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A Theory of Adaptation. By Linda Hutcheon


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discourse whose “literariness” can be studied (18). Several chapters are stunning in the scope and development of their argument—most notably, to my mind, the ?nal four chapters dealing with “Critical Practices.” Beyond the stellar quality of the book in general, I particularly enjoy Culler’s commitment to a position—for instance, his anxiety about studying the notion of omniscience “while observing a president who . . . manifestly thinks he has nothing to learn from anyone, and is convinced of the infallibility of his judgment of evil in its accordance with God’s” (184), and, elsewhere, his dismissal of Denis Dutton’s simple-minded thinking with which I’ll conclude this review. Dutton, an analytic philosopher, edits Philosophy and Literature, which annually conducts its Bad Writing Contest, an award based on “a sentence or two” and given to a published work that obfuscates ideas through “jargon-laden prose” which “suggests but never delivers genuine insight” (208). Culler properly turns the screw: “I think this is complete rubbish, actually. I wonder who it is who has failed to do serious intellectual work” (208). Culler’s book works wonders, indeed. John Dolis Penn State University, Scranton

A Theory of Adaptation. By Linda Hutcheon. New York: Routledge, 2006. xvi + 232 pp. $22.95. Linda Hutcheon’s new book on adaptation begins with the statement, “[a]dapting is a bit like redecorating,” which is an apt description of what is happening across the media landscape today. Interior design shows have revitalized countless homes with new paint and selective staging, bestselling novels have revisited familiar characters and settings without their original authors, ?lm narratives move from the screen to the stage then back to the screen in a few short years, and video games extend classic ?lms and television programs in order to allow gamers to navigate (and often shoot their way) through familiar cinematic environments. With an understanding of this new terrain, A Theory of Adaptation supplements comparative adaptation theory with a critical overview of the entire process of adaptation—the what, who, why, how, where, and when of media incarnations based on previous works.
comparative literature studies, vol. 45, no. 3, 2008. Copyright ? 2008. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.

BOOK REVIEWS

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In doing so, Hutcheon stages a new approach to evaluating the adaptation that considers not only narrative strategies, but also the mediums in which they are presented. The structure of the book provides a concise overview of the exchanges that occur during the process of adaptation across various media forms. Following the lead of Robert Stam, Hutcheon moves the argument about adaptation beyond ?delity, which seems primarily invested in chasing loss, into far more productive critical territory. The ?rst section of the book addresses issues of audience reception related to adapted works. What makes this approach unique is that Hutcheon is interested in understanding the experience of adaptation. She notes: “Part of this pleasure, I want to argue, comes simply from repetition with variation, from the comfort of ritual combined with the piquancy of surprise” (4). Hutcheon identi?es a primary industrial imperative within the contemporary entertainment industry, which is a pattern of repetitive media consumption across a range of forms. For this reason, adaptations dominate the media landscape from video games to television spin-offs to webisodes, establishing what producers hope will be an ongoing entertainment experience without boundaries. Hutcheon draws us into a study of the “politics of intertextuality” (xii) in order to understand that adaptations exist not in a hierarchy of source material and recreation, but rather as works that are in dialogue. Chapter 2 covers the exchanges between telling and showing in relation to media speci?city. Hutcheon gives special attention to the aspects of performance, speci?cally interpretations encompassing gesture, dialogue, and the voice—areas of media studies that have often been neglected in the past. She even extends this analysis of gesture into the area of video games, which is highly relevant to this emerging entertainment form and new media theory. Subsequently, chapter 3 deals with the “who” and “why” of the adaptation, speci?cally considering authorship as “interpretation” with the understanding that media production is collaborative on every level. Hutcheon presents this analysis against the backdrop of intellectual property concerns, speci?cally the legal constraints related to availability of rights, even with works in the public domain. The “why” of adaptation is expanded to consider the nature of cultural capital. For example, media producers must constantly evaluate the viability of an adaptation through an understanding of the audience’s previous awareness of a story and often match this with the institutional imperatives of the distributors, whether that might be PBS or a speci?c theatrical company, which caters to speci?c demographics or audiences. The ?nal chapters of the book address the how, when, and where of the adaptation process, in which Hutcheon connects adaptation to the larger cultural ?eld, speci?cally to celebrity, current events,

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and transcultural considerations of race and gender. This analysis becomes particularly important as Hollywood reaches beyond its borders to borrow stories from other nations to create ?lms like The Departed and Vanilla Sky. Hutcheon avoids extended case studies, opting instead for examples drawn from many sources in a form of meta-analysis. This approach is simultaneously a strength and weakness. Overall, the author demonstrates an extensive command of examples from novels, the stage, ?lm, and even radio and theme parks, but an extended examination of one or two of these areas might have served as a model for future analysis by students and scholars. The attention paid to this range of works will undoubtedly provoke dynamic and shifting debates within seminars at both the undergraduate and graduate level. For the general reader, The Theory of Adaptation asks audiences to think not just about which was better, the book or the ?lm (or the video game or the theme park ride), but rather what is this process saying about “the human imagination” (177). William Whittington University of Southern California

Romantic Theory: Forms of Re?exivity in the Revolutionary Era. By Leon Chai. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. xx + 283 pp. $55.00. The nine chapters of this thoughtful portrait of the Romantic period survey key transformations in European thought in the wake of the French Revolution. According to Leon Chai, the writing as well as the scienti?c research of the period are best understood through their explicitly articulated relationship with the process of thinking, or with a mode of re?exivity that can be associated with “theory.” However, because his paradigm is broad, Chai identi?es several tendencies unique to the “revolutionary era,” writing, for example, that “the dominant topoi” of high Romantic theory include “the spatial treatment of concepts, the primacy of development over concepts, and, ?nally, the creation of metatheory” (xiv). These are taken as symptoms of the Romantic turn and as the de?ning foundations of contemporary

comparative literature studies, vol. 45, no. 3, 2008. Copyright ? 2008. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.


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