critical remediation: preface

"The rest of the story need not be shewn in action, and indeed,
would hardly need telling if our imaginations were not so enfeebled by their lazy
dependence on the ready-mades and reach-me-downs of the ragshop in which
Romance keeps its stock of 'happy endings' to misfit all stories."

—Bernard Shaw, epilogue to Pygmalion, p. 281

Bernard Shaw attempted to mediate the reception of his 1913 play Pygmalion by writing a lengthy epilogue in which he stated unequivocally that Eliza does not marry Higgins: rather, she marries the young gentleman Freddy and works in a flower shop to support them. Eighty years later, Shaw’s epilogue has done little to liberate his story from the persistent “ready-mades” he despised. He was talking about romances, but "ready-mades" are also found in our mundane everyday practices. For example, one late night, as I left the English building of my university, a hot pink sign caught my eye (see video below): a call for auditions for My Fair Lady. A silhouette of "a lady" stood in for the letter "i" in "fair." I thought of George Cukor's (1964) musical adaptation of Shaw's play starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. How many, I wonder, would remember the earlier remediations of this drama? What images, narratives, histories merge together in this artifact?

"Critical Remediation: Locating Eliza" traces several remediations of the Eliza narrative, the story of the flower girl who learned how to act and speak like a duchess. It considers how the narrative has found expression in literature, film, a computer program, and in everyday life. As we mentioned in the core text, citing Burke (1950), the "convincingness" of rhetoric is often formed from "trivial repetition and dull reinforcement" (pp. 25-26). Around the text are "ready-mades" of the Eliza narrative, both explicit and suggestive echos of this tale. Some play without activation. To activate others, you will need to click or roll over the image. In reading these different updates of Eliza and her literacy, I show a series of complex distributions and mediations. I link Bolter and Grusin’s theory of remediation, read as a narrative, with the all too familiar story of the remediation of the lagging student. Drawing on sociohistoric perspectives on language, I suggest the need for a theory of delivery that is unhinged from a particular modality, and that can attend to multiple technologies and the social and cultural contexts in which they are found.

Remediations (counterclockwise): 1. Continuously playing montage: advertisement for Pascal's film Pygmalion (1938) with a scene from the film; 2. Continuously playing montage: Call for auditions for My Fair Lady with still of Hepburn from 1964 film; 3. "Remedial" pronunciation (; 4. Continuously playing montage: "The Flower Girl on TV"; 5. Emma Berry on Eliza's speech.


patrick berry
center for writing studies
department of english
university of illinois
at urbana-champaign