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) (  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 (  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.  

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