The problem of Textual Studies

What would Textual Studies contribute? How would such a branch operate? Is it possible, even desirable?

In “Adaptation Studies at a Crossroads,” Leitch asserts that criticism based on fidelity and contextual concerns “are unlikely to play a leading role in advancing adaptation studies as it struggles to emerge from the disciplinary umbrella of film studies and the still more tenacious grip of literary studies” [emphasis added] (68). Leitch seems to suggest that the study of adaptations is in the process of separating, or at least ought to separate, from film and literature theory and departments, the de facto curators of adaptations. Such a claim seems to divorce adaptation studies from its very roots where, by definition, film and literature have their due share – where then does that leave adaptations?

Leitch answers this in his conclusion to “Twelve Fallacies in Contemporary Adaptation Studies” by suggesting a new branch of study called “Textual Studies – a discipline incorporating adaptation studies, cinema studies in general, and literary studies, now housed in departments of English, and much of cultural studies as well” (168). While I agree with the more “omnivorous” approach to adaptations, I find it unlikely that such a field will emerge because what Leitch is essentially calling for is a revolution in the way we and the institutions through which we are always-already subjects think. “Institutional battles can be resolved in the same ways they arose, by changing the way the institution does business” (168). Changing that business would mean dismantling the academic institution to its very core.

Intertextuality and intermedia studies are exactly where adaptation studies need to be, especially given Leitch’s explosively broad definition of adaptation (with which I agree, for the record), but it is not currently possible because the institution is designed in such a way as to hinder, if not outright prohibit, such interdisciplinary cross-breeding. The liminal nature of adaptations at the crossroads of not just film and literature but all artistic mediums challenges the very institution in which it appears, an institution dependent on its rigid internal structure and theoretical definitions. The hybrid nature of adaptations needs a broader approach that the institution as it exists today cannot provide because the “will to taxonomize” has found no greater champion than academic institutions. After all, the humanities were not originally divorced from the sciences, and Textual Studies must consider, among so many other things, technology: its history, operation, influence on art/media, etc. What Leitch calls for is reconciliation between disciplines, perhaps even all disciplines. But is that possible, desirable even?

Again, though I agree with Leitch, perhaps he is swinging the pendulum too far, dissolving boundaries without due consideration for their replacement. Given his broadened redefinition of adaptation, one that could easily account for all art and media, how much is too much? If everything is in fact a copy without an original (the specter of Benjamin haunts my posts), if all texts are intertexts and intertexts can be all-inclusive in themselves and by definition – a painting and a piece of music could be texts – where does the hall of mirrors end? Should it end? And if it doesn’t end, how can we then establish a new discipline? In other words, how can we establish Textual Studies as a discipline when it is predicated on the notion of collapsing definitions and disciplines themselves? Is Leitch really calling for institutions to create a new branch of study, to authorize an inherently heterogeneous field with unstable boundaries both internal and external, or is he suggesting something more radical?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in 12 Leitch. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The problem of Textual Studies

  1. Raj says:

    I’m lacking for imagination so am curious to know what could be more radical than creating a new and unstable field of study? Leitch readily eschews taxonomies, but to what extent? I feel similarly as you with his solution: At what point, say for the sake of the didactic, are limits imposed so that something can be taught? One could ceaselessly follow a chain of signifiers/texts/etc. to the point where the subject of a course is rapidly left far behind. Maybe that’s the point though. Perhaps something similar but less radical is currently being done: On a very basic level I’ve had undergrad English courses that would teach a bit of history, or have us read philosophical or legal or other non narrative texts, to provide a context from which authors of the period wrote. Such an application may not go far enough for Leitch but it seems to be a start for a way of presenting a relation between texts in a manner that doesn’t prioritize one over the other.

    • Marie Mosot says:

      The problem I saw with creating a new but unstable discipline is that it’s still defined as a discipline, as something with methods and boundaries that exists within and because of the institution. Yet the aim of Textual Studies, its “omnivorous” approach and the final rhetorical questions that Leitch leaves us with in “Twelve Fallacies,” seems to want to break such boundaries, to not be a “discipline” as it is traditionally conceived. “Institutional battles can be resolved in the same ways they arose, by changing the way the institution does business” (168). Leitch suggests that if Textual Studies is to be established, the institution must reconfigure itself first to allow for a boundary-blurring discipline. But I argue that to do so would be to obliterate the notion of discipline altogether, a notion on which the institution is founded. Textual Studies cannot emerge without the institution, but the institution cannot exist in the presence of Textual Studies because Textual Studies challenges the nature of the institution. What I found radical (and admirable) was that despite this tension, Leitch favored such a destructive approach; what I wonder, though, is: is it constructive? or rather, possible?

    • It’s interesting you emphasize the “teaching” aspects. Many of the readings we’ve done this semester have come from collections, and most everything else in those collections has been the “case study”: only discussing one film or author. I think it’s that kind of narrow limit (and lack of big connection between all these individual studies) that Leitch laments.

Comments are closed.