Essay Review: Adaptations, Textual and Personal

By Raw, Laurence | Post Script, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Essay Review: Adaptations, Textual and Personal


Raw, Laurence, Post Script


Deborah Cartmell (ed.), A Companion to Literature, Film and Adaptation. Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. h/bk 433 pp. ISBN 978-1-4443-3497-5; Anne-Marie Scholz, From Fidelity to History: Film Adaptations as Cultural Events in the Twentieth Century. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2013. h/bk 227 pp. ISBN 978-0-85745732-8; Karina Aveyard and Albert Moran (eds.), Watching Films: New Perspectives on Movie-Going, Exhibition and Reception. Bristol, UK, and Chicago: Intellect/ U. of Chicago P, 2013. p/bk 409 pp. ISBN 978-1-84150-511-4.

Although very different in terms of content and approach, these three books look in depth at the act of adaptation as performed by screenplay writers, directors, as well as audiences. Taken together they provide a good illustration of how adaptation works across different levels.

Deborah Cartmell's collection covers just about every area imaginable within adaptation studies, whether historical, theoretical or otherwise. Her introductory chapter offers a penetrating survey of the field; while recognizing the achievements of previous scholars such as Robert Stam, Kamilla Elliott, Christine Geraghty et. al., Cartmell claims that adaptation covers a variety of disciplinary areas, not just film studies. A Companion to Literature, Film and Adaptation is a far cry from those collections that simply compare source with target texts; it encompasses comic-books, songs, silent cinema as well as more canonical texts and their cinematic variants.

There is something for everyone in this volume. As a fan of Thomas Leitch's work, I enjoyed his meditation on precisely what constitutes an adaptation. He surveys previous definitions (for example "adaptations are exclusively intermedial, involving the transfer of narrative elements from one medium to another") and patiently deconstructs them; to identify adaptation solely with intermediality "is to dissolve the operations" of both (92). Leitch also reflects on whether adaptations are translations, or vice versa. Citing George Steiner's After Babel, Leitch argues that any attempt to define adaptation as translation has been theoretically discredited, especially by those who consider any speech act a form of translation (99). He concludes by pointing out that the question of how to decide what an adaptation should be needs to be indefinitely postponed, so that the field "may well flourish more successfully when a thousand flowers bloom" (103). The statement represents something of a cop-out: what might prove a more fertile area of theoretical inquiry is to consider how the term adaptation changes meaning over time and speech. By such means we can uncover its significance for diverse interest groups.

Shelley Cobb's essay addresses another hot topic within adaptation studies--that of authorship. Through an analysis of Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady (1996) and Spike Jonze's Adaptation (2002), she shows how the term conveys plural meanings: our understanding of its importance to adaptation studies should be shaped by aesthetic and commercial issues. For Cobb auteurism is a function of capitalism; the screenwriter struggles for authority with the author of the source-text in the sphere of marketing (118). However Cobb neglects the presence of numerous other authors in the adaptive act--especially those watching films in different contexts, who might respond to the text very differently than the screenwriter. Authorship in adaptation is a competitive act involving everyone, both in front of and behind the camera, as well as those watching the finished product in the theater, online or at home.

The commercial aspects of adaptation are addressed in more detail by Simone Murray. In a piece that extends the issues raised in The Adaptation Industry (2011), she shows how "a comprehension of the economic bases of culture enhances our understanding of the texts around us" (138). It is perhaps time to abandon current "bifurcated theoretical, methodological and institutional formations" of adaptation and consider texts in relation to their encompassing mediasphere. …

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