Dialogism’s radical texts, and the death of the radical vanguard critic

Authored by: Robert Geal

The Routledge Companion To Adaptation

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138915404
eBook ISBN: 9781315690254
Adobe ISBN:


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It is not only artworks that can be grouped into historical and cultural contexts such as Sumerian or Anglo-Saxon epic poetry, Yoruba or Olmec statuary, Baroque chiaroscuro or Mughal miniature painting, Ming or Attic vases, the French nouvelle vague or Brazilian cinema novo. Academic interpretation of art, too, is located within historically specific networks of thought in which any one form of understanding art interacts in complex ways with prior and overlapping forms of understanding. This is true of all arts disciplines, but it has been particularly instrumental in relation to the study of adaptation. In part, this is no great revelation for the field. Because of certain consequences of its historical development, relating to the comparative valorisation of its intersecting media, adaptation studies has a strong record of historical self-analysis. The long domination of a fidelity-based model, which attempted to account for how filmmakers might ‘faithfully’ negotiate what Jack Jorgens calls the “expressive possibilities of shifting relations between words and images” (1977: 17), eventually ushered in a new theory which critiqued fidelity analysis by locating it within a historically specific context. But the precise form of the model which displaced fidelity analysis is not subject to the same historical explanation. That is not to say that its intellectual roots are not thought of historically. The new model is usually called dialogism because of the way that it principally draws on early twentieth-century Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s (1981) idea that all works of art are constantly informed by and informing other works of art, so that adaptations are just more acute examples of this dialogue between texts. There are specific historical reasons, however, why it should be dialogism, rather than some other methodology which might make a similar criticism of fidelity analysis, that replaced fidelity as adaptation studies’ new orthodoxy at around the turn of this century.

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