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.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Cross Currents of THE ADAPTATION INDUSTRY (2012) - A Return to Simone Murray

In 2011-12 I had cause to review Simone Murray’s important work of adaptation studies The Adaptation Industry that adopted a materialist perspective by suggesting that industry concerns often played far more significance in the way source-texts were transformed into target texts in the major media.[i]  While authors, directors, and other creative workers had their parts to play, their concerns seemed less significant than the desire for effective marketing and publicity.  I reviewed the book twice, once in a short note for amazon.com, which was largely positive,[ii] and slightly less favorably in a review now available on academia.edu where I suggested that Murray needed to be less essentialist in her approach and acknowledge the vital contributions to the adaptive act of all individuals, both in front of and behind the camera.[iii]

It’s remarkable how one’s views can change over time.  Two nights ago I settled down to watch Two Tickets to Broadway, an anodyne Howard Hughes musical from 1951 designed to showcase the studio’s nascent talents, including singer Tony Martin, actors Janet Leigh and Gloria DeHaven, and dancer Ann Miller.  The film was essentially story-less, being nothing more than a series of specialty turns performing in front of the camera, including Bob Crosby (Bing’s lesser-known sibling) with a cardboard cutout of his brother.[iv]

Nonetheless director James V. Kern had created something of a framework for the film, as the three college kids (Leigh, DeHaven, and Miller) traveled from their small town in Middle America by Greyhound for the bright lights of New York, firmly convinced in their own minds that they had the talent to succeed in the bigtime.  The plot, endlessly recycled in Hollywood movies since the days of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, suggests that individual talent will always win out despite the odds; if you have the drive and the energy to succeed.

Once they arrived in the Big Apple, however, they found their dreams thwarted at every opportunity by a series of card-sharping agents, executives and other media types, who wanted them simply to conform to particular stereotypes that they knew would work with audiences.  Hence Miller could not show off her dancing skills, but rather try to combine classical with modern dance in an awkward manner.  The other two women were reduced to chorus members trying to pretend they were enjoying themselves performing in front of the microphone, when really they wanted to branch out on their own.

None of this might seem especially noteworthy, but it made me stop and reflect critically on what I had previously thought about Murray’s work.  Although a firm believer in the potential of individual talent to change the world around us, as well as ourselves, perhaps we are constrained in many ways by the pressures of capitalism and success.  I had recently encountered an article in the Guardian Weekly about the banking industry since the Lehman Brothers collapse, and was shocked to find how much of a culture of fear persists wherein “employment […] is a purely transactional affair.”  One worker was quoted as saying: “When you can be out of the door in five minutes, your horizon becomes five minutes.”[v]  Times might be very different now as opposed to sixty-five years ago, but the sense of precariousness remains; unless individuals are prepared to conform to dominant industrial norms, irrespective of their vocation, their futures are shaky.  It’s called the Logic of the Market.

Yet I still retain a naïve belief in the power of individuals to negotiate that system – not by “subverting” or “changing” it, but by finding ways to cope with it.  Two Tickets to Broadway retains a certain charm, as it shows how female bonding manages to charm the hearts of even the most hard-hearted Broadway types and managing to achieve success against the odds.  The film suggests the importance of looking into oneself and realizing that there is an emotional core of one’s being that no one can touch, so long as you can try to find it.  This is not just “self-belief” in the entrepreneurial sense, but has a lot to do with discovering an ontological core at one’s center.  This is what really gives us the potential to adapt ourselves to different situations.

In theoretical terms, what we have here are two cross-currents working in totally opposite directions.  As members of capitalist societies, we have to respect the up-and-down trajectory of business, with “success” at the top and “failure” at the bottom; when we fall, we are thrown on the emotional and professional scrapheap.  Yet if we look into ourselves and find that joy (there is no other word for it) that can keep us going, we might discover that life can be endlessly fulfilling, with myriad possibilities for continual adaptation running side-to-side in all directions, impossible to control.

The cross-currents involving these two modes of life lies at the heart of any adaptive act, I believe.  Working through them is an endless source of intellectual as well as emotional fascination. 


[i] Simone Murray, The Adaptation Industry: The Cultural Economy of Contemporary Literary Adaptation.  London: Routledge, 2012.
[iii] “Industry and Individual Talent” (2012).  https://www.academia.edu/1723281/Industry_and_Individual_Talent_2012_.  Web. 12 Sep. 2016.
[iv] Two Tickets to Broadway.  Dir. James V. Kern.  Perf. Tony Martin, Ann Miller, Janet Leigh.  RKO, 1951.  Film
[v] Joris Luyendijk, “It’s Business as Usual in Our Banking System.”  Guardian Weekly, 23 Oct. 2015, 28. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What Translation Cannot Tell Us

I began Amy Spangler’s newly-published translation of Sevgi Soysal’s Yenişehir’de Bir Öğle Vakti (Noontime in Yenişehir) (1976)[i] today.  A vivid recollection of Ankara in the Seventies, it brought to mind places and emotions that have been part of my adult life for decades now: the small businesses, the rhythms of daily life and the need to survive against sometimes difficult odds.

As I read on, however, I became aware of a peculiar sensation that made rethink much of what I believed about translation in the past.  Despite Spangler’s fluid and extremely readable rendering of Sosyal’s text, I felt the translator lacked an instinctive grasp of the complex social, cultural and familial negotiations that dominated the city then and continue to now.  She did not broach the complex networks of honor, duty, the need to provide and social responsibility that permeate the small business person’s life.  The need to please customers is accompanied by what might appear as an antediluvian respect for feminine passivity: women need to be looked after, whether they are at home or on daily shopping.  Hence the employment of rituals of customer service which to westerners might seem cloying or over-intrusive. 

Capitalist interests are part and parcel of the shopkeepers’ raison d’être, but they also have a loyalty to one another that is publicly displayed.  Only today while grocery shopping I saw some of the staff embracing one another before asking whether they needed any help in making pre-holiday purchases, or anything else.  This is part of the desire to ensure that their close friends are not cheated in any way.  Such overt displays of affection are inevitably treated suspiciously by less passionate westerners, who ask – often entirely superfluously – “what’s in it for the seller?”  We have to add another layer of complexity to this structure: sometimes westerners expect as of right that they should be helped by a local, especially while in positions of power.  Help is freely given with no questions asked or expected if you need it.

Spangler’s translation could neither communicate the complexities of the homemaker as she browses from shop to shop looking for the best for her family dinner.  This ritual is entirely different to the helter-skelter dash to the supermarket and back for frozen dinners.  It comprises a complex interplay of social and conversational thrusts and parries, where the homemaker talks to the shopkeeper and asks for the best on offer.  Naturally the keeper might want to extend the truth, but their desire for profit is tempered by the knowledge that the homemaker only wants the best for her family on a limited budget.  This knowledge leads to a civilized negotiation based on give and take, both participants secure in the knowledge that no sale might occur.  Even if it doesn’t, the respect between the two remains undimmed.

Noontime in Yenişehir does not know where to begin in recreating a landscape where each district old and new has stories to tell – of longstanding communities who moved in when the Republic was established, who have lived cheek-by-jowl for generations, and who respond to the inexorable progress of change both through adaptation as well as appealing to the past, as manifested in social and/or marital rituals – for example, desiring to protect all family members from harm.  We might term such moves ‘traditionalist’ or, more abusively, ‘ostrich-like,’ but Soysal has a lot to tell us about the power of the past as a living entity and source of strength affecting all of our lives.

Ankara has changed immeasurably since Soysal’s day, but that ineffable quality persists in Kızılay.  The big government-owned department stores might have departed now, replaced by concrete shopping centers, but the covered markets (çarşılar) remain, their networks of small shops offering the quirky, the different and the beautiful.  Families still run them; the owners sit communally outside, while their spouses move from adjacent street to adjacent street in search of the best deals.  Youngsters gather in Kızılay’s tree-lined boulevards to chat, drink lemonade, or eat lunch at the Ankara University restaurant, just as their immediate ancestors did in the past.  The atmosphere is redolent with the ghosts of those who took to the streets in days of yore –not necessarily to protest, but to express that ineffable air of belonging to an ancient city.  The inexpressible past is mediated through the present, even if no one says so: why should they?  To them it is part and parcel of their upbringing, their souls, and their beings.

So where does that leave the translator?  For the first time in my too-long career as an academic, I understood her limitations.  Spangler might be highly proficient in both languages but she can never empathize with Soysal’s haunting prose.  There is an ontological core of personality remaining closed to her.  I cannot claim to any superior knowledge in this respect, as my Turkish is not good enough, but I can taste the text underneath as I read the translation and use that experience to reflect on my life as a domiciled Ankaran.  I am forced to turn in on myself and consider what “translation” denotes; is it an expression of inadequacy as well as a facilitating process; or is it a complex mode of enlightenment that prompts often inexpressible speculation on my state of being?  In a recent Guardian article, Jonathan Freedland likens this state of mind to that of religion, a feeling that “cannot be explained or justified in the clear, stainless-steel language of pure reason.”[ii]  I think we can think beyond that binary of reason/ unreason into a more profound mode of being in the moment, where nothing else – not least worldly thoughts of explication – really matters.

Insofar as Spangler’s work forced me to sit up and reconsider Ankara past and present, it was a highly suggestive text.  But I am skeptical that it will achieve the publisher’s purpose of rendering the source-text accessible to emotionally ring-fenced westerners.

Laurence Raw
11 Sep. 2016.



[i] Horsham: Milet Publishing, 2016.  ISBN 9781840597707
[ii] “Religion is Like Sex – Is Absurd, but it Works.”  Guardian Weekly, 2 Oct. 2015: 18.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

History, Film Adaptation, and Freedom

This is not a blog-post per se but a full blown piece.  It is one that I truly believe in at this point, which is why I want to share it.  I recorded the talk also on https://soundcloud.com/laurence-raw/history-adaptation-and-freedom-2016

Let me say in advance that this piece represents a personal recollection of my encounters with historical adaptation over the years, based on my engagements with the topic ever since I co-edited the collection Adapting History with Defne Ersin Tutan in 2013.  My apologies, therefore, in advance, if people have heard some of it before.  In 2005 I published an article on the ways in which T. E. Lawrence had been represented in David Lean’s famous epic (1962), as well as Lütfi Ö. Akad’s Yeşilçam work İngiliz Kemal Lavrens’e Karşı (İngiliz Kemal versus Lawrence) (1952).  The article shows how Lean rehearses familiar stereotypes of “the terrible Turk” by means of Jose Ferrer’s performance as the Turkish Bey, especially in the torture sequence where he presides over Lawrence’s (Peter O’Toole’s) humiliation.  Lean contrasts that representation with a largely attractive portrait of Lawrence working in cahoots with Omar Sharif’s Sherif Ali.  Akad reverses this opposition by recasting Lawrence (Muzaffer Tema) as a black-haired, smooth-talking villain contrasted with the hero İngiliz Kemal (Ayhan Işık) based on a real-life spy who worked during the Turkish War of Independence (1919-22), Ahmet Esat Tomruk, who infiltrated Allied garrisons and passed on military secrets to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s liberationist forces (Raw 257).  My conclusions were recently challenged by Sinan Akıllı, whose meticulous analysis of British government documents, coupled with a closer look at the Lean film suggest a more favorable interpretation: Lawrence was not especially prejudiced against the Turks as he understood that Atatürk was a potential ally of King Feisal (played by Alec Guinness in the Lean film), and hence inclined to support the Arab cause.  By contrast İngiliz Kemal Lavrens’e Karşı’s one-sided portrayal of Lawrence might have been moderated slightly if his own account of his adventures, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922), had been published at the time of the film’s release.[1]  However carefully Lean portrays Lawrence in the film (and I am not sure I agree with Akıllı, as I will discuss later), it is evident that both film versions are predicated on binary oppositions – east vs. west, Ottomans vs. Allies, indifference vs. colonialism – that shut down rather than encourage cross-cultural analysis.  The need for mutual understanding seems more imperative now than it might have done half a century ago, when Lawrence of Arabia was released in theaters in the months leading up to the Cuba Missile Crisis.  Akbar Ahmed has recently observed that few Americans, especially those in the corridors of power, really understand how Muslim societies work: “The consequences for Americans were […] hundreds of thousands of American lives lost [during the “War on Terror”], fundamental values and human rights compromised at home and abroad, the global image battered, and entire nations thrown into upheaval” (368-9).  The best means to resolve conflict is through negotiation, a cause not helped by the release (or re-release) of historical epics such as Lawrence or Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960), described by Ahmed as potentially disastrous in the way it “saw the periphery as uncivilized and primitive; [while] the periphery viewed the center as corrupt and effete” (328).  The latest remake of Ben Hur establishes a similar opposition between the good Christians and the uncivilized Romans and their tendency towards barbarism.
While it might be unrealistic for mainstream filmmakers to change a profitable formula – especially for the blockbuster – perhaps there are possibilities to rethink the processes of adapting and responding to the past as represented onscreen.  We need to deconstruct the notion of binary oppositions, a way of thinking that has become well-entrenched that we fail to acknowledge its ideological roots, as witnessed in Edmund Wilson’s claim (made as long ago as 1940) that history concerns living people who are rational, creative, and striving after beauty and order (197), or in Bernard Lewis’s more recent assertion that westerners cannot understand the Islamic preoccupation with God and eternity (230).  The process of adapting history and considering its effect on the individual psyche depends on vagueness – a willingness to set aside preconception and approach a text on its own terms as a retelling of the past designed to make us reflect on ourselves and our relationship to that past.  In making such decisions, I argue that we also have to set aside the claims made by genre theory; while this move might seem contentious (the purpose of most interventions on the subject consists of an attempt to make sense of often disparate material), I believe that genre produces unwarranted expectations; if a given text fails to meet them, then it loses its perceived value as an object of our attention.  I will try to illustrate this point by referring to recent work in adaptation studies by Timothy Corrigan and Claire Monk.  I call for a more open-ended interpretation of history on film that depends on setting aside preconceptions and approaching a narrative as a text no more or less valuable than other forms of reconstruction: the “facts” that supposedly characterize such texts are mostly ideologically positioned.  For the purposes of this article I claim that everyone – writers, historians, critics, audiences – should be empowered to construct their own histories with their own understanding of what constitutes “factual” or “non-factual” information from the evidence presented in front of them and subsequently evaluate their conclusions through adaptation.  An engagement with the past represents an endless search for meaning, based on the Bergsonian notion that while our bodies inhabit the present, our imaginations extend in all directions.  The past helps us to reflect on ourselves; we might not find the answers we are looking for, but our perspectives widen through historical reflection.
By contrast notions such as “reason” and “logic” are frequently ideologically positioned: consider Wilson’s view of history as something that transcends Marxism and Communism, both of which promote “The taking-over by the state of the means of production and the dictatorship in the interests of the proletariat,” that “never guarantee the happiness of anybody but the dictatorship themselves” (483).  The best way to achieve happiness is through “the light of one’s imagination and with the help of one’s common sense [….] To accomplish such a task will require an unsleeping adaptive exercise of reason and instinct combined” (484).  In response we might ask what Wilson understands by reasonable adaptive practice, especially in societies dominated by ruling oligarchies?  James Baldwin offered a rather jaundiced answer to this question in a polemical open letter dated 19 November 1970:

The American triumph – in which the American tragedy has always been implicit – was to make Black people despise themselves [….] The will of the people, in America, has always been […] sacred, and sacredly cultivated: the better to be used by a carnivorous economy […] But most white Americans dare not admit this […] and this fact contains mortal danger for the Blacks and tragedy for the nation (Baldwin).

 On this view history has been identified with whiteness, with the dominant majority perceived as solely capable of making decisions in the public interest.  While circumstances have considerably changed since then, it seems that ideological positions remain very similar except that the demonized other is now “the Islamic world” and “the terrorist” rather than African Americans.  Ahmed cites the example of the 2011 historical drama Cowboys and Aliens, ostensibly set in the Old West of the late nineteenth century, where a group of Americans are attacked without provocation by aliens who use unknown methods to capture humankind and torture them without provocation (5).  The binarist narrative is here updated to fuel fears of global Islamification.  Apparently evolutionary change has been more sluggish than we might like to assume: Arthur Koestler’s observations, written the year after Wilson’s, still ring true today: “Man is sluggish and had to be led […] he has to be driven through the desert […] by imaginary terrors and imaginary consolations [….] We know that virtue does not matter to history, and that crimes remain unpunished” (99).  I suggest that binary oppositions represent one of those “imaginary terrors” that have a powerful effect on the way we view the past through the present, while actively preventing us from psychological adaptation. 
We not only need to rethink the ideological purpose of binary oppositions, but to consider afresh one of the strategies that continue to dominate film and adaptation studies – genre theory, an issue recently addressed by Timothy Corrigan in the second edition of Film and Literature: An Introduction and Reader (2012).  In the introduction he shows how genre thinking was reshaped by the advent of film’s potential to “supplement or replace” established literary forms and thereby “expand or alter the older social values associated with literature” (21).  New film-specific genres emerged such as the backstage musical, attesting to “the highly creative blend of two regularly contending forces in film history – one emphasizing the external conflictual forces associated with traditional drama and the other exploring character psychology in which internal forces drive a narrative forward” (23-4).  On this view genre theory becomes a flexible model that readily accommodates technological as well as creative advances, while readily embracing contradiction – it is possible, for instance, to see character psychology integrating seamlessly with incident-driven narratives in a melodrama.  Yet Corrigan’s position seems to have shifted by the end of the volume, when in a formulation pitched at newcomers to adaptation studies, he characterizes genres as mechanisms participating in “recognizable conventions and formulas that seem to transcend individual literary or cinematic examples of that genre; on the other hand, genres continually evolve in terms of specific historical periods and practices” (432).  Corrigan refers to conventions being “recognizable,” but recognizable to whom?  And is it always true that genre divisions transcend individual literary and cinematic productions?  Would epoch-making historical adaptations such as Citizen Kane (1941), or more recently Inglorious Basterds (2009) fit that framework?  Do such works deliberately position themselves outside the constraints of genre classification or reshape them?  And what about our responses to a genre film; do we simply depend on previously acquired knowledge, or do we develop the creative potential to respond in new and suggestive ways?  Isn’t the tension between past understanding and present reinterpretation of genres the means to produce new knowledge for the future? 
Such questions might seem pedantic – especially if we are interested in looking at the ways in which film approaches history in a general sense; but there is still a serious point to make about genre theory’s capacity to limit as well as promote pluralist interpretations of the past.  Citizen Kane is not only a criticism of a notorious newspaper baron’s megalomania, but it provides fascinating insight into the twenty-five-year-old director’s best and worst character traits both in front of and behind the camera.[2]  Moreover we must not overlook the film’s transhistorical appeal; a young Donald Trump discussed it as one of his most life-enhancing favorites on post released on YouTube in 2008 (“Donald Trump on Citizen Kane”).[3]  Welles’s film continues to offer salutary lessons on the limitations as well as the benefits of megalomania.
Perhaps paradoxically, genre theory can also limit pluralist responses, even though researchers try their best to avoid such pitfalls.   Claire Monk’s recently published qualitative and quantitative research into the preferences of heritage films in the United Kingdom demonstrates their appeal to a variety of filmgoers including middle-aged females and gay males (35).  Some of her respondents enjoy the feminist content; others find the texts “expressly anti-feminist”; while a few did not interpret them in terms of gender and sexuality (35).  While Monk’s research reveals an encouraging diversity of response, her conclusions have been circumscribed by her initial choice of films for the respondents to look at, thereby giving her the ultimate power to determine the limits of the heritage film genre.  Such powers underpinning most academic endeavors were described by Michel Foucault in 1972-73 as “adaptive controls as on the new nationalities of power, new human sciences [….] [that] anatomize modern power together with the human sciences and modern forms that render it possible” (qtd. in Garland 4).  I would suggest that establishing the limits of genre classification represents one of those “adaptive controls” and thereby prioritize certain interpretations over others.
In the late 1970s I took an introductory course in historiography at high school, based on E. H. Carr’s What is History (1961), where we reflected critically on the status of facts as a component part of historical narratives.  Just because a given historian claimed that their research might be more “truthful” than that of their rivals did not mean that they had access to privileged information.  Carr’s point was exuberantly vindicated in 1983 when the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper pronounced that a series of sixty volumes of journals purportedly written by Adolf Hitler were indeed the genuine article; further forensic examination proved the claim to be false.  This salutary lesson told us a lot about the ways in which historians – especially those of high status – like to position themselves in contemporary cultures as authority-figures, issuing adaptive controls in the Foucauldian sense on their readers’ interpretive potential.  One such control is the need for “objectivity” in history-writing, insulated from skepticisms beyond the empirical and incapable of entertaining any notions of responsible relativism or ethical intrusion.  The historian accepts the reality of the absent past and yet still claims they know it for what it was – not just then, but now, today, still talking to us.  This form of transhistoricism tells us a lot about the way historians are viewed in contemporary cultures as somehow privileged, with access to the kind of information denied to other narrative-writers.  Alun Munslow likens many historians from a variety of fields to “herd animals” remaining determined to defend their epistemic beliefs against “a dangerous moral relativism that must entail the denial of facts and their ethical message” (107).
 Perhaps the herd instinct also influences filmmakers and critics trying to talk about the ways in which history is transformed into cinematic form.  At the beginning of this piece I invoked Sinan Akıllı’s claim that David Lean is far more even-handed in his interpretation of T. E. Lawrence than mine; taking Munslow’s comments into account, I would argue that such issues are fundamentally insignificant.  What matters more is to look at the means by which screenwriter Robert Bolt (from an initial script by Michael Wilson) selected a series of adaptive controls to render Lawrence acceptable to Anglo-American audiences by drawing heavily on Seven Pillars of Wisdom – whose authenticity as an historical record has been repeatedly subject to question since its first appearance in 1922.[4]  By choosing to cast the blond-haired, blue-eyed Peter O’Toole in the leading role, Lean increases that sense of control (Noël Coward famously remarked after the film’s London premiere in 1962: “If you [O’Toole] had been prettier, the film would have been called ‘Florence of Arabia’” (qtd. in Lyttelton)).
By advocating this approach to historical adaptation, I place myself squarely among that group of scholars accused by right-wing journalist Paul Johnson of making “the flight of reason” – abandoning collective definitions of what represents “good” and “bad” history and dedicating myself instead to personal reminiscence, thereby “throw[ing] off some of the constraints” that should shape judgement (321).  On this view, issues such as genre classification or factual accuracy are the main determinants of what constitutes “good” adaptation.  Johnson is particularly hard on polemicists such as Noam Chomsky, whom he believes have abandoned their field of expertise in favor of making arrogant claims that “their special knowledge gives them valuable insights” into contemporary life (329).  Such moves render intellectuals potentially threatening rather than beneficial to society’s future: “Not only should they be kept away from the levers of power [….] people matter more than concepts and must come first” (342).[5]  I am neither close to the “levers of power” nor ever likely to be; but I believe that adapting history has to lose its preoccupation with truth and objectivity and acknowledge its status as an art-form that asserts, argues, represents and suggests from an authorial as well as a film-going standpoint (Munslow 108).  We need to acknowledge our intellectual sluggishness in accepting mainstream binary oppositions and/or generic classifications that reinforce rather than challenge existing ideological orthodoxies, a maneuver described most recently by Sarah Wise as willfully “history-blind,” that substitutes “phoney, generic versions” of historical questions that demand urgent renegotiation (30).[6]  The task facing us is not to identify facile connections between past significance and present meaning – that we might term “relevance” – but to investigate how history enables us to rediscover who we are, where we are, what we have done wrong and what we have got right, and hopefully draw on such experiences that can reformulate our narratives for the future.[7]  What we see on screen can trigger powerful revaluations of individual subject positions (Manguel 9). 
Let me return to Lawrence of Arabia once more to elaborate my point.  As it stands Lean, Bolt and Wilson’s completed film offers a vision of the past based on at least three complex historical narratives: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Wilson’s and Bolt’s screenplay treatments, and Lean’s casting decisions based on the production requirements of making an epic in the early Sixties.  The adaptation studies specialist has to sift through these narratives and reflect on how they were brought together into the finished product through a process of collaboration between different creative workers.  Our knowledge of binary oppositions and generic classifications assumes a peripheral role; we should concern ourselves with the process of evolution from storyboarding through rehearsal to filming and distribution.  We need to consider a multiplicity of layers that are essential to our understanding of historical adaptation. 
Yet it not only production histories we need to acknowledge; we also need to reflect on our own responses to the films as well.  I first saw the restored version of Lawrence (re-released in the United States in 1989) as recently as 1991, in the first showing in the Republic of Turkey, after a twenty-nine-year ban due to its alleged anti-Turkish content.  Watching the film in a dilapidated downtown theater was a fascinating experience, especially when Jose Ferrer appeared to be enjoying the experience of torturing Lawrence so much; how would a socially diverse local audience of families, learners, and buffs react to it?  Nothing actually happened; the audience applauded at the end of the 216-minute epic, including the overture, intermission, and exit music, and congratulated the local distributors.  The experience made me realize just how local politics had shifted over three decades: the film was now treated as a western classic, the product of Cold War attitudes destroyed by the recent collapse of the Soviet Union.  That night inspired me; I had only been working in the Republic for a year or so, and was still unsure of my role as an educator.  Perhaps my future work in teaching literatures of all cultures could bridge the cultural divide between “East” and “West” that still affected western-Turkish relations at that time. 
Looking back now, I realize that such assumptions might have been essentialist, but the experience of watching the film inspired critical reflection on the relationship between adapting history and my professional future.  I had to sift evaluate different forms of evidence to forge an interpretation, lifting open the secret chambers of the past in a fashion similar to what Virginia Woolf once described as discovering “tablets bearing sacred inscriptions, which if one could spell them out would teach everyone everything but [are] never offered openly, never made public” (qtd. in Gomes 56). The impossibility of objectivity assured that the truths would never be made apparent to me, but at least I had acquired new insight. 
Another example might illustrate the point further.  Although I was a regular filmgoer during my teenage years, I tended to go with friends and/or parents, where we would make an evening of it, so to speak, watching double bills at the local theater.  I never ventured into an arthouse cinema until I left school, when I visited the Curzon Cinema in Mayfair in 1979 to see James Ivory’s The Europeans, based on the novella first published in 1878.  I knew little or nothing about Henry James, but had seen Lee Remick on television in Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) and remembered her stellar performance.  I remember being captivated by the way in which Ivory, Remick and the cast recreated a New England bourgeois society focused on outward show at the expense of their emotions.  I could readily empathize with their mental struggles, having spent much of my school years being actively told to repress my feelings, thereby upholding a long-held tradition – typical of boys’ private schools at that time – that to do otherwise was somehow “unmanly.”  I knew nothing about textual fidelity, genre issues nor historical accuracy (having spent my time studying nineteenth century British, not American history); but the film’s social exposé of late Victorian conventions, that still existed over century later, cast a visceral appeal that told myself something about myself and how nine years of education had shaped (or warped?) my personality.  The experience of watching The Europeans gave rise to a lifelong preoccupation with the often tempestuous relationship between private and public selves in Henry James’s work that continues to this day. 
Such encounters have helped me formulate a view of historical adaptation that moves outwards from the individual to the community – not just encompassing creative workers involved in the process of making historical films (or any other form of historical narrative) but accommodating filmgoers as well.  Our understanding of such texts evolves continually out of this interaction between such individuals.  For further evidence, I turn to an inspiring piece written in 2010 by screenwriter and educator Diane Lake about working with groups of learners on writing historical screenplays: one observed in her end-of-semester evaluation was that she was “not sure what I was actually expecting out of this class.  I had always wanted to write my own things, or write for an existing show, but I definitely learned the value of – and how hard it can be to write successful – adaptations” (92).  Such comments offer some fascinating perspectives on how we adapt to history.  I remember feeling much the same as this learner did when I took the historiographical course at high school for the first time: why was I being told to question objectivity, when hitherto I had been taught that it was the basic component of all historical narratives?  I always wanted to write my own history – not necessarily for publication – but to make sense of my own life; but school life had always dissuaded me from doing so.  Revealing one’s personal feelings might lead to accusations of weakness.  The experiences of watching The Europeans and Lawrence inspired me to do so, even though I realized (and continue to do so) that my cinematic impressions of both films would alter throughout my life.  
The complexities of such personal – as well as private – engagements with texts, whether cinematic or otherwise, make me understand just how difficult the process can be of representing history on film, especially in a collaborative medium where workers discuss “ideas about what they’d like to write, the worlds they’d like to create, and the people they’d like to bring to life on the page” (Lake 92).  Despite the practical difficulties involved – most notably in collecting reminiscences from filmgoers past and present, unless we actively embrace ethnographic approaches - I believe that adaptation studies has a theoretical duty to widen its methodological focus and rescue history from the possession of those embracing “reasonable” issues of historical accuracy and/or genre theory, and embrace more people-centered strategies valuing difference and individuality.  Jennifer Howard’s comments are apposite: “Such comfort [provided by the historical narrative] is fleeting: that is the order of things [….] maybe the past will return in some gentler form, weathered and wiser and gentler now, and ready to take us back” (“Sharing Links,” 24).  Memories of our cinema-going histories, as well as our present tastes can help us determine our future lives.  This kind of autobiography-centered approach has more in common with fan studies rather than adaptation studies, but I would contend that it is a valuable means to renegotiate our futures and our means of coming to terms with increasingly complex situations.
Based on the abstract I originally offered, I see that this paper has been placed in a section entitled “Transcultural Adaptations,” implying that there might be something different about the processes of adapting texts across cultures, rather than across media within the same territory.  Perhaps “transculturality” signifies something peripheral in comparison to “mainstream” Anglo-American processes of adaptation.  But perhaps I am just being mischievous: the process of transmission of historical material, across geographical, mediatic, disciplinary or any other boundaries is inherently enriching, an issue addressed as long ago as 1911 by Henri Bergson:

My memory is there, which conveys something of the past into the present.  My mental state, as it advances on the road of time, is continually swelling with the duration which it accumulates; it goes on increasing-rolling upon itself, as a snowball in the snow [….] This amounts to saying that there is no essential difference between passing from one state to another and persisting in the same state.  If the state which ‘remains the same’ is more varied than we think, on the one hand the passing from one state to another resembles, more than we imagine, a single state being prolonged; the transition is continuous (1-2).

Life is here viewed as “a gentle slope,” not divided into identifiable categories of past, present, and future, but part of a continually moving zone “which comprises all we feel and think or will-all, in short, that we are at any given moment.  It is this entire zone which in reality makes up our state.  Now, states thus defined cannot be regarded as distinct elements.  They continue each other in an endless flow” (3).  Bergson’s thesis expresses the potential of adapting history, where we have the unaccustomed freedom to evolve and recreate narratives based on an “endless flow” of impressions and subsequently assess them through interaction with those around us.  Some try to deride this apparently “free-for-all” view of human psychology that sets aside questions of accuracy and truth and instead works towards creating “a blurry, unstable kind of narrative in which the details of everyday life become the fabric of fictionality, and real life begins to resemble an intricate weave of stories.  Theory meets fiction, autobiography meets criticism – and just about anything goes” (Elkin 25).  As Alun Munslow so trenchantly suggests, however, any historical narrative purporting to communicate “the truth” is inevitably culturally constructed.  I recently read an article on Nuri Gencossian’s translation of The Wisdom of the Prophets into Turkish (1952), where the author insisted on invisibility, based on the belief that he was not creating an original work of art but transmitting divine sources of knowledge directly to his readers.  Truth, or the real knowledge, was spiritual knowledge/ skill (marifet), originating directly from God through an angel, and only accessible to readers after a lengthy mystical apprenticeship.  Hence Gencossian’s readers had to become acclimatized to the mechanisms of this form of historical adaptation before appreciating it (Akbatur 64-5).  The topic of genre is another culturally fruitful area of adaptation research and its relationship to history: Gönül Dönmez-Colin highlights the vogue for melodrama during the earliest years of Turkish cinema from the Fifties to the late Seventies that provided numerous forms of catharsis for filmgoers, especially during times of extreme socio-political struggle (for example, during the crises of 1960, 1971, and 1980).  The happy endings, with virtue rewarded and vice punished, offered visions of social stability that instilled a sense of well-being into mass audiences.  After the 2000s more nationalistic films became extremely popular, with the focus of attention on issues such as the conflict in the East, the place of religion and secularism in the state, and the contested question of plural/ single identities – as witnessed, for instance, in the megahit Fetih 1453 (Conquest 1453) (2012) that retold the story of Turkish triumphs in Constantinople for modern filmgoers (148-9).[8]  Comparing such historical adaptations with equivalent epics produced in the Anglo-American context (especially Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (2005) that focuses on similar material) can tell us a lot about different forms of constructed knowledge and how we respond to them.  Can we really believe that a society can embrace “pluralism” or “multiculturalism” as we might understand it in the West, when it has disseminated an ideological message of a monocultural Turkish identity since its creation nearly eighty years ago?  This is neither the time nor the place to analyze this question in any detail, but the fact that it relates explicitly to my day-to-day encounters of living in another country, and my interactions with family, friends and learners, emphasizes the importance of learning how to think critically as well as spiritually about the processes of adapting history and what its purposes might be for my future life.
I would like to end with a final reminiscence.  Following a recent research visit to the University of Swansea, I picked up a copy of Vernon Watkins’s essays on Dylan Thomas and other Poets’ Poetry.  I had always liked listening to Thomas’s work on disc or on radio, as the sound of words always seemed to exert more emotional and psychological appeal than the sense.  I felt myself transported into a pure world of the imagination, where my mind could range across boundaries unfettered by daily concerns – and thereby work to establish an unspoken communication between past, present and future experiences.  One of Watkins’s comments on the poetry-making process as applied both to Thomas and himself particularly struck me: “The response to the Past and the thrust of the Present act upon each other so intricately that the moment cannot be foreseen when the two are reconciled and bewilderment gives place to order.  That is why it seems to me that all generalisations […] are meaningless [….] All life is lived forward in time, and it sometimes seems to me that a poet is a person who has been made aware of the timeless, and recurrently recognizes it at unexpected moments” (166).  I would not claim to be a poet, even in embryo, but I would like to underline the basic purpose of adapting history – whether on film or elsewhere - as a willingness to acknowledge the timeless, based on the belief that distinctions between “literature,” “poetry” and “history” are as arbitrary as those separating past, present and future.  They all represent forms of knowledge designed to broaden our awareness, refine our life-narratives and subsequently help us make sense of our lives.  If we realize the importance of this process, and thereby place ourselves at the center of that adaptation-making process, then we can come to greater self-understanding.[9]

WORKS CITED
Akıllı, Sinan.  “Secrets Hidden in the Mirage: The Cinematic Constructions of Lawrence of Arabia in the Turkish Mind.”  Hacettepe Üniversitesi Türkıyat Araştırmaları Dergisi 24 (2014): 7-26.  Print.

Ahmed, Akbar.  The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror became a Global War against Tribal Islam.  Noida: HarperCollins Publishers India, 2013.  Print.

Akbatur, Arzu.  “Exploring Tercüman as a Culture-Bound Concept in Islamic Mysticism.”  Tradition, Tension and Translation in Turkey.  Ed. Şehnaz Tahir Gürçağlar, Saliha Paker, and John Milton.  53-73.  Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2015.  Print. 

Baldwin, James.  “An Open Letter to my Sister, Angela Y. Davis” (19 Nov. 1970).  History as a Weapon.  2013.  Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

Ben Hur.  Dir. Timur Bekmambetov.  Perf. Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santora.  Lightworkers Media, 2016.  Film.

Bergson, Henri.  “The Evolution of Life – Mechanism and Teleology.”  Trans. Arthur Mitchell.  Creative Evolution.  1-97.  New York: Henry Holt, 1911.  Print. 

“Bullet Supports Lawrence Tales.”  Guardian Weekly 15 Apr. 2016: 44.  Print.

Carr, E. H. What is History? 1961.  Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1967.  Print.

Chomsky, Noam.  Who Rules the World?  London: Hamish Hamilton, 2016.  Print.

Citizen Kane.  Dir. Orson Welles.  Perf. Welles, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead.  RKO, 1941.  Film.

Clarke, Norma.  “Wonder Women.”  TLS 31 July 2015: 10.  Print.

Corrigan, Timothy.  Film and Literature: An Introduction and Reader.  2nd ed.  Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.  Print.

Cowboys and Aliens.  Dir. Jon Favreau.  Perf. Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde.  Universal, 2011. Film.

Crosser, John.  “Bartholomew Fair: Stage History.”  The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online.  22 Nov. 2007.  Web. 3 Sep. 2016. 

“Donald Trump on Citizen Kane.” CineVegas Film Festival/ YouTube, 6 Mar. 2008.  Web. 3 Sep. 2016.

Dönmez-Colin, Gönül.  The Routledge Dictionary of Turkish Cinema.  Abingdon: Routledge, 2014.  Print.

The Europeans.  Dir. James Ivory.  Perf. Lee Remick, Tim Woodward, Robin Ellis.  Merchant-Ivory Productions, 1979.  Film.

Elkin, Lauren.  “Private Theory.”  TLS 27 Nov. 2015: 25.  Print.

Fetih 1453.  Dir. Faruk Aksoy.  Perf. Devrim Erin, İbrahim Çelikkol, Dilek Serbest.  Aksoy Film, 2012.  Film.

Foucault, Michel.  The Punitive Society: Lectures at the Collège de France 1972-1973.  Ed. Bernard Harcourt.  Trans. Graham Burchell.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.  Print.

Garland, David.  “Bars and Stripes.”  TLS 29 Jan. 2016: 3-4.  Print.

Gomes, Anil.  “Tips for Talk.”  TLS 21-28 Aug. 2015: 36.  Print.

Gülçur, Ala Sivaş.  “Historical Epic as a Genre in Popular Turkish Cinema.”  The Handbook of Research on the Impact of Culture and Society on the Environment Industry.  Ed. R. Gülay Öztürk.  264-77.  Hershey, PA: IGI Global International, 2014.  E-book.

Howard, Jennifer.  “Sharing Links.”  TLS 2 Oct. 2015: 24.  Print.

Hyde, Marina.  “What Citizen Trump Cannot Stand – The Story is of Melania, not Him.”  The Guardian, 2 Sep. 2016.  Web. 3 Sep. 2016.

İngiliz Kemal Lavrens’e Karşı.  Dir. Lütfi Ö. Akad.  Perf. Ayhan Işık, Muzaffer Tema, Gülistan Güzey.  Kemal Film, 1952.  Film.

Inglorious Basterds.  Dir. Quentin Tarantino.  Perf. Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender.  Universal, 2009.  Film.

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[1] According to the National Library of Turkey (Milli Kütüphane), the first translation did not appear until 2014.
[2] Critic David Thomson makes an apt summary: “Citizen Kane – was a collection of all the new ways of making film, but it was a celebration of the old ways, too. It was brilliant, yet it could not resist lampooning Hearst (a jab that ruined its chance of success)” (“Orson Welles: The Most Glorious”).
[3] The relationship between Trump and Citizen Kane was discussed more recently by Marina Hyde (“What Citizen Trump Can’t Stand”).
[4] Only recently Dr. Neil Faulkner, a member of the Bristol University Great Arab Revolt Project, claimed that “Lawrence has something of a reputation as a teller of tall tales” (“Bullet Supports,” 44).
[5] By a quirk of fate (or is it irony), this is precisely what Chomsky claims, as he shows in his most recent book how the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution has been abused by US Corporations, “established and sustained by state power,” who have assumed full rights to persons of flesh and blood – in fact, far greater rights, thanks to their scale, their immortality, and the protections of limited liability” (93).
[6] This mode of interpretation was equally popular two and a half centuries ago.  Norma Clarke notes the tendency of Gothic novelists such as Ann Radcliffe to employ “sentimental fiction” to fill historical gaps, based on established binaries of good vs. evil, hero vs. villain, and so on (“Wonder Women,” 10).
[7] In using the terms “past significance” and “present meaning,” I am reminded of the article written as long ago as 1969 by Robert Weimann, claiming that the two concepts engage in a relationship which, in its interdependence, may illuminate either.  The dialectic nature of that relationship means that the deeper and richer understanding of a text’s genesis is, the more likely it will be that the achievement of a comprehensive re-evaluation will emerge in the present.  The only snag with that definition is one of terminology: how do we know when we have achieved a “deeper and richer understanding?” In a notorious modern-dress revival of Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair at the Aldwych Theatre, London, in 1969, director Terry Hands claimed that his updated production of a Jacobean play had been founded on careful research and a careful scrutiny of the text in an attempt to show the need to establish a Republican Jonson Theatre in opposition to the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The production was a disaster (Crosser, “Bartholomew Fair: Stage History”), thereby proving the elusiveness of Weimann’s use of terminology.
[8] For more on genre reconstruction in Turkish cinema, see Ala Sivaş Gülçur, “Historical Epic as a Genre in Popular Turkish Cinema” (264-77).
[9] Watkins has this point to make about the power of pure sound: “The true theatre is the mind’s eye, and the true action of the theatre springs from solitude and darkness [….] art is interesting, too, and art does not need cameras” (“In Defence,” 247).