Thinking & Re-thinking Aloud: Texts Unlimited?

Hello all.  If you made it this far, you are at least mildly interested in the substantive part of my musings–or are a glutton for punishment.  I’ve got a thesis topic, a signed thesis proposal, and an amazing thesis adviser so it was inevitable that at least a few posts on Maphmatically Yours would have to make the turn from meta-thesis to actual thesis.  I introduced my thesis topic in this post, justified my interest in it in this one, and certainly many other posts along the way traced certain lines of thought or possible defenses of my central claim.  However, in just a few days, I will be responsible for “five pages of close engagement with my topic”–I guess just to make sure that I survived the stress of the thesis adviser selection process.  While communication on what goal this “close engagement” is supposed to moving one toward has been sadly lacking, I’m taking the exercise to provide an excuse to stop reading everything even tangentially related to one’s topic and actually write a treatment of something.  So what better place to think out loud than right here–where my simplistic readings and failed attempts at wit will be entombed for all time?  So, I’m envisioning this “Thinking & Rethinking” header to constitute not an ongoing series per se, but a banner under which to signify this thesis-building activity.  So, if your interesting in aesthetics, language theory, or hermeneutics think of the “Thinking & Re-thinking Aloud” tag as a little slice of heaven–for everyone else: You’ve been warned.


“Adaptations and appropriations can very in how explicitly they state their intertextual purpose.  (…) In appropriations the intertextual relationship may be less explicit, more embedded, but what is often inescapable is the fact that a political or ethical commitment shapes a writer’s, director’s, or performer’s decision to re-interpret a source text.  In this respect, in any study of adaptation and appropriation the creative import of the author cannot be as easily dismissed as Roland Barthes’s or Michel Foucault’s influential theories of the ‘death of the author’ might suggest” (page 2).

Or so Julie Sanders introduces the question of authorial intention in her monograph Adaptation and Appropriation.  The practices of both adaptation and appropriation fall under the umbrella of intertexuality in that intertextuality is the result of the impulse toward hybridity–combining dissimilar narratives, traditions, and conventions in order to create something at once “new” and derivative.  It may be argued that the much maligned or celebrated move from modernism to postmodernism is nothing less than valorization of hybridity as a guiding principle.  The starting point for this inquiry accepts as axiomatic that texts–whether written, graphical, musical, or otherwise–are necessarily constituted of bits and pieces interpreted, borrowed, stolen, appropriated, and adapted both from other works of art and from other “meaning” communities.  However, recognizing the intertextual basis of all “new” art works does not necessitate the unqualified valorization of all species of adaptation and appropriation.

Where contemporary studies of appropriative art practices have tended to focus their attentions on the classification of new works according the mode and methodologies of their intertextuality–interpretation, continuation, transformation, proximation, imitation, transposition, revision, pastiche, parody, satire, etc.–my goal is to interrogate the under-appreciated ethical ramifications of appropriative artwork.  However, before any constructive philosophical work may be done, it is necessary to banish any overly simplistic or obviously wrong-headed approaches to the ethical facet of appropriative art.

The book is always better than the movie, or so folk-wisdom so often intones.  Intuitively, it seems, the quality of an adaptation is its faithfulness to the source text and attempts to re-imagine, revise, or add additional elements in the process of relocating a book to the big screen or a television program to a comic book is invariably look down upon by those familiar with the original source material.  Against this intuition, contemporary criticism argues that either there can be “good” or “bad” adaptations, as there could be no grounds for such judgment, or if fidelity to the source material be granted as sufficient grounds, then there could be no satisfactory explanation for the intertextual impulse.  Put another way, this reductio ad absurdum argument defeats any attempt to establish fidelity as the rule of adaptation by arguing that under such a rule there would be no need of adaptation or at minimum, no adaptation as “good” as the original.  By accepting the critic’s reductio we lose any claim to the legitimacy that our naive intuitions might have held yet, how can we explain why the folk-wisdom remains so universal?

Admittedly, the fidelity demanded by common intuition is peculiar.  Rarely is it the case the actors found to play a book’s characters confirm perfectly to their written descriptions and their dialogue on film is paltry compared with their quotes in print.  Generally speaking each page of a motion picture script represent one minute of film, yet rarely is a script’s length equal to its source material demanding the compression and simplification of the narrative.  Yet, among all these fundamental changes, it is commonly argued that some films are faithful adaptations while others unfaithful.  If fidelity is the rule, to what must an adaptation be faithful? Or to put the question another way, if an adaptation is the realization of a artist’s interpretation according to some intention–as argued by Julie Sanders–whose intentions form the rule: the author of the source material or those of the adapter?


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