Thursday, 17 March 2005

tasty chunks o' thesis (or, World's Raunchiest Thesis: Uncut)

why the hell not?

here's a bit of what I'm (cough, cough) working on today: mental blanks, lame jokes, and all.

************* terms of the cultural and critical legitimacy accorded various forms of imitation, only novelisation, plagiarism, and the work of Jeff Koons come in for greater disapprobation than film adaptation. Adapted movies are criticised, from some quarters, for being regressive, vulgar, cynical, derivative, impoverished, and exploitative, for doing disservices to the literary originals from which they are taken and stunting the development of the cinema into which they go. The academic appraisal of film adaptation, correspondingly, expends a lot of time and effort in talking itself into a state of abject self-loathing. Why film adaptation should present a particular affront to contemporary sensibilities is not clear, since in the era of postmodernist appropriation, quotation, and intertextuality, the idea of adaptation – to ‘make fit’ (ad aptare) a work executed in one place, time, and medium, for re-execution in another - ought hardly to raise an eyebrow. Indeed, adaptation is so close to other, routinely valorised forms of impure reproduction (sampling? assemblage art? bricolage? etc,) that it is quite extraordinary how much popular and scholarly abuse it continues to elicit. It should not even be necessary to call on the relatively new concept of intertextuality to argue the legitimacy of film adaptation: the name and the immediate provenance of the practice of adaptation come from the theatre, where all kinds of work originally made at earlier times in other media have always been remade in a manner suited to dramatic performance.
Adaptation has been a tool of the cinema from its inception; long enough to have acquired the technical sophistication, the conventions and innovations, and the roster of successes and failures that we routinely acknowledge as belonging to other aspects of the film; long enough, one would think, to no longer be seen as decadent and bastardised. A steady withering of the range of ideas clustered around the concept has been the result of this general reluctance to take film adaptation seriously, to the point that calling a movie ‘adapted’ seems now to signal little more than a marketing category, easily exploited for purposes of cross-promotion but not signifying much more. I think this situation needs to change. As spectators and critics (filmmakers know it already) we must make ourselves aware that the label ‘adaptation,’ like generic designations, can point also to a bundle of _______s: a format, a lexicon of technical and stylistic tropes, a history, and a special psychological terrain.
If ‘adaptation’ is to be revived as a term that does more than simply name a category, some basic and difficult facts must be acknowledged. Adaptation is an innately scandalous object. It issues deep challenges to central cultural desiderata, and it necessarily elicits a disturbed reaction....


Anonymous said...

I love that line "Adaptation is an innately scandalous subject"..

perhaps you should start with that.

And perhaps remember that from the industry's point of view it is a very honourable part of the trade. Gets its own awards, particularly in writing circles.

In fact, adaptation is an intense meditation on the work in question.

- barista

Lucy Tartan said...

Thanks, David. I like that line too. Only trouble is I don't know whether I like it because it's true, or whether I think it might be true because it sounds good.

You're exactly right that adaptation is a 'meditation on the object'. In fact, I might steal (adapt)that... what i'm getting at is that adaptation is confronting for people precisely because, as readers, we all imagine that we 'own' or 'know' the book...then along comes this movie, the fruit of somebody else's engagement with it....and guess what, the adapter's meditiation doesn't match up with ours. Our ownership of the book isn't exclusive, as we wish to believe. So adaptation becomes a sort of bad object. What I'm trying to do is harness the uncanniness of adaptation for criticism, instead of just blocking it out or pretending it doesn't exist.

and thank you for reading! I'm beginning to realise that bloggers really do read each others blogs, as opposed to merely scanning for mentions of themselves, which is the standard in academe, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

We do read each other. The problem is time - particularly when you put up posts that provoke some thought.

Great thing to do, though. Don't be disheartened.

I take your point that adaptation is trasgressive for the audience. We are about to get the Earthsea series, which was butchered.

In practice, of course, the adaptation is a windfall for the writer, which is I guess is why Pullman has been so quiet about the wrecking of his books.