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How Do We Talk about Adaptation Studies Today?

The question, “How do we talk about adaptation studies today?” asks both how we are talking about adaptation studies and how we should talk about it. These questions lie at the center of my research (e.g., Elliott 2013; 2014a; 2014b; 2016). I begin with the first. Surveying recent publications, adaptation studies today continues to be a field of contrasts—of both-and rather than either-or or neither-nor. Longstanding debates between fidelity and infidelity (Hermansson; Dovey), formal and cultural approaches (Elliott, “Rethinking Formal-Cultural Divides”), empirical and ideological epistemologies (Cattrysse), individual agency and sociological forces (Murray), and politics and aesthetics (Hassler-Forest and Nicklas; MacCabe) continue.

Yet in spite of these tensions, the field is more settled now than it was in the 2000s. It is no longer the new kid on the academic block: In 2013, Routledge gave us a library of critical “classics,” reprinting critical work on literature and film published between 1968 and 1993 (Routledge Library Editions). If classics bring heft to the field, new book series, such as Palgrave’s Studies in Adaptation and Visual Culture, join new media, technologies, and business models in granting it currency. Here and elsewhere, adaptation studies evinces what Thomas Leitch nominates a “Janus-faced” view (“Everything You Always” 234). The field looks back and forward not only between adapting and adapted entities, but also between older and newer media, cultures, and theories. While adaptations of canonical literature to film (e.g., Hazette; Marsden; Buchanan) and literary adaptations by canonical filmmakers (e.g., Osteen; Tincknell; Hunter) continue to dominate publications, they are joined by articles and book-length studies of new media adaptations (e.g., Burke; Papazian and Sommers; Constandinides) and modes of adaptation (e.g., Loock and Verevis) excluded from Linda Hutcheon’s definition of the field a decade ago (9). Conversely, attention to new media has done nothing to diminish interest in historical adaptations; history and adaptation studies are thriving (e.g., Cartmell, Adaptations in the Sound Era; Semenza and Hasenfratz; Marsden; Raw and Tutan). Similarly, studies treating corporate franchise entertainment and globalization (e.g., Corrigan) co-exist with historical, national studies of adaptation (e.g., Rentschler; Slethaug; Umrani; Neil and Weisl-Shaw; Gelder and Whelehan).

The Janus-faced view extends to theoretical approaches to adaptation: as some scholars bring new theories (e.g., Hodgkins) and disciplines to bear (e.g., Murray; Raw and Gurr), others revive and rework older ones. In 2014, for example, Patrick Cattrysse returned to polysystems theories pioneered by him and others in the early 1990s; in 2013, Katja Krebs and others restore translation, rejected as a model for adaptation by radical scholars at the turn of the century, to adaptation studies; in 2012, Leo Chan used translation to bridge formal and cultural divides. These are just some of the myriad, productive ways in which we talk about adaptation studies today, demonstrating our field’s maturity, relevance, diversity, and capaciousness.

Is there then any need to ask, “How should we talk about adaptation studies today?” I think so. Adaptation itself is not static; adaptation studies must never stop adapting. Today I want to focus on some areas where the field has struggled and seems stuck. Sixteen years after Robert B. Ray’s influential field critique, adaptation studies still lacks a “presiding poetics”; it still unfolds more often than not as a series of disconnected case studies (Ray 44-45; Elliott 2016, forthcoming). While case studies have adapted to new questions, theories, and issues, and many do address broader topics (for example, those in LFQ 43:4 [2015] treat experimental fiction, writerly texts, heritage, juvenile delinquency, melodrama, and tragedy), with the exception of Shakespeare adaptation studies, case studies do not dialogue with each other as much or as often as they do in other fields. Intriguingly, larger field views are more likely to be found in editorials and book reviews, as recent issues of journals attest. But the best places to find larger issues addressed today and tomorrow are field companions and handbooks, as a brief survey of their contents attests (e.g., Cartmell, A Companion to; Leitch, The Oxford Handbook; Cutchins, Krebs, and Voigts, The Routledge Companion).

Adaptation studies is fractured because it participates in so many disciplines, periods, cultures, and media. Each discipline subjects it to its own theories and methodologies, which are internally contested as well as contested across disciplines. While the diversity of the field and the inherent resistance of adaptation to being governed or fixed by theorization makes a “presiding poetics” undesirable and impossible, we do need a shared core if we are to talk to each other about adaptation. In the past, the field cohered around aesthetic values and the canon. When radical politics challenged these, the battle shifted from literature versus film to modernism versus postmodernism, humanism versus radical politics, and structuralism versus poststructuralism. But the main reason that we don’t talk to each other are not these theoretical debates but because we rarely discuss adaptations as adaptations: instead, we discuss them as books, films, and other media; as history, aesthetics, politics, economics, psychology, sociology, and philosophy, and place them in the service of battles over value and ideology. Too much energy has gone into debating which principles should govern the field and not enough into locating and debating principles of adaptation. Hutcheon (4) and Cattrysse (15) claim to be theorizing adaptation as adaptation on the basis of their empirical methodologies. To a degree, this is true. But empiricism is not adaptation, nor are the principles of empiricism the principles of adaptation: indeed, they are distinctly at odds. Eckart Voigts comes closer to theorizing adaptation as adaptation when he recommends “the study of meta-adaptation … [as] the best way to make adaptational processes explicit” (Cutchins, Krebs, and Voigts 66). “Meta” articulates a methodology that considers adaptation in terms of its own principles rather than principles addressing other things; as a prefix denoting change, transformation, permutation, and substitution, it articulates principles of adaptation itself. Principles of adaptation will provide a much needed center for adaptation studies, enabling dialogue and debate across all manner of media, cultures, ideologies, and theories from a more firmly established core. We do not need to agree on these principles in order to discuss them; indeed, I hope we do not. But if we are to be a field that talks to each other, as well as a field in its own right, we need to make adaptation the core.

Works Cited

Archer, Neil, and Andreea Weisl-Shaw, eds. Adaptation Studies in French and Francophone Culture. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. Print.

Bruhn, Jørgen, Anne Gjelsvik, and Eirik Frisvold Hanssen, eds. Adaptation Studies: New Challenges, New Directions. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.

Burke, Liam. The Comic Book Film Adaptation: Exploring Modern Hollywood’s Leading Genre. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2015. Print.

Cartmell, Deborah, ed. A Companion to Literature, Film, and Adaptation. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.

— — —. Adaptations in the Sound Era, 1927-37. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. Print.

Cartmell, Deborah, and Imelda Whelehan, eds. Teaching Adaptations. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014a. Print.

Cattrysse, Patrick. Descriptive Adaptation Studies: Epistemological and Methodological Issues. Antwerp: Garant, 2014. Print.

Chan, Leo. “A Survey of the ‘New’ Discipline of Adaptation Studies: Between Translation and Interculturalism.” Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 20:4 (2012): 411-18. Print.

Constandinides, Costas. From Film Adaptation to Post-Celluloid Adaptation: Rethinking the Transition of Popular Narratives and Characters across Old and New Media. New York: Continuum, 2012. Print.

Corrigan, Timothy. “Emerging from Converging Cultures: Circulation, Adaptation, and Value.” Hassler-Forest and Nicklas 53-65.

Cutchins, Dennis, Katja Krebs, and Eckart Voigts, eds. The Routledge Companion to Adaptation. London: Routledge, Mar. 2017. Print.

Della Coletta, Cristina. When Stories Travel: Cross-Cultural Encounters between Fiction and Film. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2012. Print.

Dovey, Lindiwe. “Fidelity, Simultaneity and the ‘Remaking’ of Adaptation Studies.” Nicklas and Lindner 162-85.

Elliott, Kamilla. “Adaptation Studies and Adaptation Scholarship.” Leitch (forthcoming, n.p.).

— — —. “Doing Adaptation: The Adaptation as Critic.” Teaching Adaptations. Eds. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan, eds. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014a. 71-86. Print.

— — —. Rethinking Formal-Cultural and Textual-Contextual Divides in Adaptation Studies.” Literature/Film Quarterly 42:4 (Oct. 2014b): 576-93. Print.

— — —. “Theorizing Adaptations/Adapting Theories.” Adaptation Studies: New Challenges, New Directions. Eds. Jorgen Bruhn, Anne Gjelsvik, and Eirik Frisvold Hanssen, Bloomsbury, 2013. 19-45. Print.

Gelder, Ken, and Imelda Whelehan, eds. Special Issue: Adapting Australia. Adaptation 9:1 2016. Print.

Hassler-Forest, Dan, and Pascal Nicklas, eds. The Politics of Adaptation: Media Convergence and Ideology. London: Palgrave, 2015.

Hermansson, Casie. “Flogging Fidelity: In Defense of an (Un)Dead Horse.” Adaptation 8:2 (2015): 147-60. Print.

Hodgkins, John. The Drift: Affect, Adaptation and New Perspectives on Fidelity. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.

Hunter, I. Q., ed. Special Issue: Kubrick and Adaptation. Adaptation 8:3 (Dec. 2015). Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Krebs, Katja. “Translation and Adaptation: Two Sides of an Ideological Coin.” Raw 42-53.

Leitch, Thomas, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. Print.

— — —. “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Adaptation: *Especially If You’re Looking Forwards Rather than Back.” LFQ 33:3 (2005): 233-45. Print.

Loock, Kathleen, and Constantine Verevis, eds. Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions: Remake/Remodel. London: Palgrave Macmillan 2012. Print.

MacCabe, Colin, Kathleen Murray, and Rick Warner, eds. True to the Spirit: Film Adaptation and the Question of Fidelity. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

MacCabe, Colin. “Introduction. Bazinian Adaptation: The Butcher Boy as Example.” MacCabe, Warner, and Murray 3-25.

Moore, Michael Ryan. “Adaptation and New Media.” Adaptation 3:2 (2010): 179-92. Print.

Murray, Simone. The Adaptation Industry: The Cultural Economy of Contemporary Literary Adaptation. London: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Naremore, James, ed. Film Adaptation. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2000. Print.

Nicklas, Pascal, and Oliver Lindner, eds. Adaptation and Cultural Appropriation: Literature, Film, and the Arts. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012. Print.

Osteen, Mark, ed. Hitchcock and Adaptation: On the Page and Screen. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Print.

Raw, Laurence, and Defne Ersin Tutan, eds. The Adaptation of History: Essays on Ways of Telling the Past. Jefferson: McFarland, 2012. Print.

Raw, Laurence, and Tony Gurr. Adaptation Studies and Learning: New Frontiers. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2013. Print.

Raw, Laurence, ed. Translation, Adaptation and Transformation. London: Continuum, 2012. Print.

Ray, Robert B. “The Field of ‘Literature and Film.’” Naremore 38-53.

Rentschler, Eric, ed. German Film and Literature: Adaptations and Transformations. London: Routledge, 2015. Print.

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Scholz, Anne-Marie. From Fidelity to History: Film Adaptations as Cultural Events in the Twentieth Century. New York: Berghahn, 2013. Print.

Semenza, Greg M. Colón, and Bob Hasenfratz. The History of British Literature on Film, 1895-2015. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. Print.

Slethaug, Gordon E. Adaptation Theory and Criticism: Postmodern Literature and Cinema in the USA. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.

Umrani, Safdar Imam. Literature and Film Adaptation: Hindi Cinema: A Case Study.‬ Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic, 2012. Print.