrida's Memoirs of the Blind as a guide, in Dark Creative Passage Roberta Imboden ponders a number of literary texts and their cinematic adaptations, including works by Sei Shonagon, Peter Greenaway, Denys Arcand, Dashiell Hammett, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Ondaatje, Marguerite Duras, William Blake, and Jim Jarmusch. Imboden's approach is refreshing both for its hetero-chromatic texts and the novelty of its critical framework, but spongy language and meagre analysis prevent the book from delivering the enlivening study it promises.

Imboden describes her theme as 'the uncharted space that lies between the literary and the filmic text.' Instead of explaining this metaphor for adaptation with enough detail to make it meaningful, she lets the 'space' between literature and film float like hearsay through the book. Each section begins with a meditation on the 'midnight study' of the author or filmmaker at hand, a recurrence that, instead of developing the spatial argument or identifying an intersection among the works, merely bores the reader. In seeking to give 'visibility to this quite invisible process' of adaptation, Imboden layers her topic with breathless and purple prose that summarizes instead of illuminating, only rendering her theme 'visible' through the bestowal of imagery. [End Page 180] She never considers the practical steps involved in adaptation, so her claims about creative process lack the empiricism that characterizes a useful theory. Describing the structure of each chapter, she writes, 'I first muse, meditate carefully upon the literary text, and then upon the film, sometimes interweaving, interstitching the two – a bit here and there.' This description of her style is precise in its omission of sustained analysis, and in its segmentation of literary and cinematic texts, a treatment that is surprising and inept in a book concerned with the relationship between the two.

Indeed, all too frequently Dark Creative Passage leaves its logic unhinged and its assumptions unquestioned. For example, a long section on the 'blindness' of space in Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book relies on the prevalence of fans, blinds, and translucent walls in ancient Japan, a history that goes undocumented: 'We know enough about the construction of the Japanese temple or court buildings,' Imboden writes, 'to know that a certain kind of fragile translucency is there.' Here, as when she replaces analysis of texts and films with narrations of reading and viewing them, Imboden uses the first person plural as though writing in a voice that presumes agreement between author and reader could dispel the need to provoke, argue, and persuade.

Though Imboden focuses on the creative fecundity of dark space throughout, only at the end of the work does she refer to the darkened theatre of cinema, the communicative space through which audiences 'pass' to access films. In her description of the 'sacred darkness of this modern place of worship, the cinema theater,' she belatedly and incompletely accounts for the Christian mysticism that permeates the book. Religious thought also underpins Imboden's two earlier works, The Church a Demon Lover (1995), and From the Cross to the Kingdom (1987), but in Dark Creative Passage it goes undeclared as a primary critical framework.

Rather than casting light on the interpretive practices of filmic adaptors through systematic inquiry, Imboden's Dark Creative Passage reads as a highly personal meditation on creative process, and keeps the 'space' between texts and film in shadow.

Jessica Duffin Wolfe
Faculty of Liberal Studies, Ontario College of Art and Design


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pp. 180-181
Launched on MUSE
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