In which Leitch tears every theorist we read this semester a new one…

If modern adaptation studies are at a crossroads as they allegedly retain an “unhelpful emphasis on the notions of essentialism originality, and cinematic equivalents to literary techniques” (168), how can this be alleviated moving forward?

After exploring to the problematic nature of modern adaptation studies in his aptly titled essay,  “Adaptation at a Crossroads”, Thomas Leitch seemingly proposes a solution through his “Twelve Fallacies of Contemporary Adaptation Theory”.  The root of his argument seems to indicate that adaptation studies in the present day are largely antiquated, alluding to dated tropes of adaptation studies like “fidelity is the most appropriate criterion in analyzing adaptations” (161) and “source texts are more original than adaptations” (162).  On top of that, he defends the art of filmmaking as separate but equally creative and innovative medium; something that he believes adaptation critics neglect to do for the sake of praising the anterior simply for being first (the novel).

I largely agree with Leitch with regard to how adaptation criticism (whether it’s from a scholar or a fan on an Internet message board) is rooted in the championing of fidelity to the anterior and the tarnishing of everything that comes after it.  In fact, I more or less agree with his argument on the whole.  Even if the spirit of fidelity is removed from the narrow field of adaptation studies, we’re still mired in the comparing of literary apples to cinematic oranges.  However, I find that Leitch seems to take a wait-and-see approach at the end of his “Twelve Fallacies” after tearing apart these myths about what must go into adaptation studies.  He alludes to this idea of adaptation criticism morphing into an all-encompassing field he calls “Textual Studies”, but he seems to imply that there needs to be some sense of an armistice between film studies and literary studies as adaptation studies often put films and literature in conflict with one another.  Ultimately, I find that Leitch is correct in his assertion that adaptation criticism is at a crossroads and he does well to pin point the problems, but he doesn’t provide a lot in terms of a solution beyond removing the divide between the two mediums and putting their study under one umbrella.

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One Response to In which Leitch tears every theorist we read this semester a new one…

  1. amelia daly says:

    Regarding Leitch’s “Twelve Fallacies,” I too was impressed with his ability to dissect the theories given thus far. While he does not offer any particular solutions, he did, for me, highlight certain nuance in film/novel comparisons that at least create new possibilities of consideration.

    My favorite page in the essay is 158. I have been particularly struck in some of our other readings by a disregard for the value in watching movies repeatedly in order to fully analyze them as we do novels. Leitch touches on this by also pointing to the fact that novels “are assumed to be endlessly rereadable, with each rereading converting more percepts to concepts.” I was happy to see this mentioned because it can be said of any medium that there is always a first impression and a critical impression. We are not always viewing art with a critical eye.

    Finally, at the bottom of 158, he begins his discussion on Wolfgang Iser’s “gaps” saying that “the necessity of gaps, not as an inevitable corollary of a given story’s incompleteness, but as the very basis of it’s appeal.” No one wants everything told or shown to them. The mysteries of thought, motives, and other story details are what keep readers considering the tales long after they’ve put the book down. It is what drives interpretation, adaptation, criticism, and general discussion. The value in these gaps seems to be a direct and solid argument for the existence of adaptation.

    To return to your point about Leitch’s attempt to suggest an “armistice between film studies and literary studies,” maybe a focus on an area of these mediums, such as these “gaps”, could remove the focus from conflicting differences. In other words, the mediums are working together to develop or “fill” the “gaps?”

    I apologize for all of the quote marks…too many concepts. :)

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