Literature and Adaptation

Seen as a product, an adaptation can be seen as an extensive transposition of an original work which should be told/implicitly known to the audience. This can involve a shift of medium (written word to performance, or a change of frame and therefore context: e. g. telling the same story through the looking glass of a different culture), which can create a different interpretation. Seen as a process of creation, the act of adaptation can be said to be appropriation, as it involves both re-interpretation and then re-creation.

Seen from the perspective of its process of reception, adaptation can be a linked text: audience experiences adaptations as palimpsests through their memory of other works that resonate through repetition (with some variation of-course). Hence I learnt, we should also think of them as palimpsests over the “original” text. Because if the audience knows that original text, then they always feel its presence shadowing the one they are experiencing directly at the stage.

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Still, some more things came to my mind during this work: I had already seen that adaptation is a both a process and product of recasting and transformation. I had many contemporary popular culture examples. But what precisely is “recasted” and “transformed”, was unclear to me. In other words, given a source text, what gets adapted? I had an idea of “spirit” of an art form, which seemed to be crossing over to the adaptation. Sometimes it seemed to be just style of presentation.

I learnt that the expression of idea and the idea itself can be separated; one can be carried forward, the other can be changed. Now that I have adapted a text, I am able to distinguish between these. This also led me to observe that, if we consider the story as the common denominator between the source and the adaptation, then the adaptation has to deal with the story in different modes of engagement than the source. For example narration, performance, and interaction of characters with each other and the world.

This becomes apparent to the audience familiar with both the texts, when different modes of engagement (possibly due to constraints imposed by the medium of choice) inevitably highlight different aspects of that story. One more question that I asked myself is that of the power of adaptation in terms of suggesting new and transformed ideas in relation to the original text; and its dependence on the audience. If the audience does not know the original text, then what they experience, they experience it as an original text in itself.

However, when the audience knows the original text, then the ongoing adaptation and the original text oscillate in the memories of the audience. They inevitably fill any gaps in information in the adapted text; and indeed, when moving from discursive expansion of telling the story, to a performance, in the face of space and time limitations, adapters rely on this. For example, Writing a short play based on a great novel is mostly a work of simplification to make it easy for the audience to understand everything that is shown at the pace of a live performance.

A play has little tolerance for complexity or irony or detailed excursions into the character’s mind. In such a case, a familiar audience does help. But this got me thinking about the expressive power of such an adaptation (where the audience is infact given to be familiar with the source text). How much and how well can such an arrangement express/convey the transformed ideas of an adaptor? I think it depends on the intention of the adaptor.

If the adaptor wants to intentionally adapt the source text and just wants to present the adaptation with some transformation applied on the expression of the idea from the source text, loaded with affection or fidelity for the source text, then she has more freedom and control in this case. Here the adaptor can be so dependent on the source text, that without some familiarity of the source text, audience may not even properly comprehend the adaptation. For example Christopher Gans’s Silent hill movie adaptation of Konami’s Silent hill game.

But, if her aim is to appropriate the source to create something markedly different, which should not be burdened with nostalgia for the source text, then a foreknowing audience better not be the target. Thus we can say that, known (to the audience) adaptations of a single text function like genres. They set up audience expectations through a set of norms that guide their encounter with the adapting text they are experiencing. Another important question I asked myself (given multicultural adaptations in front of us as examples) was the significance of context.

We already know that, viewed as a product, adaptation is marked by its theme and variation from the source text. Thus, change is inevitable. But, are the causes of the changes, and the context in which they were made, also important? Do they also affect the way the audience receives the adaptation? We can answer this question positively. Because, first of all, a shift in place from the home of the original text to a different culture, certainly entails some cultural associations in the adapted text. These associations can be related to plot, theme or idea itself.

These changes could have been made to make the story more acceptable/comprehensive to the new audience etc. Clearly, this brings about a change in the manner in which the adaptation is received by the audience. While working with the group, I saw a marked difference in how each one of us receives the adaptation. This was my first clue to the fact that this is going to be difficult. In the first meeting, I noticed how each one of us viewed the story differently, and had made up our own images (mindset and priorities) of all the characters in our minds.

We all had slightly varied idea of what the texts are about, what are the focal points of the plot, and what kinds of adaptations are they of the original text. I learnt that at the receiving end, an adaptation’s journey ends with entering everyone’s mind in a slightly different form. Simply put, to create one text from three minds is difficult. And it becomes even harder when each one has had 3 texts to read and absorb from. I learned, that it is possible through compromise, patience and mutual accommodation, that we are finally able to reflect all our minds into the final creation.

In other words, we were able to create a brainchild of three people by acquiescing creative thought from each brain, and still come up with something coherent. Now, as for the process of adaptation itself, it was different from different points of view. From my point of view, the decision of setting or plot didn’t matter, because of the way I received the text, and what I considered the source text. For me it was all about experimenting with the characters while not worrying about fidelity. Giving them new dimensions was my main concern during the team discussions.

Other two wanted to keep the feet on the ground, and tried to keep it symptomatic, while me pulling them towards appropriative. Finally, I observed that the degree of fidelity and the kind of variance from the source text that the final script will contain, got decided at the moment the equilibrium on the decisions of theme and idea as reached. The rest of the work was to fit the characters in, let them loose. Our whole endeavour was thus, difficult to classify under the three pronged definition of symptomatic, appropriative or intentional.

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