A Theory of Adaptation by Linda Hutcheon

Symptomatic reading of Linda Hutcheon’s 2012 book and a focus on digitalization.

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Picture from Blue Ridge Botanic.

Early digital art and especially the digitalization of previous works of art have long been criticized for being “secondary” to the original works of art (Hutcheon 2). This reading of Hutcheon’s book will take into the overarching theme of adaptation and attempt to apply it specifically to the digitalization of art as we see in the next two pieces in the project: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and Derek Jarman’s poetry. Hutcheon even gave us a picture of how great literary novelists of the 20th century viewed the rising scene of Cinema, which gives us not only a look into how we transfer the literary world of novels into the technical world of Cinema but also one story to another:

“As early as 1926, Virginia Woolf, commenting on the fledgling art of cinema, deplored the simplification of the literary work that inevitably occurred in its transportation to the new visual medium and called film a “parasite” and literature its “prey” and “victim” (1926: 309)” (Hutcheon 3)

Hutcheon believed that adaptation as a phenomenon can be defined from three aspects: a product itself, a process of creation, and a process of reception. The first hints at one of Hutcheon’s larger points of the product and process termed ‘adaptation’ being very similar and interconnected. The difference between the processes of creation versus reception is that creation involves the interpretation of the piece and recreation, whereas the process of reception views adaptation as palimpsestic, or work having been influenced and being almost an extension of previous work. She synthesizes this to say:

“Therefore, an adaptation is a derivation that is not derivative– a work that is second without being secondary. It is its own palimpsestic thing.” (Hutcheon 9)

Hutcheon went on to clarify that adaptations can play a similar role as tags or genres, as when we see that something is adapted from a previous work of art, it can then allow the creators to have bits of understanding into what the audience’s expectations are (Hutcheon 121). We see here a very important aspect to recognizing that adaptations are not only transferring the story or essence of a piece of art, but they are often taking the original shape of mind of the subject’s prior experiences to that work. Many times, an artwork’s digitalization can also be a way for someone who had experienced the previous work to then look at the new work’s, let’s say, accessibility as a difference in how the pieces work, giving room to that process of creation. Hutcheon, as we saw with Deleuze, values repetition and difference greatly in the discussion of adaptation, however, we see her state later on in the book:

“In Chapter 1, I suggested that the appeal of adaptations for audiences lies in their mixture of repetition and difference, of familiarity and novelty.” (Hutcheon 114)

Hutcheon goes on to comment on how repetition in Art can be a way to replicate reality to enjoy, manipulate, or structure it. To complete the thought in the previous quote she then says:

“But adaptation as repetition is arguably not a postponement of pleasure; it is in itself a pleasure. Think of a child’s delight in hearing the same nursery rhymes or reading the same books over and over.” (Hutcheon 114)

Hutcheon even recognizes and revisits the works of Aristotle as we saw in the introduction of this project with the idea of imitation as the source of where humans took pleasure in art. When discussing pleasure, and ‘frustration’, in regard to her “palimpsestuous” intertextuality, she highlights the connection between the two works as the familiarity created through the works of memory and repetition (Hutcheon 21). We can see a similarity between these ideas in Deleuze and Hutcheon forming together in the sense that we are also seeing the limitations of art forms and their role in promoting imagination. Hutcheon mentions this when discussing the imagination and the extent to which we can believe when we know about a specific world that was used in the previous book, and how that can completely change the “visual and aural world of the films” (Hutcheon 122). An interesting similarity here is also through the palimpsestic aspect of adaptation as the similarity formed through the repetition and memory, we can see remnants of Deleuze’s conception of the limitations of memory and film as structures to manipulate through his conceptions of the Crystal-Image as discussed in the previous essay on Deleuze.

Linda Hutcheon paints a clear visual image of adaptation in this book and leaves us with a better understanding of how time, especially through memory and repetition, play an important role in our understanding of the pleasures we get through the process of adaptation. This connects to the overall idea of what you will see in the next two pieces of evidence: in The Glass Menagerie adapted into a radio performance which will represent the more product-central version of adaptation; and in “I sit here immobile”, a song by Donna McKevitt using poetry by Derek Jarman, then transformed into the visual piece by Chris Briggs.