Sunday, June 4, 2017

Spontaneous Speechmaking

As a veteran attendee of conferences over the last quarter century, I have become accustomed to a series of familiar rituals.  The speakers gather round a table on the podium or speaking area, and one by one they deliver their papers, invariably accompanied these days by PowerPoint presentations of variable quality.  Sometimes the slides bear very little relationship to the arguments presented; on other occasions presenters copy their entire paper on to the slides, forcing the audience to wonder why they are speaking at all.  We could readily discover what their topic might be through reading the slides.

Nine days ago I delivered a piece in Thessaloniki, Greece, on the audience’s role in adaptation.  I planned it roughly according to a paper I had recently completed on a similar topic.  I would begin with an explanation of the popular appeal of Yeşilçam films in Sixties and Seventies Turkey, concentrating in particular on the symbiotic relationship established between performers, producers, and their audiences.  I would then survey the changes in the Turkish film industry in the Nineties, when Yeşilçam died out and the television serial, or dizi, dominated the ratings on public service as well as private broadcasting.  I would finish with a survey of attitudes in various countries towards the diziler, which have proved both financially as well as popularly successful.  I had spent several hours putting together a PowerPoint presentation which I hoped would not fall into the kind of methodological traps I have previously described (https://www.slideshare.net/laurenceraw/literacies-and-transnational-audiemces).

I was due to speak at 13.30.  I went to the morning sessions, secure in the knowledge that I had prepared my presentation and could answer questions on it.  As the session unfolded, however, it became increasingly clear that other presentations were focusing on subjects resembling mine.  A Portuguese colleague offered a fascinating insight into the early days of the local film   industry, where the combination of censorship and capitalism led to an idiosyncratic product very similar in terms of content and form to Yeşilçam.  Another presenter, this time from Greece, looked at the contemporary reception of Bill Haley’s film Rock Around the Clock (1956), and its potential for generating “moral panics” (as far as the media were concerned, that is).  Precisely the same thing had occurred in the Turkish film industry, especially when films dealt with family and marital issues.

I began to write furiously while the other presentations were delivered.  I decided to ditch much of what I had previously prepared and restructure my presentation around the relationship between industry, performers and audience.  Following Simone Murray’s arguments, I wanted to show how the form of a Yeşilçam drama did not depend so much on the screenwriter, nor on textual issues such as fidelity, but rather on what the audiences expected.  Hence the fondness for recycling familiar melodramatic plots centering on good and evil.  I followed that with the piece on audience reaction to the diziler outside Turkey, to show how audiences in different territories constructed different evaluations of the same material, both in informal conversations and online discussion groups.  I ended up by calling for more systematic studies of the role of audience, especially in a digitized world where local and global issues were often inseparable.

The only snag was that I had to present this spontaneously with the minimum of notes to work from.  The traditional props of the conference speaker – the PowerPoint presentation and the elaborately worded written lecture – were unavailable to me.  As my therapist once memorably said, I had to “fly by the seat of my pants.”

I underestimated the resilience of the human spirit in such situations.  I talked to the audience as if I was talking to friends in a teashop, keeping my tone conversational, and returning periodically to my main themes (adaptation and industry, audience studied) to aid comprehension.  Subconsciously I felt my head moving from right to left, trying to make sure I looked at every one of the audience, even though they seemed somewhat blurred (I was wearing my reading rather than my distance eyeglasses).  As I warmed to my theme, idea after idea came to my mind; I could readily quote the previous presenters’ work on Portuguese films to suggest transnationality).  Conclusions have always been my bugbear, but in this presentation the ending appeared perfectly logical: we need to expand our frame of reference in adaptation studies to include nonwestern cinemas and their histories.

I felt good at the end. For someone who experiences problems of self-esteem, especially with the deterioration in my voice, this was particularly gratifying.  Only the week before the BBC rang me to make a comment in one of their film programs, but decided not to use my owing to my croaky voice that was not suitable for the airwaves.  Even though the producer denied it fervently, I understood that he was not telling the truth.  No matter: in Thessaloniki I had dealt with my fears and spoken to the best of my ability.


There is no real moral to this story, other than to suggest that adaptation studies bears an intimate relationship to individual psychology.  Sometimes you need to adapt yourself to the exigencies of an unforeseen situation.  The experience can prove stressful, but the results highly beneficial. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cultural studies in Turkey Twenty Years on: Reminiscences and Reflections

Cultural Studies in Turkey Twenty Years On: Reminiscences and Reflections

In the mid-Nineties I worked with the British Council as an educator/ innovator charged with the introduction of British Studies into university curricula.  This was an initiative initiated by my then boss, Alan Mountford, to try and promote an understanding of and an empathy towards Britain, in a fashion similar to that of American Studies two decades previously.  I worked closely with Susan Bassnett, then the head of the Department of Translation and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, to develop a series of curricula that could be taught both at the Council and local institutions. The experiment worked extremely well at Hacettepe University, Ankara; and provoked other initiatives at Ege and Marmara Universities, among others.

As time passed, so the topic of discussion shifted from British Studies into cultural studies.  I was quite happy with this development, as I was not at ease with the Fortunes of War scenario of being parachuted into local institutions with the sole object of “promoting an identification with British cultural products,” as one British Council mandarin was fond of suggesting.  As well as developing the Hacettepe program, I became involved in a far bigger initiative – the Ege University Cultural Studies Seminar, organized annually (later biennially) in the Departments of English and American Studies at the İzmir university.  I do not remember how it came about, but I had known Gülriz Büken (of the American Studies Association of Turkey) for several years – and shared an office with her for two years at Bilkent – and enjoyed good relations with Günseli Sönmez İşçi and Ayşe Lahur Kırtunç of Ege.  Anyway, we got together and planned the first seminar in 1996, with guest speakers provided by the British Council and the Cultural Wing of the American Embassy.  The seminar attracted over one hundred participants, and the proceedings published as Cultural Studies in the UK and the US.

I was involved in three further seminars, the last in 1999 when I parted company with the British Council on Popular Cultures.  By the time I had finished the event had established itself as a major force in the local calendar of events devoted to literary/ cultural events.  Debates flourished between what we might term the forces of traditionalism and those interested in becoming “movers and shakers.” The traditionalists argued that cultural studies might erode the status of literary curricula, and thereby endanger the modernist project that had permeated Turkish cultures ever since the creation of the Republic.  Others claimed that cultural studies was a nothing subject devoted to the study of ephemeral material such as popular cultures, music and video.  I was firmly part of the movers and shakers group, in the belief that cultural studies could alter the way we think and reflect on our lives and the texts that represent them. My academia.edu site (https://laurenceraw.academia.edu/research#culturalstudies) is full of articles setting forth my theoretical position.  I believed in the intercultural approach, where learners were introduced to the foreign culture and encouraged to compare it with aspects of their own culture.  After sufficient exposure to the foreign culture, they could acquire what is termed intercultural competence, putting them in the position of being able to negotiate between cultures from a privileged position.  This methodology appeared to work, but whether I adopted a similarly intercultural perspective in my pedagogy is debatable.  The British Council representative should uphold British interests.

Yet things moved swiftly.  In 1995-6 I taught a Master’s course in Hacettepe, “Introduction to Cultural Studies.”  It was a particularly popular year for learners, with sixteen registered for the course, all but two of them Hacettepe graduates.  That popularity was in many ways attributable to the efforts of Can Abanazır, a member of the Hacettepe English department with an abiding interest in the discipline.  He was something of a cult figure, invariably dressed in black, with research interests in science fiction and rock music.  He worked with me at the British Council, and delighted learners with his easy familiarity and language (Turkish and English) peppered with swear-words.  That year was a remarkable one; my course was particularly successful in theoretical and comparative terms.  I split the group into two – one came to the British Council on Thursdays, the other on Saturdays.  The level of discussion was particularly high – so much so, in fact, that it spilled out from the classroom into Yeşil Vadi, the kebab restaurant and bar next to the Council offices.

I think the reason the classes worked so well had a lot to do with a learner-centered approach, where learners discussed the material in groups and subsequently fed into a larger group discussion.  This approach was very different from the more traditional lecture-based pedagogy that dominated their lives at Hacettepe.  That method certainly has its advantages, especially as a means of transmitting information about a foreign culture to learners largely unaware of Britain and British ways of life.  For a group of graduate learners, however, the need to hear their voices rather than mind seemed especially significant: cultural studies is a bottom-up discipline rather than a top-down.  Some learners were a little diffident at first, as if they believed that what they had to say lacked value; as the semesters unfolded, however, they became more and more confident in themselves.  By the 1997 İzmir seminar many of them had decided to make the trip down to the Aegean coast, and two of them (Sinem Bingöl and Aykut Uluer) presented a paper on Rudyard Kipling’s family home Bateman’s (79-85).  In the following year Defne Ersin, Rahşan Giritli, Deniz Örücü, Hanzade Ayas followed suit.  It seemed that cultural studies was on the academic map, with Hacettepe in one of the pole positions.   

From such beginnings new initiatives mushroomed.  Uluer, Ersin, Zeynep Özek and Cenk Erdil formed a Cultural Studies Study Group (CSSG) that met fortnightly at one of their apartments to discuss methods and matters related to the discipline over food and drink.  The fact that I attended such meetings as well kept the discussion going.  Members of the group toured to local universities; I remember one memorable Saturday when a minibus took us all to Erciyes University in Kayseri in Central Anatolia.  We had to leave at a fiendishly early hour and enjoyed the pleasure of beer for breakfast.  Meanwhile Bingöl had been fortunate enough to obtain a Chevening Scholarship from the British Embassy to do a Master’s in British Cultural Studies as Warwick University.

Sadly there were forces in the background whose principal aim seemed to be to limit, if not curtail such initiatives altogether.  I remember one professor saying that the Hacettepe learners “belonged” to their department, not to me; and it was incumbent on me to observe established practices rather than instituting anything new.  The learners I had worked with had to learn about Britain, not about socio-political practices.  This was a curious statement, especially since another member of the same department participated in one of the courses I ran at the British Council and thoroughly enjoyed herself.  Such struggles were characteristic of all cultural studies programs worldwide, especially those introduced into existing department; they were mostly resolved by the number of learners applying for such courses, rendering them both financially and academically profitable for the institutions involved.  Sadly for me (and the learners), the solution at Hacettepe was far less satisfactory.  When I left the Council it was suggested to me in no uncertain terms by the Dean of the Faculty that my talents as a cultural practitioner might be better used elsewhere.

Nothwithstanding such reversals I continued to teach cultural studies, and felt extremely flattered when I was invited to be one of the founding members of the Group for Cultural Studies in Turkey (renamed the Turkish Cultural Research Group (Türkiye Kültür Araştırmaları).  I attended their first conference at Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in 2000, and was impressed by the variety and scope of the papers presented.  On the other hand there were colleagues who resented my interest in cultural studies in Turkey; my mere presence as an English person constituted a quasi-colonial presence, especially when my spoken Turkish was not good enough to participate effectively in the conference discussions.  One writer went so far as to accuse all foreigners doing cultural studies in Turkey to be solely interested in their personal reputations.  On this view I had attempted to convince the learners that, as a foreigner, I was “superior” to my Turkish colleagues, chiefly because of my origins in one of the countries where cultural studies originated.

Cultural studies has continued to flourish in many forms, although my personal research agenda moved away from the discipline towards adaptation studies.  The Turkish cultural studies group continues to flourish, organizing conferences in Turkish as a way of countering the “incongruous” situation of papers about Turkey presented in English at the Ege seminars (Pultar 47).  Cultural studies programs flourish at Sabancı and Bilgi Universities in İstanbul, as well as İstanbul Şehir University.  The Ege seminars also continue, with proceedings appearing soon afterwards, while Hacettepe still runs its British Studies MA.

 I had been to only one of the previous nine Ege seminars, but was drawn to the topic of the recent event (“Narratives of Trauma”), because I had recently experienced the trauma of a long illness and wanted to hear what others had to say on the topic.  The organizers very kindly invited me to give a plenary speech, where I would speak on the relationship between national and individual traumas, using Clint Eastwood’s Invictus (2009) as an example.

Time had wrought its changes.  I still teach, but now work in a Department of Education with trainee learners wanting to obtain formal teaching qualifications.  I am nearer sixty than forty, and age has given me a certain cachet.  Whether it is deserved or not is not for me to suggest, but I do have the capacity to look back on my past life and understand the mistakes I might have made.  The British/ cultural studies initiative of the Nineties was a good one; its legacy remains at Hacettepe, where learners are taught extremely well with the emphasis placed on the relationship between source and target cultures.  The emphasis is not so much on the intercultural but rather on the reflective: what can the study of the target culture’s practices tell us about ourselves?  What really struck me, however, was the atmosphere at the Ege conference.  The attendees came from a variety of institutions across the country, as well as foreign guests, for the most part they were willing to listen and discuss the points raised in the papers without being involved in any disciplinary or other arguments.  There were plenty of literature professor there, but they accepted without question the principle that cultural studies might be different from and similar to literature.  The post-paper discussions were conducted in an atmosphere of community with everyone willing to listen to and contemplate one another’s arguments.  Some papers were obviously better than others, but all the papers were given due attention.  In all my years attending the cultural studies conference I had never seen participants so willing to forge a community of purpose where listening assumed as much significance as talking.

Age has taught me a lot.  Close work with my learner teachers has made me understand the traumas they experience when they deliver papers.  I understand just how much it took for my Hacettepe MA learners to deliver papers at the Ege event all those years ago.  I also realize the need for me to support them – not only listening to their work but looking for the positive aspects all the time.  Emotional support is as important as academic support. In the British Council years, my offer of emotional support was misinterpreted by other professors as becoming “too close” to the learners – in other words, treating them as friends rather than learners.  Understanding just what the process of offering support involves is true “cultural studies” – it has nothing to do with national, ethnic or racial similarities/ differences, but treating everyone as a human being with similar emotions.  We have to listen rather than proselytize, be constructive rather than pontificate.  Such strategies were alien to the older professors in the late Nineties, but on the evidence of this year’s conference, the academic environment has softened significantly.

I gave my speech, based on the belief that I was going to talk from a personal perspective informed by academic knowledge.  I talked about my illness and when it taught me about human behavior.  A problem aired is a problem shared; if you are honest with someone, then they will be honest with you.  I shared my frailties, not in the spirit of asking for sympathy, but because I needed to do so for my own santé.  As I spoke, I could feel the audience empathizing – on at least two occasions they interrupted my speech to applaud.  I was amazed, even though I tried my best not to show it.  My speech finished, and I was surrounded by learners and educators alike generously thanking me for what I had done.

What was this?  Was this the same seminar where I had once been treated as an intellectual pariah, a colonizing presence preventing my colleagues from understanding their cultures?  I left the lecture-hall and surveyed the foyer where the participants were drinking their tea and coffee and talking to each other.  There was none of the intellectual grandstanding characteristic of earlier seminars.  Learner after learner came up to me and asked questions; the perceived gap between themselves and their educators (that often prevents them from communicating) assumed little or no significance for them.

I suddenly realized – after many years of engagement – what “cultural studies” actually is. While academic interventions past and present have established complex agendas for the discipline, the true key to an understanding of “cultures” and our relationship to them is the ability to listen and reflect.  Questions of language might be useful for communication, but understanding human behavior and human emotions are very different.  A sympathetic atmosphere at a conference arises from a willingness to accept contradictory opinions and scrutinize them, not to reject them.  Everyone should be treated fairly, from the youngest learner to the most superannuated professor.  In the late Nineties this state of accepting others at face value was impossible to achieve, as some colleagues believed themselves to be threatened by the upstart cultural studies.  Last week at the conference the environment was, quite simply, unique.

I had approached this conference with as much trepidation as learners might have done twenty years ago.  With a damaged voice and a lack of confidence in my powers to communicate over a sustained period, I wondered whether I could do the speech at all, especially as this was my first conference out of Ankara (my hometown) for eight months.  At the end I experienced a form of elation I’d seldom previously understood: the subliminal aim of cultural studies had been revealed to me.  It took a long time, but the knowledge will hopefully stimulate further interventions.

WORKS CITED

Bingöl, G. Sinem, and Aykut Uluer.  “Reinvention of Rudyard Kipling and Bateman’s.”  The History of Culture: The Culture of History.  Ed. Laurence Raw, Gülriz Büken, and Günseli Sönmez İşçi.  79-95.  Ankara: The British Council, 1998.  Print.


Pultar, Gönül.  “Cultural Studies in Turkey: The State of the art.”  Culture Unbound 5 (2013): 43-71.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Power of Radio: H. G. Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORKDS

Radio drama within the United Kingdom continues to flourish, despite being largely neglected by the mainstream media, both in print sand online  Apart from a few paragraphs in weekly radio columns, there is not much to read.

This oversight seems a terrible shame, given that radio drama adaptations can provide critical insights that the visual media can only dream about.

Such was the case with Melissa Murray's dramatization of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, a two-parter broadcast on 4 and 11 March 2017.  There were no fancy special effects: instead the Martians' presence was signaled by an ominous-sounding hum forming a backdrop to the action.  Director Marc Beeby was far more concerned with the effect of the catastrophe on humanity.  Robert Fenton (Blake Ritson) began the adaptation  as a confident, well-ınformed scientist determined to root out the aliens and save the country.  By the end, he had been reduced into a gibbering wreck, because of the sheer strain of trying - and failing - to accomplish his quest.

Beeby communicated his state of mind through an ingenious process of sonic layering.  As he talked about his state of mind in a series of lengthy speeches, we could hear the hum of the Martians, the strangled screams of their human victims, together with the squelching sound of Fenton's boots on the saturated ground.

Thematically speaking the production looked both backwards and fıorwards into history.  As the Martians overran a small village - sıgnaled through muffled screams coupled with Fenton's observations to the listeners - we realize that the Victorian world of security and order had collapsed.  No one knew what to look forward to in a world dominated by superior beings who treated humanity as food and caught them in large nets before eating them.

Yet Beeby suggested that this was actually the fault of humanity itself.  They had happily existed in a colonial world, treating other peoples with as much contempt as the Martians were treating them.  Now the British were experiencing their comeuppance as they were the victims of a cannibal-like race of übermenschen.  The Nietszchıan reference was palpable.  We felt distinctly uncomfortable, as we realized that what the United States has been recently doing, in terms of restricting immigration, is precisely what the British were doing over a century and a half ago.  Perhaps the American government ought to watch out in case they suffer a ssimilar fate.

This theme was played out purely through sound and dialogue: the mounting hysteria of Fenton contrasted with Billy's (Samuel James') insouciance in the face of catastrophe.  Billy seemed perfectly willing to embrace dystopia, in the belief that its presence was inevitable and could not be removed.

Although the Martiand eventually departed, they left a world that could never be the same.  Deprived of its self-respect, its pride, and even its place-names, it was a place that no one respected.  Fenton discovered this to his cost as he returned home to find his wife Margaret (Sanchia McCormack) pottering about their house as if nothing had happened.  In true British fashion, she had simply suppressed the past and resolve to live a Voltairean life cultivating her own garden, paying no attention to the outside world.

With no gargantuan special effects and minimal use of music, Beeby's adaptation underlined the power of the human voice to communicate the theme of the novel.  This was a psychological/ historical drama rather than science fiction, revealing more about the source-text than I ever could have imagined.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

THE GREAT GATSBY = A Study in Undergraduate Adaptation


Two weeks ago I have a paper via Skype to a conference in Croatia, an experience that gave me the chance to practice what I preach in pedagogical terms.  I talked about my classes in adaptation studies, their purpose and their stated outcomes designed to benefit learners and educators alike.
Four days later I resumed my teaching duties at Başkent.  I have been only one course to teach to allow me time to recover from the series of illnesses I’ve experienced this winter, including a lung infection, a third recurrence of my thyroid cancer, two detached retinas and the removal of two rotten teeth. After that lot, I have to admit that I was apprehensive of entering the classroom once more.  My voice has improved, but I now have to wear eyeglasses, both for reading and seeing in the distance.  This is the first time I have ever worn them in my life.  I also walk a little slower to build up muscles in my legs that were wasted during hospitalization.  For the first time ever I now realize that I’m aging; in two years I will reach my seventh decade.
As I went into the class for the first time, I was genuinely scared.  I was no longer the loud-voiced, charismatic figure of old, but someone who needed the learners’ support to make the class work.  When I talked about collaboration in my Croatia talk, I never realized just how important this would be in the future.  Now I could not see the learners’ faces without my distance glasses, and I must have looked a little wizened to them.
An adaptational process had taken place, but one that was not of my own or the learners’ making, especially as I no longer possessed the vocal strength to teach without a portable microphone.  For the first ten minutes of the first lesson, myself and the learners regarded one another with a kind of benevolent suspicion; I had taught them before when they were freshmen and women, but I wasn’t the same person any more.  Then the atmosphere changed: I asked the learners to do a warm-up activity prior to their studying Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, and they set about constructing a role-play with relish.  Dividing themselves into small groups of four – without my asking them to – they found copies of the text on their smartphones and began to discuss what to do.
I was quite simply blown away.  I had taught this group for their entire first year, and they had been noticeably reluctant to do any role-play or dramatic activities, or to engage in independent work through group interaction.  Now they were happily chattering away amongst one another, apparently oblivious to my presence.  I could circulate round the classroom and speak to them in a quiet voice (I can’t speak any other way without a microphone), offering suggestions when called for.  It was as if they had understood my physical limitations while trying to provide spaces for me to communicate.  The preparation for the role-play went on and on – for thirty minutes at least – before they all announced that they were ready to perform.
I watched as they improvised various situations, using their coats, books and bags for various dramatic purposes.  This was truly theater based on the “two planks and a passion” principle, where no props are required except the most basic elements, and enthusiasm helps us forget the performance’s shortcomings.  To say they were enthusiastic is an understatement; they went about their tasks with relish, while the learners in the audience offered moral support through laughter and by taking photographs and/or films on their smartphones.  The class-time sped by, and by the end the learners were filing out of the room chattering eagerly amongst themselves, while I was left in a state of euphoria, wondering what on earth I had just experienced.
My language might be slightly hyperbolic, but the experience was quite unlike anything I had known before in a lengthy teaching career.  The learners had quite literally looked after me, by making sure I was sufficiently entertained by their role-plays while ensuring that I did not have to talk too much.  We talk blithely of “learner-centered” teaching, but for me this class had been a classic example of “flipping” – turning the lesson over to the leaners = with minimum educator input.  I realized just how much learners could construct classes on their own, and in the process acquire an enhanced understanding of the power of negotiation and collaboration.
The same phenomenon has resurfaced in the last two classes with the same group.  Today they decided to draw pictures of scenes from Gatsby, and use the experience to construct their own dramas depicting the brittle relationship between Tom and Daisy Buchanan, which for them had distinct echoes of the soap-operas that dominate local television.
How can we assess this kind of learning?  I constantly read articles about the standardization of education, with assessment procedures dominated by figures and league tables.  I make no apologies for being quixotic, but I believe what we have done in class promotes the kind of engagement, learning, and adaptation that no exam-based program could provide.  So there.
                                                                                                          Laurence Raw

                                                                                                          9 Mar. 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Questions of/ about Adaptation

Long experience of participation on the conference circuit has given me a jaundiced view if question-and-answer sessions. The chair throws out an invitation, which either attracts a deafening silence, or encourages certain colleagues to grandstand in an attempt to prove their superior knowledge of a topic and thereby humiliate the speaker.  Alternatively the discussion can turn to issues only incidentally related to the basis subject, requiring a firm intervention by the chair to drag the proceedibgs back on course.

I am not implying that all panels take this form, but I often get disappointed at conferences with the number of squandered learning opportunities.

When I experience an “aha” moment during conference questions, it is something ro celebrate.  Yesterday I gave a talk to the Adaptation Studies conference in Osijek, Croatia. My long illness - which interrupted my work as well ad the flow of blog-posts - prevented me dron traveling there, so I recorded the talk whixh was subsequently transferred to YouRube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6Kl9ytdrD8.  The participants watched it yesterday and asked me questions via Skype.

I was more than a little apprehensive. What if the Skype did not work properly, and how could I cope with the effects of my eye operation, where I could not identify people in this middle distance? When the session began, my fears were confirmed: I could make out only a few of the participants’ faces.

I decided to practise what I preach and listen very carefully. I also resolved to ask questions if I could so as to find out a little more about Adaptation Studies in another region.

The outcome was unexpectedly revelatory. I talked about some of my other activities - for example, a dramatization of Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM where some learners dressed up as the farm animals and devised their own animal languages. As I explained, this form of adaptation was designed to increase communicational abilities by showing how we don’t necessarily need the sane discursive and linguistic forms to understand one another.

When I asked the participants what they had sone in their classes, the responses were astonishing.  They had produced versions of MEMENTO and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, using a variety of domestic materials and linguistic varieties.

As I listened, i understood the value of questioning as a means of discovering examples of classroom practice that colleagues might not want to discuss in more formal contexts.  Tone is important: the questioner does not want to score intellectual points but genuinely wants to learn more, just like the participants who have just listened to the presentation. It's a marter of mutual respect; the more we listen to each other and ask genuine questions, the more rewarding the conference experience.

This occasion represented something of a comeback for me. After nearly five months of frustration, it was gratifying to climb back onto the academic roller-coaster, even if I am not yet fully fit. The Osijek conference confirmed for me the importance of empathy - listening and questioning with humility.


For giving me this opportunity I am heartily grateful to everyone associated with the Osijek event.  Hopefully I’ll be fit if the university decides to organize something sinilar.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Let's Cast Literature and Film on the Adaptational Bonfire

Let’s Cast Literature and Film onto the Adaptational Bonfire (at Least Temporarily)

I am writing this piece from my hotel room close to St. Anne’s College, Oxford, where I am attending the eleventh Association of Adaptation Studies conference.  I have been energized by the papers I’ve heard so far, and pay tribute to the speakers for their diligence in writing.
On the other hand, while reflecting on the event last night, I was reminded of Noël Coward’s mischievous wartime song “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.”  A satirical song condemning British appeasers during the lead-up to the outbreak of the conflict, it was a good example of Coward being thoroughly mischievous.  Following his lead, I wondered whether I might not take the opportunity to be a little mischievous myself and call for a temporary moratorium on literature and film studies within the adaptation studies umbrella.  I realize that this suggestion might cause consternation among some colleagues (my late lamented friend James Welsh would have reacted apoplectically), but there might be some potential advantages.
First, we might escape from what might be termed the tyranny of the text.  Pieces might focus less on detailed analyses of similarities and/or differences between source and target texts and concentrate on more suggestive issues – for example, how texts are reworked and reinvented across time and space.  Second, we would escape – at least temporarily – from those old chestnuts of fidelity and suitability – i.e. what renders a text ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  Such values are a movable feast at the best of times.
Thirdly, a turning away from lit-and-film might pave the way for approaches drawn from other disciplines, thereby transforming adaptation studies into a genuinely transdisciplinary form.  I have written several times in previous blogs about the value of accommodating the work of cognitive psychologists such as Jerome Bruner, D. W. Winnicott and Jean Piaget, and do not propose to rehearse old arguments, except to point out that our capacity for narrative-making is a highly suggestive concept, especially while responding to cinematic and televisual narratives.
Some work has already been done on ethnographic approaches to audience behaviour within adaptation studies, and more so within fan studies, where the work of Matt Hills tells us a lot about the way we consume fan texts.  Perhaps our focus could expand somewhat into the work of neurologists such as Jeffrey M. Zacks, whose recent book on cinema audience behaviour offers some penetrating views on how our brains respond to film, especially in terms of adaptation.  Zacks’s all-accommodating view of the brain contrasts with that of John R. Searle, whose theory of perception, published last year by Oxford, offers a rather pessimistic view of our adaptational capacities, especially among those who spend ‘too long’ watching films (a fascinating claim).
Working on the relationship between history and adaptation offers further possibilities for considering the potential of narrative construction.  We can not only go back to some of the great historiographers such as Jacob Burckhardt and (more recently) E. H. Carr, but we can also engage with contemporary debates as to the value of ‘history’ and whether it differs in any way, shape or form from others forms of narrative such as ‘fiction.’  This mode of analysis meshes in with anthropology insofar as we can try to understand how we make sense of narratives, and whether our brains are conditioned to accept past information or whether we process it into the formation of new and suggestive narratives.
There is also the form of analysis called mesearch.  This is a particularly self-centred form of practice, concentrating specifically on the relationship between the personal and other forms of narrative construction.  Critics might dismiss this approach as potentially narcissistic, but it allows writers to take a major engagement in the production of their material.  Storytelling becomes a major form of academic discourse, while the boundaries between the ‘personal’ and the ‘academic’ no longer seem to have any real validity.  Mesearch can have a therapeutic function, even though some colleagues might not want to disclose so much about their lives.  This is fine; I am only offering it as a potential academic path for adaptation.
I realize that there might be constraints placed on colleagues – for example, the need to publish articles in prestigious journals that might not welcome such approaches – but I do believe that, with perseverance, we can expand our fields of inquiry.  So, I call for a temporary moratorium on literature and film, while being aware that it will not happen.
Laurence Raw

27 Sep. 2016

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Complex Histories and Adaptations

Talk given at the 11th Association of Adaptation Studies conference, Oxford, 27-28 September 2016.

In 2013 Defne Ersin Tutan, a colleague of mine at Başkent University, and myself edited Adapting History: Essays on Ways of Telling the Past, a series of position-papers looking at the ways in which “history,” as an abstract concept had been used for ideological as well as political purposes over time and space.  Drawing on notions first advanced as long ago as 1961 by E. H. Carr, we looked at the ways in which the binaries between “fact” and “fiction” were invariably determined by writers wanting to advance certain specific points of view, and that “objectivity” was one of those movable conceptual feasts that could mean precisely anything a speaker wanted it to mean.[1]  The anthology prompted us to think of history and adaptation in a different way – not as a means to “report” the past, but as another form of story-telling, a means by which we would understand ourselves and our relationships to the cultures we inhabit.  Using the psychological work of Jerome Bruner, we suggested that all of us possess the capacity to make narratives that we either tell to ourselves or to others; and that such narratives perpetually change over time and space throughout our lives.  Historical narratives are but one manifestation of this tendency, as witnessed not only in the personal histories – in the form of autobiographies or oral testimonies – but in public histories such as films adapted from historical sources.  It is the adaptation scholar’s responsibility to penetrate through the foliage of textual analysis to appreciate the core purpose behind the adaptation.[2]


Over recent months, however, my belief in this form of historical adaptation has been challenged somewhat by the criticisms leveled at Noam Chomsky’s Who Rules the World? (2016), a typically pugnacious polemic designed to awaken readers to the realities of US power in the post 9/11 era.[3]  Readers know what to expect from him, of course, and would be disappointed if he did not deliver the intellectual goods; but I was particularly struck by the comments of one prominent rightwing historian who chided Chomsky for daring to venture into intellectual areas beyond his capacity.  He was not a “proper” historian, as he had committed the crime of allowing emotion to cloud his judgement.  The result could be catastrophic for readers; denied the chance to make up their own minds, they might end up with a warped view of their cultures.  The only way to “remove” that threat was to silence him.
Such comments, of course, have a wearily familiar ring to them, especially when expressed by members of the Right against the Left.  But they set me off thinking in a lateral direction into the subject of adaptation studies.  Ever since its inception the subject of genre has been essential to its theoretical basis – not only as a means of identifying different bodies of work, but also in understanding how studios and other industrial concerns treat the product as a commercial as well as an artistic enterprise.  Timothy Corrigan’s introduction to Film and Literature (2012) offers an admirable survey.[4]  Yet I have to admit to some anxieties with such frameworks: while genre is ultimately significant as a means of delineating one body of adaptations from another, perhaps its ideological significances have not been sufficiently explored.  Can the concept be used as prescriptively as that used by so-called “professional” historians to berate their supposedly less qualified colleagues?  Does the adaptation studies critic appropriate the notion of genre as a means of trying to dictate the future agenda of the discipline?
I am not going to try to answer that question here.  What I want to do instead is to think a little more discursively about the concept of adapting history, not in terms of looking at the ways in which texts are transformed, remediated, or reworked, but to concentrate instead on the fluidity of the concept across time and space.  I want to suggest that our psychology plays a significant part in the way we think about adapting history, with such thought-processes ranging through time and space in ways that we can never anticipate.  We are imaginative creatures; and that imaginative capacity gives us the freedom to range across texts in ways that can prove both enriching and challenging.  Put straightforwardly, we are active participants in any act of adapting history.
My faith in the power of genre as a means to shape adaptation history was challenged initially by an article I read in the Guardian Weekly about contemporary Chinese cultures and their view of art.  Surveying recent products in film, television, and other media, Ian Johnson believed that “efforts to communicate the past are often misleading or so fragmentary as to be meaningless,” in a culture where history is past, present and future all blended together.  The distinctions between tradition and modernity did not exist; the people and their rulers over time had been unified by a belief in “rule by virtue” rather than hereditary role.  This is a complex concept, with its origins in the divinity as an ultimate force guaranteeing the country’s future.[5]  I do not know sufficient about Chinese history to comment on these claims, but I was struck by the ways in which the cultural distinctions so fundamental to western conceptions of history have little or no currency elsewhere.  Why do we make so much of “the past” in our television adaptations?  Why do the BBC and ITV trumpet their historical recreations of particular points of time in their recent adaptations of Poldark and Victoria?[6]  Is it due to commercial fetishism, or appealing to some kind of public longing for a better world?  I really don’t know.  Yet Johnson’s article prompted me to reflect on myself on moments in my life when past, present and future coalesced in similar fashion, offering insights that I had never previously considered.
In 1979 I left my public (i.e. private) school, Dulwich College to take a year out before going to university.  I had some spare time one afternoon, so I visited the Curzon Cinema in London’s Mayfair to watch James Ivory’s version of Henry James’s The Europeans.  I did not know anything about James, but I had heard Ivory’s name mentioned on television.  As I watched the action unfold in its slow, unhurried way, with the camera focusing intently on the protagonists’ faces, I felt I was not just watching an adaptation; I was witnessing my life unfold on screen.  For nine years I had been brought up to believe in the necessity of suppressing my emotions, so as to maintain a façade of masculinity in a gender-divided world; now I was seeing precisely what that kind of behavior did to Robert Acton (Robin Ellis) and the ingénue Gertrude (Lisa Eichhorn).[7]  The film obviously had an effect on my psyche, as I eventually decided to write about it twenty-seven years later in my book on Adapting Henry James.[8] Nowadays the film still impacts on my imagination, but in a very different way: whereas in 1979 I might have viewed it as a humbling experience, now I think of it as an insight into different behavioral modes – neither good, nor bad, but necessary.  In Brunerian terms, the film not only told a cinematic narrative, but told me personal narratives that I understand very differently thirty-seven years later.
The experience makes me realize that watching historical narratives is not simply an exposure to the past, but involves me in profound reflection on my life as lived now as well as in my country of origin.  What sort of a person was I, and what have I become, and what connections exist between them (if any?).  The same experience also applies to the time when I saw David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) for the first time in the Republic of Turkey.  Banned until 1991, it made a grand reappearance in a now-disused cinema in the center of Ankara and attracted a full house of students and critics.  I remember being quite apprehensive; did people realize just how sadistic Jose Ferrer was in his treatment of Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) during the torture sequence?[9]  My fears proved ungrounded.  The audience relished the entire film and cheered at the end.  Some of my learners at the time had been to see it, and we discussed the film in detail in class, making me feel that at least I had some more instinctive understanding of how they reacted in a country that had undergone profound socio-economic development since the early Sixties.  Watching the film was a learning experience – it not only told me about contemporary Turco-British relations, but gave me the confidence to become more creative in my pedagogy.  Looking back, I now see that the experience of viewing it in the cinema was an incredibly complex one comprised of so many different narrative layers, each representing an agglutinative experience of past, present, and future.  The source-text is a factionalized account of the Arab Struggle by T. E. Lawrence designed to foreground his efforts as a military strategist.  Michael Wilson’s screenplay has been revised by Robert Bolt; while Lean’s casting-decisions have obviously had a profound impact on the way we see the film.  Watching it in a Turkish context had an integral affect on my experience; and now I look back at that experience a quarter of a century later, I see that it was fundamental to my development in cross-cultural and/or personal awareness.  That makes a total of six different narrative layers, all of which immediately come to mind if and whenever I watch the film once more.  
The complexities of perception and how they relate to more general issues of movie fandom have been investigated in groundbreaking volumes such as Annette Kuhn’s Little Madnesses (2013), that looks at movie-going experiences in terms of psychologist D. W. Winnicott’s framework of primary and secondary transitional objects – imaginative as well as tangible means by which we acquire awareness of the world.[10]  I believe that such forms of perception have a profound influence over the way in which we view history in terms of adaptation, whether in films, television, or any other texts.  The experience is not dissimilar to that of reading any text – whether fictional or otherwise – which according to Rachel Hadas is not about “authors or even about books.”  It’s about people – ourselves and our communities; and once we understand this, we realize how preposterous it is to build impenetrable binarist walls between films, audiences, authors, and our lives.  Since we live our lives amid a dense weave of personal relationships, it follows that like it or not, when an author tells a story, even if set in some fantasy world, it will be assumed that he is talking about us, as well as the societies they inhabit.[11]
I realize that by making such claims, I could be accused of precisely the same kind of woolly thinking as Chomsky.  How can I claim to be a scholar interested in adaptation and history if I cannot distinguish that discipline from others, especially novels?  To answer this question, we might reflect once more on why interest in history remains undimmed.  It’s not necessarily because of a fascination with the past (however much costume and set designers might have us believe), but rather due to its concern with our own lives – families, love, work, and the like.  Watching historical adaptations involves a complex interplay between reading, reflection and feeling - that inexpressible quality producing flashes of illumination across time, space and culture.  Such are the associations that color our experiences and furnish the metaphors we live by.[12]
I notice from the conference program that my talk has been placed in the transnational section.  I think this is a perfectly justifiable move, in view of the fact that I have been talking about Turcocentric as well as western issues.  Sometimes we do need forms of demarcation so as to be able to impose structure on apparently disparate material.  On the other hand, I would suggest that every text of adapted history, whether produced in a monocultural context, or planned transnationally, or rransmedially, or through different media platforms, or even produced by one group of fans for their friends, is “transcultural” in the sense that it places demands on every viewer to evaluate the watching experience in terms of their understanding of past, present, and future – understood in this sense as a living continuum with lifelong implications for their lives.  Watching Poldark and Victoria is difficult at the best of times – we not only bring our knowledge of the stars to the experience, but (for this viewer at least), I draw on memories of different Queen Victorias on screen (Anna Neagle, Annette Crosbie), as well as fond childhood memories of the BBCs rip-roaring 1975 version with Robin Ellis that dominated Sunday night schedules.  And then what about present implications: last week I wondered whether the latest Poldark wasn’t taking a swipe at British insularity and class-consciousness in the wake of Brexit.  
Please don’t let anyone think that by concentrating on personal responses (the mesearch angle, if you like), that I am not minimizing the importance of industrial and commercial concerns in planning any historical adaptation.  As Simone Murray and others have reminded us, they have a profound effect on the look as well as the style of an adaptation.[13]  Nonetheless I believe that for adaptation studies to evolve, especially in the subject-area of historical transformation, we have to view the process as one of interacting yet quite different trajectories that not only involves those behind the camera but (more importantly) all of us as well.  The psychological aspects of the cinematic and televisual experience and their implications for all of us need further elaboration. 
I recently started watching Victoria and Poldark quite by chance, as I had spare afternoons to pass and a spare IPlayer and/or ITV Player.  I have to admit that against all odds, and despite my long-harbored skepticism about heritage films, I am hooked on both of them as means of self-negotiation.  Bring on more episodes!!





[1] Laurence Raw and Defne Ersin Tutan, Adapting History: Essays on Ways of Telling the Past (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013); E. H. Carr, What is History? (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961).
[2] Jerome Bruner, Making Stories:  Law, Literature, Life (Cambrdge, MA: Harvard UP., 2002)
[3] Noam Chomsky, Who Rules the World? (New York: Metropolitan, 2016).
[4] Timothy Corrigan, Film and Literature: An Introduction and Reader.  2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2012).
[5] Ian Johnson, “Ghosts of Chinese History are Never Quiet.” Guardian Weekly, 24 Jun. 2016: 27-9.
[6] Poldark.  Dir. Edward Bazalgette et. al.  Perf. Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Heida Reed.  Mammoth Screen, 2015-17.  Television; Victoria.  Dir. Oliver Blackburn et. al.  Perf. Jenna Coleman, Rufus Sewell, Catherine H. Flemming, Mammoth Screen, 2016.  Television.
[7] The Europeans.  Dir. James Ivory.  Perf. Lee Remick, Robin Ellis, Wesley Addy.  Merchant-Ivory, 1979.  Film.
[8] Laurence Raw, Adapting Henry James to the Screen: Gender, Fiction, and Film (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006): 127-41.
[9] Lawrence of Arabia.  Dir. David Lean.  Perf. Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins.  Horizon, 1962.  Film.
[10] Little Madnesses: Winnicott, Transitional Phemonena and Cultural Experience. London: I. B. Tauris, 2013.  E-book.
[11] Rachel Hadas, “Novel-Gazing.”  TLS 8 Jul. 2016, 14.
[12] David Winters, “Kiss the Book.”  TLS 20 Mar. 2015, 8. Cf. Katharine Mansfield: “so the roaring, constructing power of the intellect and imagination fills the space with another reality … making cities and worlds of the places we have left”  (qtd. in Gerri Kimber, “Homesick Blues,” TLS 5 Feb. 2016, 5).
[13] See “Bake Off Shows how TVs Indies have Learned the Art of the Deal.”  The Guardian, 17 Sep. 2016.  Web. 18 Sep. 2016.