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LFQ at 50!: where we’ve been, where we’re going


Hi, I’m Elsie Walker, one of the editors of Literature/Film Quarterly and I wanted to share something of my history with the journal. I first came across Literature/Film Quarterly as a fairly traditional exploration of texts to films. I first became aware of many articles within the journal that deal with classical examples of adapting Shakespeare to film, even though some of those examples were quite radical for their own time (like the Paul Scofield King Lear, [which] I think is one of the most extraordinary, radical, strange, and enduring adaptations of Shakespeare—in not just trying to transcribe the text to screen but trying to re-understand/reimagine it), and that engaged my attention thousands of miles away when I was a student from New Zealand. I’d had, by that time, a long-standing relationship with Shakespeare. In fact, I have here my Complete Works and this was a school prize presented to me in 1992, and you can tell just how old this is, not just by the old book form but also [because] someone’s used a little Tipp-Ex to create the date correction at the bottom [of this dedication sticker for me!]. So, this is a very beloved text and I have it with me here partly to illustrate my attachment to Shakespeare but also to think of the text itself as a changing object. And when I open up this Complete Works the text is very, very tiny and my eyes would no longer be capable of reading the entirety of Shakespeare’s works in this font. So, I’ve changed, I’ve grown, but I still have this attachment to these words and to this journal that’s interested in how we might resituate them in many ways over time. I’m always interested in ways of opening up adaptation, not only through the adaptations of Shakespeare that have so often been a concern of the journal (and for a very long time there was an annual Shakespeare issue in April timed to go with Shakespeare’s birthday) but I’ve also been interested in how the journal can expand upon that kind of traditional text-to-film study. Along with that, when I first co-wrote an editorial for LFQ along with my colleague Dave Johnson, we wrote a letter from the editors reflecting on the history of LFQ and how we might want to rethink the name of the journal itself. The name of the journal has always been Literature/Film Quarterly but way back then, in January 2005, we were thinking about how “text” might be a better word [than literature]. Nevertheless, we’ve stayed with the title Literature/Film Quarterly because it does have a kind of grandiosity in that it’s been going for 50 years and it’s a kind of brand. We’ve abbreviated it, though, to LFQ, to signal that we’re trying to treat literature and indeed all texts in a new and constantly evolving way. And on that note the journal itself has expanded in its thinking and in its ways of exploring texts over time. I’m very proud of how much we’ve diversified the contents and focused on global perspectives: from the time I came here in 2003, that’s been a primary focus and concern. So, for instance, we have this beautiful cover for the 4th issue of 2006 featuring an image from Gurinder Chadha’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a Bollywood-inspired adaptation called Bride and Prejudice. It’s one of my favorite film adaptations to teach, even today. But I also enjoy how we can revisit well-worn classics like Metropolis and there’s a wonderful article in here by Åke Bergvall that’s exploring how newly found or newly discovered footage from Metropolis can help us re-understand what the film is doing in terms of its biblical resonance in particular. I also feel it’s important LFQ has transitioned to becoming an online, open access, free-of-charge publication. We celebrated that moment with this final print issue featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby. We were giving a “cheers” to all of our readers and our readers came from over 30 different countries. But we were also inviting a new future and a new level of outreach, hopefully breaking beyond the limits of this book or this kind of publication by making ourselves more freely available and easily available online. Now, we actually receive thousands of visitors every month. So, we’re expanding our outreach and along with that I think we’ve become more aspirational about what we can do with the concept of adaptation. Looking to the future, I’m hoping that LFQ will feature more works about pedagogical experiences, about ways in which practitioners in the classroom are using concepts of adaptation and different kinds of textual relationships or interrelationships to create meaningful dialogues with their students. I’m personally very interested in a concept I’ve coined—“generative proximity”—and through that concept I’m exploring what it means when you simply put one text against another. Let’s say, for instance, you have multiple films within the western genre. As soon as your students are studying those films in juxtaposition with each other—let’s say they go from Stagecoach to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to Unforgiven to No Country for Old Men—the students start generating new ideas from those proximities and we understand every film as it adapts a genre for a new time, for a new moment, and with a sense of ceaseless possibility. I think that the concept of “adaptation” is very malleable, can be meaningful to us all, because at its root I think adaptation first and foremost refers to biological survival as a species. We can relate to the imperative of adaptation but adaptation is a concept that also has connotations of growth, of the change that is inevitable [and] that we have to accept. It has connotations of being challenged, of being surprised, and I think all of that resonates so much with the last few years we’ve all lived through. The pandemic has forced us, on a global level, to adapt, to rethink what we’re doing, and this has also forced me (like everybody else) to reassess why I do what I do and why I believe in it. Many years ago, I was thinking about one of the [other] more profound adaptations I’d had to make in my life, which was becoming a mother in 2009, and so one of the editorials I’m actually proudest of features my little baby (then Charlotte Hope) in the editorial holding a few copies of the journal. And this was a reflection on how the new life in my life was forcing me to rethink my priorities and re-appreciate all the professional creativity that the journal celebrates with my child in mind. But I’ve also, like everybody else, had to deal with other big adaptive moments and I wanted to share these pictures not only of my children (there they are), now Charlie and Dorothy (the little one), but I’ve also had to adapt to the deaths of my parents. This is Varvara and this is Marshall, and with their deaths I have learned a different sort of adaptation that connects me to well over a million Americans who have been in the proximity of death over the last few years, not only through the pandemic but through the aftereffects of it. And so, as we confront all this mortality, I think it’s on us to think about the life we bring to what we’re doing, about why it matters, and about why our audiences should care about it or devote any time at all to what we’re producing. So, my dearest hope is that the journal will become—not in a clichéd way but in a very sincere way—more “relevant,” more urgent, more meaningful, and more resonant, more multidimensional for all of our readers. I think that will happen largely through pedagogical approaches—you know, hands-on experiences from the classroom coming to our pages online, but I also think by being open access we’re inviting a different kind of newly globalized and newly energetic conversation. We’re always going to be interested in opening up ideas of adaptation and along those lines I hope we’ll feature more work that’s truly interdisciplinary. We have in the works a special issue on “abuse studies,” which is a relatively new branch of psychological inquiry combined with psychoanalysis, social studies, history and revisionist history, and in that special issue our authors will be examining classical or quite revered works of literature and film and reassessing what they mean or reexamining what they do in light of this new era in which those who have been abused are able to be perhaps more vocal, more visible, and more strongly heard than ever before. And that kind of interdisciplinary approach I think is very exciting as it signals that different fields of academic discourse are adapting and changing in relation to each other and so again we’re not solely thinking about literature adapted to film. We’re thinking about all sorts of different texts that interact with each other and that inter-illuminate each other. And I also hope that we’ll delve even more into personal stories of adaptation as they charge the way that our audiences, our readers, our writers engage with all manner of films and texts across media. After all, we cannot escape the subjectivity with which we meet the text but we can think of that text as an always living thing and I sincerely believe that once the text is out there and it’s part of the world it’s our job to have a relationship with it if we care about it and to make that relationship matter to those who are reading our work. So, thank you for your support of the journal, for watching this video, and I hope you’ll continue to enjoy our contents.