Tuesday, March 24, 2015

More on Adaptation Studies, Case-Studies and "Theory"

I am encouraged by the level of comments generated by an earlier post on the subject, where I concentrated on the importance of recognizing cultural difference, as well as relating adaptation studies to Jerome Bruner’s notion of story-making.

In re-considering the relationship between the “theoretical” and “practical” aspects of adaptation, I was reminded of a panel, staged in Ankara in 1997, designed to look at the “theoretical” and “practical” aspects of cultural studies.  At that time I was quite vehement in my opposition to postcolonial theory, based on the belief that, as the Republic of Turkey had never actually been colonized, it had little or no significance in the local context.  Those local academics who practiced it might have willingly allowed themselves to be colonized by western-originated theories.  I asserted instead that perhaps we should concentrate on the “real business” of inter- and/or cross-cultural analysis.

Now the intellectual pendulum has changed completely.  Perhaps we need to theorize a little more about what “adaptation studies” actually is, and the effect not only on the texts adapted, but on those who instigate the adaptive process – writers and other creative personnel.  Perhaps this can be accomplished through a profusion of case-studies, or perhaps we need to stand apart slightly from the minutiae of what is “gained” and “lost” through adaptation and consider in more abstract terms questions such as “why adaptation?” 

This may involve a rethink of the way we “do” adaptation studies.  In looking at how source-texts are transformed – in the media, for instance – maybe we need to move away from plot and/or characterization and focus instead on the relationship between psychology and adaptation, and the way in which that relationship influences the ways in which a text is transformed.  The rationale behind this approach is based on the belief that “adaptation” is something unique, different from “translation” or “appropriation” in its emphasis on the ways in which human beings learn how to make sense of the world around them (as Piaget has repeatedly observed).  On this view an adapted text represents something of an intervention, a comment on the world in which it has been produced as well as received.

In this model, the question of equivalence is irrelevant; the adapted text is a text in its own right, produced for quite different purposes to the source-text.  Textual analysis might be significant, but only insofar as it helps us to understand the purposes of those involved in the adaptation.  Authorial intention is fundamental, despite what Patrick Cattrysse tells us.  More importantly, by looking at how the adaptation has been received by audiences, critics and other members of different groups, we can understand the importance of cultural difference; what a screenplay writer intends, and how an audience responds to that intention, are often completely different.

In terms of the debate I engaged with many years ago, the issue of “postcolonialism” retains its significance, based on the belief that different readers and audiences have different views of what the term involves.  By comparing and contrasting such views, through discussion and/or analysis, we learn to “adapt” our views of what postcolonialism actually is.  Through such discussions, we are inevitably conducting inter- and intracultural analysis.  There is no real distinction between “theory” and “practice” in this model; they are simply two sides of the same intellectual coin.

The same process also applies to the case-study.  If that case-study addresses the issue of “adaptation” and what it involves, rather than simply conducting a comparative analysis between source- and target texts for their own sake (i.e. what is “gained” and “lost”), then it has the potential to make a serious contribution to our theoretical understanding.  Likewise a theoretical analysis of adaptation that uses case-studies to make its points helps us to appreciate better the transcultural possibilities of the discipline.  There is no real binarist distinction between “theory” and “practice”; the two are inseparable.

I think I have really come to understand this in a recent graduate course conducted with teachers of English, where they use their classroom experiences of how their learners tried to adapt (or failed to adapt) to a text as a basis for re-evaluating their pedagogic practice.  This kind of reflection helps them to become more “adaptive” in orientation, and thereby appreciate better the link between adaptation studies and psychology.  I wonder if the same happens in the media studies classroom?  I do hope so.   

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Adaptation Studies and the "Much Maligned" Case-Study

I’ve recently received two calls for papers that both imply that there is something intellectually questionable about the case-study model of adaptation.  One describes it as “much-maligned”; the other calls it “rather limiting and limited,” especially when compared to the “big questions” of adaptation, the history of adaptation, and on adaptation as scholarly practice.

Patrick Cattrysse has a lot to answer for.  In his recent Descriptive Adaptation Studies (2014) he derides the “endless accumulation of ad hoc case studies,” which hitherto have dominated much adaptation studies research, and advocates instead a general focus on “corpus-based research into wider trends of adaptational behavior and the roles and functions of sets of adaptations.”  He cites my edited collection Adaptation, Translation and Transformation (2012) as an example of the former approach, in which the various contributors offer diverse interventions as to what the terms “adaptation” and “translation” might signify in various contexts, and how practitioners have tried to develop a relationship between the two.

What disturbs me about all these observations is that they assume some kind of binary opposition between the particular and the general; the particularized “case-study” cannot address the more “general” questions of adaptation studies and its future theoretical developments.  Such oppositions, I believe, inhibit rather than benefit future research, as they impose a western-originated framework on a discipline which, by its very nature, should be transnational in focus.

My attention was drawn once again to this issue yesterday, when I visited the Ankara State Museum of Painting and Sculpture (Ankara Devlet Resim ve Heykel Müzesi).  Opened in 1930 in a purpose-built structure, it houses a rich collection of Turkish art from the late nineteenth century to the present day.  As in all museums, the work of individual artists is prominently on display; they include Şeker Ahmet Paşa, Zekai Paşa, Halil Paşa, İbrahim Çallı, Hikmet Onat and Namık İsmail.

What is perhaps more significant, however, is the purpose for which the museum was intended.  Opened by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, it was designed to foster the cultural development of the nation by providing an outlet for artists to show off their work.  This was considered highly significant: many of them had studied abroad, and Atatürk wanted to show how they had absorbed the lessons of other artistic traditions (in the west and elsewhere) and used them to create new forms.  The exhibits show distinct Impressionist, Cubist, and Dadaist influences, for instance.

Although the individual artists adapted their knowledge to create idiosyncratic, often striking works, their paintings served a more general purpose of advancing the nation’s sense of cultural well-being.  On this view, the relationship between general and particular is not oppositional but symbiotic; one cannot exist without the other.  As I walked around the gallery, looking at the paintings with subjects as diverse as Anatolian landscapes past and present, İstanbul sea-views, Ottoman dignitaries and Atatürk himself, I could not help but recall how many creative individuals practiced (and continue to practice) their work in the belief that they are serving the nation.  They might be recognized as artists in their own right – great actors, film stars, painters, and so on – but they also claim a higher purpose. 

While Ayşe H. Köksal is right in claiming that this model can be considered exclusivist insofar as it is designed “not so much to shore up an existing [Ottoman] social order as to provide the script for a new [Kemalist] one” (although this is not always the case), the fact remains that the case-study (in this case, the individual art-work contained within the framework of the Ankara State Museum) tells us a lot about the relationship between adaptation and cultural politics.  Moreover this model is defiantly transnational; how many other regimes have employed similar strategies in order to reinforce state ideologies?

In Making Stories (2002), Jerome Bruner offers a model of adaptation based on an interplay between individuals and the communities they inhabit.  Individuals learn how to “adapt” to their environments through socialization – learning behavioral, artistic and psychological conventions.  At the same time they initiate a process of adaptation within their environments through a variety of strategies, including cultural products such as films, paintings, or plays.  These products can help transform the way people think about the world around them.  This continual process of give-and-take - of individuals adapting to and at the same time inspiring others to adapt – is how societies evolve.

To think otherwise – by favoring a “general” at the expense of a “particular” focus on adaptation - is to re-invoke a colonialist way of thinking which adaptation studies consciously seeks to avoid, as its practitioners try and find ways of understanding one another, as well as looking for transnational and transdisciplinary models.

I appreciate the amount of work being undertaken in the discipline, but I wish that some of the thinking could be a little more “out of the box.”

Monday, March 2, 2015

Adaptation and Power

The politics of power might seem an odd subject to discuss in relation to adaptation – unless, of course, we look at the ways in which socio-political conditions shaped the ways in which a text was transformed.

But perhaps there is another way of looking at this issue.  I was struck by this as I read a comment made on one of my pieces by a colleague; although I had quoted Jean Piaget’s views on adaptation as a psychological process, he insisted that “adaptation is text.”  I was a little puzzled by this observation, until I realized that he was simply rehearsing the basic premise behind most of the “adaptation studies” as currently practiced (and published).  The process of textual transformation predominates, with the bulk of attention being devoted to the shifting relationship(s) between source and target texts.  I am not trying to denigrate this mode of analysis (I still employ it myself in many of my writings), but I would argue that this is only one of a plurality of possible approaches available to anyone interested in “adaptation studies.”  I am also interested in the psychological aspects of adaptation, which only have a tenuous relationship to the idea of “text” – unless we interpret that term in its broadest sense to cover any phenomenon we encounter, both human as well as non-human.  I would prefer to use the term “encounter” rather than “text,” so that we can allow for a plurality of viewpoints as well as prioritizing individuals as authors of their particular stories (which we might define more precisely as modus operandi).

The term “plurality” is important here: to insist that “adaptation is text,” while allowing for no other (re-)constructions does not allow for individual possibilities, and risks imposing the kind of limiting discourse on a discipline that by its very nature resists such limitations.  To put it another way, we are allowing ourselves to be guided by our peers, rather than trusting in ourselves and our own judgments.  We are willingly subjecting ourselves to an external author, rather than accepting the fact that we are authors of our own stories.

The importance of this dictum was brought home to me as I received the latest issue of my departmental journal, the Baskent University Journal of Education (BUJE) (http://buje.baskent.edu.tr/index.php/buje/issue/current).  The majority of the articles employ a basic methodology of using statistical surveys and questionnaires to prove a particular educational point, based on the belief that education studies are “scientific” and can therefore be proved through hard evidence.  My contribution, written to mark the passing of Talât Saït Halman, a poet, translator and all-round Renaissance man as well as being the Turkish Republic’s first Minister of Culture, uses a variety of evidence to emphasize the importance of randomness in education; by acknowledging the unpredictable or the unplanned, we can learn how to enjoy ourselves and learn as a result (http://buje.baskent.edu.tr/index.php/buje/article/view/65).  I am not claiming for one moment that one approach is academically “better” than another, but rather allowing for the existence of both.  Giving individuals the space to grow, think, or adapt in their own way not only helps to develop self-determination, but allows for the development of spontaneous thinking – the possibility of creating “Aha” moments, through which we discover something about ourselves and our relationship to the work we are doing.

What I am arguing for is that adaptation studies is not just something we practice in the academy, but rules every aspect of our own lives.  It helps to bridge the gap between “work” and “play,” “home” and “school” or “office,” “science” and “art,” and by doing so helps us to reflect on the viability of such binary oppositions.  Perhaps we need to develop alternative ways of thinking and being, both inside and outside the classroom or the academy.  If such is the case, then we need to set aside any pre-ordained or pre-learned definitions of what adaptation “should” or “shouldn’t” be (which symbolize the powers trying to rule the way we think), and work out our own ideas.  By doing so we come to accept that change rules our lives: what we think adaptation represents for us today might not be what we think tomorrow.  The prospect is an enticing one – well, for me, at least.