CREATIVE PROJECT BY KAREL NARESWARA (’25)
Narration / Video
An Interpretation of The Writings of Gerald of Wales
Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)
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For my creative project, I chose to adapt Gerald of Wales’ Journey Through Wales and Topography of Ireland. I chose these two texts as I feel that they stand at the perfect intersection of humanity, bestiality, and spirituality. Topography of Ireland, for example, while providing a laundry list of animals that inhabit it, also provides a certain moral judgment on the island, the people who live there and the weird, twisted, rather ominous version of the religion they follow. Journey through Wales also interestingly weaves geographical locations with stories, fables, or “history” of how certain things came to be – for example, the falcon that kills the King’s hawk and thus gain his species the King’s favour. I find it absolutely fascinating as someone who enjoys travelling, to bring Gerald’s work into the 21st century and appropriate the content such that it highlights contemporary concerns and beliefs.
I particularly enjoy Gerald’s style of narration where he seems to be both narrating a story but also aiming to chronicle historical events in Wales and Ireland. From his style, what I wanted to take on was Gerald’s masterful weaving of the natural with both the material and immaterial worlds to visualise the world as he sees it. This act of remediation highlights the subjectivity of narration, one that cannot be downplayed in critically analysing these pieces of work.
First and foremost, I see Gerald’s works as chronicles that seek to delineate a physical location’s attributes – its animals, its peoples, its beliefs. While a documentary could be said to do the same thing, Gerald creates records of places without much visual aid. To achieve this effect, I decided to adapt YNC Screentest’s style, where the interviewee sits in the centre of the frame, with a plain background in black and white. The removal of any other visual stimulus, to me, focuses the object at hand, which is a man’s story of places he has been to.
Gerald’s works take on a segmented, rather episodic nature. Topography of Ireland specifically highlights this – that the book “falls into three parts”, dealing with geography, religious beliefs, and animals separately (23). Wales is rather segmented too, with each chapter being dedicated to a specific geographic location. While these are formally separated, I see that these vignettes all work in unison to create a common narrative. In Ireland, for example, these vignettes provide a thorough overview of a land’s geography, spirituality, and the kinds of creatures that live there, while at the same time subtly incorporating the notion of the island as an exotic “other” that can be wholly unfamiliar, strange, or wicked for the English. To adapt this episodic nature, my short video has many jump cuts, where I edited the video so that it jumps abruptly from one clip to another without transitions in between. In each of these clips, I speak of something distinctly different from the previous one, although just like Ireland and Wales, I seek to chronicle my travels bound in a singular, governing narrative. To me, that is to describe Bali in its rawest sense.
Lastly, I decided to not have any screens with the section headers/interviewers asking me the question. This is a creative decision that departs from Gerald’s work. I wanted to change Gerald’s more formal style – while he writes his mind, I feel that the broken boundary removes a certain distance between the producer and the audience. Gerald’s episodes are distinctly marked, but I elected to edit mine according to a more stream-of-consciousness style. The stream-of-consciousness style seems much more personal, less mediated, a direct peek into the person’s mind. The proximity of the camera to the subject and its refusal to move also simulates a conversation, or at the very least allows a more personal consumption.
The adaptation of the content is less dramatic than that of the form. I wanted to highlight Bali’s positionality, beliefs, and animality in my “interview”. Gerald mentions that he strives to “examine everything carefully”, the “position”, “nature”, and “race” (31) of Ireland. This is interesting to me for numerous reasons – such meticulous attention to holistic detail is translated as incessant focus on the relationship between animals and Biblical stories, for example. To me, this disjunction between describing animals present in Ireland with background fables that have little or nothing to do with Ireland specifically is something that is a bit of a betrayal to Gerald’s own mission statement. I seek to remedy this by describing the animals in Bali in a localised context. For example, I speak of monkeys who play pranks on tourists in the monkey forests in Ubud (06:42 – 07:31), and the koi fishes that inhabit a temple’s pond (02:07 – 02:48). Unlike Gerald, however, I attempted to speak of them in an anthropomorphic manner, where I anthropomorphise their actions (the monkeys playing a prank on a tourist). I incorporated my own reflections of animals that are not entirely divorced from religious beliefs but based on direct observations, such as the how the fishes and I can only ever see each other well through refractions and the cost of this boundary. This departure, while not a revolutionary one, helped me refocus the positionality of the animals such that they do not leave their locality and become divorced from cultural contexts, which is something I find to be sorely missing in Gerald’s work.
Gerald’s work incorporates fables and mythical stories that are woven into geographical locality, for example the possessed woman in Poitou (152 – 153). I find these very interesting as they are not necessarily purely chronicles of the present but also the histories of a place. I adapted this feature and attempted to incorporate fables in my story, for example the story of the dragon and the greedy son. This story exemplifies the ability of fables to assert moral beliefs – humility, honour, and filial piety, for example, just like the fables and myths present in Gerald’s works. Another example is the story of thinking impure thoughts leading to doom, that is modelled on Gerald’s warnings against venturing into “nine pits” (61). I find these nuggets of warnings absolutely fascinating, and I do see a very strong resemblance still to the local beliefs in Bali.
Lastly, I followed Gerald’s wisdom of choosing moments “worthy of being remembered” (31). In that sense, this work aims to follow Gerald’s, in a way that it hopes to chronicle a man’s laborious journey and report it back, such that “no age can destroy them.”
Cambrensis, Giraldus, and John Joseph O’Meara. The History and Topography of Ireland. Penguin Books, 1988.
Gerardus, et al. The Journey through Wales, and ; the Description of Wales. Penguin Books, 2004.