Just a quick pointer to Laura’s comments at The Valve about the study of literary adaptation. Laura cites Dudley Andrew’s claim that adptation theory is “the most narrow and provincial area of film theory.” Like Laura, I have some investment in thinking about issues of adaptation. I’ve published on Charlie Kauffmann’s Adaptation, cinematic interpretation of Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief, and an essay I wrote about the experience of teaching Fight Club (both the film and the novel) is currently finding its way towards publication. While writing these essays and talking about the differences between the Fight Club novel and film with my students, I struggled to find a satisfactory vocabulary for talking about adaptation. These questions seem valuable to any discussion of film, especially given the prominence of adaptations in film studies and literary studies classrooms.
Laura notes that she
can’t think of another sub-discipline of either literary or film studies which is so widely taught, studied and discussed, at all educational levels and in all types of fora and publications, yet remains so undersupplied with concepts and vocabularies purpose-built for talking about the things (texts? or processes?) under investigation.
She later speculates that this lack of concepts is largely institutional. Adaptation essays that simply compare novel and film are “ast to write and relatively easy to publish.” They are also the kinds of books that libraries are more likely to purchase.
But I also think Laura’s conclusion that the lack of a developed adaptation theory is “perhaps a manifestation or symptom of adaptation presenting itself to us for consideration: a (naive) response to the way adapted movies irresistibly invite comparison with their sources, openly or furtively.” This reliance upon comparison is certainly a complicated problem (and extends even to the “low-brow” adaptations of graphic novels, as this screen shot-comic panel comparison from Sin City indicates). It’s tempting to develop these comparisons, even if you don’t hold the original in high regard, but such comparisons, even if they account for and appreciate historical differences between the two texts (adaptation theorists that embraced Clueless, for example), I’m not sure that’s a sufficient way to establish a more effective vocabulary for thinking about adaptation (this critique becomes more explicit in one of Laura’s comments on the same entry).
One possible solution may be to ground these questions historically in a more precise fashion. In the comments (a great discussion in general, by the way), Chris desscribes his work on postwar social problem films and the preference given to literary adaptations during the 1940s, as Hollywood sought greater cultural legitimacy. These historical positionings seem crucial to me, as would a more precise attention to the role of the two media themselves in shaping teh adaptation (or even the decision to adapt). But again, I’m fairly convinced by Laura’s argument that a more developed vocabulary for talking about adaptation would contribute to film and literary studies.