Last fall when I taught my university’s Introduction to Literature course, I used a theme focused broadly on the issue of adaptation. The goal was to provide the course with a “hook” that would help to frame a wide range of materials, both historically (from Sophocles to Sita Sings the Blues) and textually (poetry, plays, fiction, and film). Now, I’m looking ahead to fall semester, when I will be teaching that course again and will have a chance to choose a new textbook for the course.
I liked the “adaptation, remix, remake” theme quite a bit and want to do something like that again. In addition, I am currently in the planning stages of an essay focusing on adaptation for a book collection (more on that later), so this will be a good opportunity for me to bring some aspects of my research in line with my teaching. Because the course is designed to introduce students to the practices of reading literature, especially close reading, I’m leaning toward going with John Brereton’s Living Literature and supplementing it with other readings where appropriate.
One of the activities that worked best last semester required my students to adapt a scene from Hamlet, either to video or for the stage (i.e., the front of the classroom). Most groups chose video, and one group in particular even added “deleted scenes” and a “making-of documentary” that was very funny (and smart). I may tweak this assignment and have students adapt short stories this time, but I think that one of the strengths of the activity was that it made Shakespeare more accessible. One of the challenges of teaching adaptation–especially between literature and film–is that such evaluations often start with evaluations based on fidelity: did the director do a good job of remaining consistent to the book? This is especially tempting in graphic novels that practically provide directors with storyboards for designing certain shots.
So, one of the challenges I’ve been thinking about is how to get around some of the more simplistic comparative analyses that privilege one text over another (this BYU instructional resource is really good on this point). The approach I’d like to take is analogous to some of the work being done in adaptation theory by people like Thomas Leitch, who challenge the tendency in adaptation studies to focus on fidelity. It’s still way too early to be thinking about next fall–I’m using this blog post as an excuse to avoid grading–but I like the idea of using adaptation broadly as a means for thinking about how texts interact with each other, both within media and across them.