Sunday, July 2, 2017

Adapting Jules Verne for radio: AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, dramatized by Terry James (1991).  Dir. Janet Whittaker.  Perf. Leslie Phillips, Jim Broadbent, Diana Quick.  BBC Radio 4 Extra, 19-22 Jun. 2017.

After listening to this colorful dramatization of the Verne classic, I understood the novel’s debt to classic picaresque adventures such as Don Quixote.  Phineas Fogg (Leslie Phillips) and Passepartout (Yves Aubert) are the Quixote and Sancho Panza figures, while Princess Aouda (Diana Quick) is Dulcinea.  Sergeant Fix (Jim Broadbent) is the classic fly in the ointment, pursuing Fogg worldwide but failing to arrest him, despite valiant efforts to obtain a warrant to do so.

In truth the story of pure hokum, dramatizing late Victorian English attitudes to other countries with wry humor.  Verne conceived Fogg as a curious middle-aged man of the confirmed bachelor variety, apparently indifferent to everything and everyone and obsessed with the idea of arriving in different ports on time.  It does not matter whether he is in India, Hong Kong, or the United States; he believes that everything can be bought and sold for his benefit.  In the modern era he might be perceived as a classic supporter of the current government.  Leslie Phillips plays him with Rex Harrison-like suavity, but his air of nonchalance is abruptly disturbed by Aouda’s presence.  To his evident astonishment Fogg discovers that he has amorous feelings for her; and the two finish the adaptation by marrying.  So much for the ice-cool Englishman.

Passepartout is played by Aubert as a rubber-ball like figure, whose capacity to overcome adversity is apparently limitless.  Some of his adventures are explicitly comic (such as when he joins a group of Chinese acrobats to make money), but he remains faithful to his “Master” throughout, even though he finds some of Fogg’s mannerisms distinctly eccentric.  A French author looks at the English, and considers them very strange.

Janet Whittaker’s production advances through two parallel narratives, delivered directly to listeners by Passepartout and Fix.  Passepartout keeps a journal; Fix his police officer’s notebook.  When these two documents are used as material to keep the ship’s engine going on the final trip back from New York to Liverpool, Princess Aouda takes over the narration.  The technique of direct address helps us to understand the characters’ attitudes to what seems a ludicrous undertaking.  Despite Fogg’s inexhaustible energy, the idea of traveling the world in eighty days seems preposterous.  It is a tribute to the characters’ resilience that the three narratives gradually alter in tone, as Passepartout and Fix realize that the feat will be completed, whatever the cost.

The four parts are constructed as a series of picaresque episodes linked with electronic music from Wılfredo Acosta that gives an otherworldly atmosphere to the production.  The attitudes and social mores might be explicitly Victorian, but the tale is a wish-fulfillment fantasy, a testament to human ingenuity and to three indomitable spirits.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Adaptation and Nation Conference: Edinburgh, June 2017

I eagerly looked forward to this one-day conference held at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh on 22 June 2017.  I have been working on transnational audiences, and am currently researching into how the meaning of the disputed term fidelity has become contested in recent years with the move towards globalized approaches to adaptation.

Jeremy Strong (U. of West London)began the event with a lively presentation on French heritage cinema of the late twentieth century and its influence on the British media. The images of a prelapsarian world full of country lanes, with the people going home at sunset after a day on the farm were seductive – so seductive, in fact, that they formed the basis for well-known commercials such as that promoted by Stella Artois.  Strong also drew attention to the success of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, which fueled the British public’s dream of getting away from it all in France.  The television version, while not a success, is a good example of spectacle television, designed to promote tourist images of the area.  Strong argued persuasively that this form of cinema was not realistic, but formed part of a psychogeography dedicated to attracting a large fan base.  This psychogeography was childlike as well as attractive, fulfilling dreams – perhaps nostalgic, perhaps aspirational.  Cultural specificities were not significant; these dreams were transnational including familiar conventions of sunsets, wistful music, countrified people and their animals.

Michael Lawrence’s (U. of Sussex)piece on the Bollywood version of Wuthering Heights took up the transnational theme.  Released in 1966 under the title Dil Diya Dard Liya, it starred Dilip Kumar, a mainstay of Bollywood, and ran for 169 minutes.  The film incorporates familiar melodramatic conventions of love, marriage, heroism and villainy, interspersed with frequent musical interludes.  The script was built round Kumar’s star image, with emotions worn on the sleeve.  The film was successfully exported to Russia and other areas but remained unknown to the majority of Western audiences.  The links between Bollywood and the local Turkish industry Yeşilçam are palpable: the recasting of Western classics according to local conventions; the use of music to enhance the films’ emotional effect; and the building of the action round a genuinely local star.

Chi Yun Shin’s (Sheffield Hallam U.)work on The Handmaiden (2016) the Korean reboot of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith (2002), followed a similar methodological path.  The Korean reboot is much more explicit than the source-text, and transposes the action from Victorian England to Korea under Japanese colonial rule.  I think the Korean film is more of a reboot than a remake, as director Park Chan-wook makes no attempt to rework the novel but provides his own particular riff on the material.  Local considerations take priority over global issues.  I’d like to have seen some discussion of Aisling Walsh’s television adaptation of the Waters novel (2005), especially the relationship of the neo-Victorian ambiance to Park’s use of settings, both of which differ significantly from the novel.  An article on this subject by Eda İpek Gündüz (Gaziantep U.) will appear in a forthcoming anthology on Value in Adaptation, forthcoming from McFarland.

Carol Poole’s (Edge Hill U.) paper on the various versions of War and Peace, including that of Bondarchuk (1966) and the recent BBC version by Tom Harper (1966).  Being pedantic, I’d I have liked a reference or two to the 1956 version by King Vidotr with Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn, not to mention the famous 1972 television scripted by Jack Pulman with Anthony Hopkins in the lead.  What was perhaps most evident from Poole’s piece was the elasticity of the source-test; it doesn’t really matter about fidelity issues as the screenwriters reshape the material according to culture-specific concerns.  I use the term “culture-specific” rather than “national”: as Poole persuasively averred, it’s time to approach adaptation from as post-national standpoint, taking into account the audiences’ inclinations.  We all have our favorite adaptations of the novel, shaped by our ages, background and relationships.  Michael Stewart (Queen Margaret U.) argued persuasively that Alice Munro’s short story “Silence” (2004), transformed into Almodóvar’s Julieta (2016), was in a sense unadaptable.  Following Jeremy Strong’s argument about the imaginative constructions of Provence, Stewart believed that Almodóvar enacted his own vision of Canada, a world of darkness and threat.  The source-text provides a source of inspiration for an idiosyncratic idea of nationhood that tells us more about the director’s imagination than Munro’s writing.  Historical issues – as constructed through the sets and costumes, for instance – assume a secondary role.  Stewart’s piece reminds us to approach each text on its own merits rather than applying a prearranged framework shaped by our previous knowledge of adaptation.  The same also applies to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013): Robert Munro (Queen Margaret U.) argued that the director emptied the Glasgow setting of any local significance, and thereby prompting us to reflect on humanity’s relationship to the environment – maybe even the ecosphere? Perhaps there is further opportunities for the exploration of the film from an eco-critical angle.

Another piece by Douglas McNaughton (U. of Brighton) concentrated on Scottish films.  McNaughton considered T2: Trainspotting (2017) as an updating of the first film, released in 1996.  The comparison reminded us of the effect of time on our perceptions: the later version of Trainspotting offered a sentimental view of the first film, with the once-young protagonists having to cope with the confines of middle age – a double-edged sword if there ever was one.  McNaughton’s piece also confirmed about how perceptions of adaptations change over time: I remember viewing the premiere of the first film, when some members of the audience visibly recoiled at some of the grislier sequences (especially those set in a urinal).  Now the roseate glow of nostalgia hangs over that material, as we look back to a pre-Brexit world whose inhabitants enjoyed a freedom of self-expression denied to them now.   

The conference also offered a series of reflections on the concept of value.  Picking up on Stewart’s piece, Sarah Artt (Edinburgh Napier U.)argued whether there had been any successful adaptations of Jean Rhys’ novels.  The answer is very much a matter of opinion – especially if radio adaptations and/or readings are taken into account – but Artt’s piece revealed the intrinsic role played by audiences in the adaptive act.  How they react to particular films tell us a lot about their aesthetic preoccupations, and what they expect from the idea of “nation” and “nationalism.”  They are in perpetual dialogue with the cinema and television producers and directors looking to make profits on their investments. Shelley Galpin’s (U. of York)piece on Far From the Madding Crowd (2015), which she freely admitted was her favorite adaptation of the novel.  Participants from a different generation begged to differ, preferring John Schlesinger’s 1967 version instead.  We could also bring Nicholas Renton’s 1988 television version into the discussion.  What is perhaps more instructive is that fidelity issues in this discussion are very much shaped by individual preferences, which are in turn shaped by social background, age and cinematic experience.  Adaptation is not simply focused on textual issues, but needs to take ethnographical issues into account.  The same also applied to Victoria Lowe’s (U. of Manchester) discussion of the British New Wave films of the late Fifties and Sixties.  The generic term “British New Wave” is contested; likewise our opinion of the films produced around that time and the impact they made on British film history.  As Lowe spoke, I kept thinking of the recent BBC Radio 4 season, also entitled the “British New Wave,” which overlooked the films’ theatrical origins altogether.  Yet I don’t think such differences are a matter for dispute – they simply indicate the ways in which perceptions depend on a variety of factors, personal, industrial as well as cultural.

What I found most enlightening about the whole seminar is the way in which apparently disparate cultural products are linked transhistorically as well as transnationally.  It is up to adaptation scholars to unpick those links that tell us a lot about the way people react to individual films as well as learning more about how and why such films are produced.  Strictly formal procedures, such as the relationship between source and target-texts, have been supplanted in the adaptation studies’ agenda by a concentration on conditions of production and reception and how they have changed over time and space.  There are far more opportunities for constructive dialogue between adaptation scholars with different research interests – dialogue that will tell us more about transnational flows.

This is an exciting time for adaptation studies; and it is a testament to the quality of the papers delivered at the Edinburgh event that this sense of excitement throughout the whole day. Thanks are due to the co-organizers of this event, Michael Stewart and Robert Munro, as well as the participants for a memorable event.

                                                                                                                                                Laurence Raw

28 Jun. 2017

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 (

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 site ( 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.


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  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.