Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Adaptation Studies

Quote of the day: 

"Incidentally, the long-drawn-out discussion on fidelity has become rather tedious in my view, in that practically every recent book on adaptation pretends it has revolutionized adaptation studies by deconstructing fidelity and the supremacy of the original."

That's by Thomas Van Parys in a 2007 review of Thomas Leitch's Film Adaptation and Its Discontents.  For my part I have a contrarian interest in grappling with adaptation precisely as a matter of fidelity - or at least as historically shifting markers of fidelity. To my eye, Classic Hollywood seemed to take four approaches:

- subservience of source literary material by the film: in which studios/producers/etc valued the source material as pre-sold property with some audience recognition, or for the basis of stronger dialogue and narrative construction than could be done in-house, yet made a film that exhibits maximum narrative autarky, to use a Noel Burch term. That is, one can easily watch films of this category without being aware of the existence of a literary source. (ex. Rebecca)

- the citational prestige film: in which studios/producers hew as close as they can to the above model while conveying some promise of high-literary substitute-experience (i.e. Arrowsmith)

- the novelistic: in which the substitute-experience is foregrounded stylistically, especially with voiceover, flashback, titles, pictures of books, narrational tone, etc. (ex. I Remember Mama)

- the radical experiment: in which studios radically change film language to better match literary form. (ex. Mourning Becomes Electra).

What interests me, of course, is that the mix of these approaches seems to change over time. In all of these, "literature" may still hold a primacy over "film" but the terms of that primacy change for each. 

ADDENDUM: I should mention in this connection Kyle Edward's terrific article on Selznick's adaptation of Rebecca. (Cinema Journal 45.3). "Despite the predominance of this practice [adaptation of novels]," he writes, "scholarly examinations of the approaches Hollywood filmmaking corporations adopted in the acquisition and adaptation of literary properties are scarce."

Gender and Academic Blogging

Melissa Click and Nina Huntemann have an article in Flow on the gender disparity in media-studies blogging.  It's a great read and outlines what I imagine to be widespread concern that blogging might unconsciously replicate gender, race, and class divides in our field(s). I'll add just a few thoughts.

First, the authors note that "The career benefits of blogging are undeniable." The matter is not self-evident, however. Respondents may feel their careers benefit, but those blogging are inclined to think so. They may also be a self-selected group whose careers do benefit. I, mean, I hope the Click and Huntemann are right, but I cannot be fully confident.

Second, the article attributes gender disparity to the types of blogging: "So why don't female media scholars blog?" they write. "Of course many do, but part of women's perceived invisibility is bound up with what counts as a media studies blog. If journal style blogs and journal/k-log hybrids are not perceived as making important contributions to the field, then many scholarly blogs written by women do not appear on the collective media studies radar." Point taken, but the question I have is this: female scholars are absolutely no more likely to weave personal experience into their scholarship and are no less likely to adopt an abstract expository writing voice. I see no gender divide in the style of scholarly writing (even as gender divides poke their head up repeatedly in objects of study, or the role of feminist analysis). Why, then, does online academic writing become the place for a split approach?

Third, I wonder if a broader pattern in blog consumption contributes. And I mean consumption of non-academic blogs. I know I developed much of my template for this blog - and adopted what Click and Huntemann call knowledge-logging - by reading current events and political blogs - and academic blogs inspired by such k-log blogs. I have no evidence that women academics who blog read fewer of these blogs, but I can say I read next to no LiveJournal-type blogs, so at least on my end consumption may encourage a gendered blogging behavior.

I will concede that blogging continues to see a gender and racial divide in film studies and only moderately less so in media studies. But class is different: blogging, in fact, is the one countervailing tendency I can foresee to work against aggregation of social capital. Networking serves positive functions in the academy, but too often things get based on scholarly cliques, on who one went to graduate school with, and on program reputations. Blogging offers a real possibility to expand conversations beyond institutional walls.