The Adaptation Studies forum is dedicated to discussion of adaptation of imaginative works in its many forms, along with theories of adaptation and appropriation.
Letter of Application to establish TC Adaptation Studies as an MLA Forum
Letter of Application to establish an MLA forum on “Adaptation Studies”
Dear Program Committee,
In an increasingly mediatized world where artworks move readily between different technological formats, the question of how literary works have been adapted to all manner of new media, audiences and concerns has become an important arena for scholarly study. Adaptation studies addresses itself to formal, historical, social, industrial, and ideological questions raised by the transit of artistic content across media. Adaptation studies asks, how and why are literary works converted from one media format to another? What sorts of new cultural engagements do cross-medial adaptations enable, and what do they inhibit? How do adaptations contribute to the afterlives of literary works and their authors? How does adaptation complicate fundamental critical concepts like authorship, audience, originality, sources, historical context, and the like?
Adaptation studies has its roots in pioneering studies of adapting novels and Shakespeare to film, such as George Bluestone’s Novels into Film (Johns Hopkins UP, 1957), Jack Jorgens’s Shakespeare on Film (Indiana UP, 1977), Morris Beja’s Film and Literature (Longman, 1977), Anthony Davies’s Filming Shakespeare’s Plays (Cambridge UP, 1988) and others. Since the 1990s, work on literary adaptation has accelerated and broadened considerably, fueled by proliferation of new digital and screen media, an ever-expanding array of new adaptations addressed to a variety of different audiences as well as new availability of older adaptations, and a new awareness of the global scope and history of adaptation. The recasting of old artworks for new audiences and the opportunities for revision, resistance and reparativity those adaptations afford have become the subject of lively debate in the field. Crucial too has been a new theoretical sophistication in this area, which has benefitted from developments in related fields such as translation studies, performance criticism, media studies, identity politics, postcolonialism and cultural and intercultural studies. Adaptation of the works of specific authors, movements, or time periods are now regularly the subject of essay collections and press series, e.g., The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, ed. Russell Jackson (Cambridge UP, 2007); The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen, eds. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan (Cambridge UP, 2007); Jane Austen on Screen, eds. Gina and Andrew Macdonald, (Cambridge UP, 2003); Cinematic Illuminations: The Middle Ages on Film, eds. Laurie Finke and Martin B. Shichtman (Johns Hopkins UP, 2009); Victorian Literature and Film Adaptation, eds. Abigail Burnham Bloom and Mary Sanders Pollock (Cambria, 2011); Bollywood Shakespeare, eds. Craig Dionne and Parmita Karpadi (Palgrave, 2014), and the like. The Palgrave series “Studies in Adaptation and Visual Culture,” co-edited by Julie Grossman and R. Barton Palmer, has published fourteen books since 2015, and has many more titles in production or development. Besides a healthy number of books devoted to film adaptations, the field has expanded considerably to consider adaptations to all manner of contemporary media, a development reflected in the scope of Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Adaptation (Routledge, 2006, rev. 2013), which addresses everything from film adaptations to adaptations to stage performance, graphic novels, television, dance, aural media like music and radio, toys, theme parks, and digital formats, to name just a few. With the rise of transmedia storytelling and accelerated migration of works across cultural and media divides, adaptation studies now seeks to address the full range of adaptational energies at work in new media culture, as well as to engage with earlier moments of literary transmediality.
Several works testify to the new maturity and vitality of this field. Two key studies of the early twenty-first century, Kamilla Elliott’s Rethinking the Film / Novel Debate (Cambridge UP, 2003) and Thomas Leitch’s Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind to The Passion of Christ (Johns Hopkins UP, 2007), definitively moved the concerns of adaptation scholars beyond debates about fidelity and offered new, stimulating ways for conceptualizing the nature and value of screen adaptations. As of 22 February 2019, the search term “adaptation” yields 24,303 entries in MLA International Bibliography (excluding dissertations); of those, 21,800 entries fall in the years 1990-2018 and 17,927 in the years 2000-2018. Several new journals serve this new interest the study of adaptations. Literature/Film Quarterly, founded in 1973, is the oldest journal devoted to questions of literature-to-film adaptation, but there are now several new journals devoted to adaptation studies: Multicultural Shakespeare: Translation, Appropriation and Performance (founded 2003, published by the University of Lodz); Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare Appropriation (founded 2005, published by the University of Georgia); Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance (founded in 2007, published by Intellect); and Adaptation (founded in 2008, published by Oxford UP). Two organizations hold annual conferences devoted to the scholarly study of adaptation: the Literature/Film Association (founded in 1989), and the Association of Adaptation Studies (founded in 2006). The field now also boasts a number of recent works devoted to theorizing adaptation. Beyond Linda Hutcheon’s work mentioned above, there is Julie Sanders’s fine introduction Adaptation and Appropriation (Routledge, 2006) and Yvonne Griggs’s Bloomsbury Introduction to Adaptation Studies (Bloomsbury, 2016), as well as two new collections offering surveys of the field and its theories: The Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies, ed. Thomas Leitch (Oxford UP, 2017) and The Routledge Companion to Adaptation, eds. Dennis Cutchins, Katya Krebs, and Eckart Voigt (Routledge, 2018). And lastly, one might note a number of collections devoted to teaching adaptations: Kathleen L. Brown’s Teaching Literary Theory Using Film Adaptations (McFarland, 2006), The Pedagogy of Adaptation, eds. Dennis Cutchins, Lawrence Raw, and James M. Welsh (Scarecrow, 2010), Teaching Adaptations, eds. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan, (Palgrave, 2014), and Brian Brems’s Adaptations Now: The Past, Present, and Future of Film and Literature (Cognella, 2017). In this vein, it is noteworthy that courses featuring adaptations or in some cases devoted entirely to adaptation are now included in many literature department curricula.
There is considerable evidence that a forum on adaptation studies would be of great interest to MLA members. Chapters on teaching adaptations have now become a routine feature in many volumes in the MLA Approaches to Teaching World Literature series. A search of programs for the past ten years of the MLA conference reveals that there were 56 panels devoted to adaptation, and in each year there are several more panels in which at least one contributor was focusing on a literary adaptation. The concerns of these panels, with titles like “Silent Shakespeares” (2009, #262), “Pirandello and Cinema: Adaptations, Reexaminations, and Representations” (2012, #326), “Romantic Adaptation” (2014, #725), “Literary Twitter” (2015, #719), “Chicana/o Literary Adaptation and Readaptation”(2015, #52), “Adaptation: Audiences, Entertainment, and Meaning” (2015, #31), “The Afterlife of Popular Children’s Culture Icons” (2016, #214), and “Global Adaptations and Irish Culture” (2017, #74), suggest that a forum devoted to adaptation studies would serve a very wide range of the MLA’s constituency. Interest in this topic remains strong among MLA members. The 2019 MLA conference featured six panels devoted entirely to adaptation (#128, 163, 282, 402, 495 and 512), on topics ranging from adaptations of Margaret Atwood to adaptations of French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese literature; many more panels included at least one paper devoted to an adaptation. At the regional level, adaptation studies has also been well-represented at the organization’s conferences. Each annual meeting of SAMLA since 2011 has included a dedicated track of between four and eight sessions on adaptation originally organized by R. Barton Palmer and Thomas Leitch, and since 2017 by Dennis Perry. Thomas Leitch has begun the work of organizing a similar track of adaptation panels for the 2020 meeting of NEMLA.
Given the level of interest already expressed by MLA members, we believe that a forum devoted to current developments in adaptation studies would facilitate exchanges between scholars otherwise separated by sub-discipline, and allow those interested in adaptation easily to find conferences and colloquia devoted to this work. It would provide a public space for stimulating debate about larger theoretical questions in the field and a natural place for scholars to share knowledge about new (or long lost) adaptations. Because much of the current work in the field is concerned with global adaptation, it is all the more important to have a central electronic forum where scholars can share expertise across long distances and various disciplinary divides. This is a relatively young field, at least in terms of its current ever-broadening concerns, and a forum would allow adaptation studies to attract a new generation of scholars to the discipline. Lastly, having an MLA forum dedicated to Adaptation Studies would offer this new field a significant measure of institutional legitimacy and visibility, not an inconsiderable matter.
The founding Executive Committee for the Adaptation Studies will be Professors Julie Grossman (2020-1), Douglas M. Lanier (2020-2), Thomas Leitch (2020-3), and Allen Redmon (2020-4).
Biographies of the Executive Committee:
Julie Grossman is Professor of English and Communication and Film Studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. Her books include Rethinking the Femme Fatale in Film Noir: Ready for Her Close-Up (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, 2012), Literature, Film, and Their Hideous Progeny: Adaptation and ElasTEXTity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), and Ida Lupino, Director: Her Art and Resilience in Times of Transition (with Therese Grisham, Rutgers UP, 2017). She is founding co-editor of the book series Adaptation and Visual Culture (with R. Barton Palmer, Palgrave Macmillan), which has published fourteen volumes since its inception in 2015. She is also co-editor of the flagship volume for the series, Adaptation in Visual Culture: Images, Texts, and Their Multiple Worlds (with R. Barton Palmer, 2017), which was awarded the South Atlantic Modern Language Association’s 2018 award for best edited collection. Professor Grossman is co-author of the forthcoming monograph Twin Peaks (with Will Scheibel, Wayne State UP, 2020). In 2018, she was awarded the Literature/Film Association’s Jim Welsh Prize for Excellence in Adaptation Studies.
Douglas M. Lanier is Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, and long-term fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC for 2018-9. He has previously been the Fulbright Distinguished Global Shakespeare Centre Chair in 2016-7, and served as a trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America from 2010-3. In addition to his book, Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture (Oxford UP, 2002), he has published over sixty articles in journals and collections on contemporary Shakespeare adaptation in a variety of media. He serves on the boards of several book series and journals, including the journal Adaptation, and he is a trustee of the Association of Adaptation Studies. His current book project concerns “reparative Shakespeare,” adaptations that address the traumas of marginalized or disadvantaged social groups. His book, The Merchant of Venice: Language and Writing (Bloomsbury Arden), is currently in press.
Thomas Leitch is Professor of English at the University of Delaware, where he teaches undergraduate courses in film and graduate courses in critical theory. He has been a Senior Fulbright Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a two-time alumnus of the Salzburg Seminar, a member of the editorial boards of Adaptation, Literature/Film Quarterly, and the Journal of Adaptation in Film and Performance, a trustee of the Association of Adaptation Studies, and a past president of the Literature/Film Association. In 2007 he was awarded the Association’s first annual Jim Welsh prize for Excellence in Adaptation Studies. His eleven books and one hundred published essays include Film Adaptation and Its Discontents (2007), The Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies (2017), and The History of American Literature on Film (2019).
Allen H. Redmon is Professor of English and Film Studies and Chair of Humanities at Texas A&M University Central Texas, USA. He is the author of Constructing the Coens: from Blood Simple to Inside Llewyn Davis (2015) and coeditor of Clint Eastwood’s Cinema of Trauma: PTSD in the Directors Film (2017). He currently serves as President for The Literature/Film Association, an organization that supports and promotes the study of adaptation and cinema, in particular the relationships of literature and film. He serves on the editorial board of Film Criticism. He has articles published in Adaptation, Lit/Film Quarterly, The Journal of Popular Film and Television, Bright Lights Film Journal, Film Criticism, Studies in French Cinema, The Journal of American Culture, and more. He just submitted an anthology he edited for the University Press of Mississippi entitled The Ethics and Politics of Adaptation.
Signatories to the petition to establish an “Adaptation Studies” forum:
William C. Carroll
Alexa Alice Joubin
Mary Grace Elliott
Joyce Green MacDonald
Douglas M. Lanier
The program for the 2010 program is not available online and so isn’t included in this survey.
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