A taste of some forthcoming, more informal sides of transposition

As we organize and then prepare the second edition, an attempt will be made to look at less academic aspects of transposition. After the theoretical essay on tranpositions relationship to agency (by Henry) and the first German paper on transposition in general (by Angelika) are complete, we will complete an interview, discuss some ordinary corollaries of transposition, especially in the context of a polarized, instable peripatetic era and hope to begin exploring the integration of image into transposition.

For the time being, I can give you a taste of this from some informal correspondence with a critic:
HW:
The primary question I always have is to what extent this claim of a new genre is actually legitimate and, if it is, then what the closest work to it is. Obviously, I have done some research, but I would not describe it as exhaustive, and for non-promotional purposes, think of the idea as more of a definition of a type within the collective rubric of adaptation (including translation, remakes, homages, readaptations, updates, etc.). Nonetheless, I continue to find in critical literature (primarily with regard to film adaptation) no description of something that resembles even just a general reproduction of the form with an updating of the content. Updates like Clueless or Apocalypse Now are by far the closest I know (I cannot emphasize how little I know about the film industry), but the addition of characters and the inevitable substantial abbreviation of content (required for reducing a 200-400 page novel into a feature film) entail something quite different from transposition (I call it transadaptation; more common is perhaps remake). Formally, the closest thing I have come across, are the Russian serial films Master and Margarita, The First Circle, The Idiot, etc. in the aughts where substantially more of the original text was included (resulting in 10+ hours of film), but the content remains the same as it was in the original. If any similarities in film, or even better, literature come to mind, it would be very helpful for the essays and papers I am writing on the subject, as one invariably needs to discuss transposition in relation to other types of representation.

This question is followed by the issue of theoretical relevance. I have teased out a correlation between transposition and - the rather clumsily formulated - human action (my head has too many foreign words in it - the German Handeln is much better, and should be rephrased in English without "action"... anyway). I have attached the paper, but the question comes down to whether you can draw an analogy between transposition and causality apprehended by the human mind (as opposed to causality that is ignored/disregarded/not processed), i.e. 

Literature: [form: grammar + meaning] + [previous known context] + [present known context] = Content of transposition

Human action: [form: cause + effect] + [previous known context] + [present known context] = Content of transposition

Any thoughts on these or other points will be useful for consideration.
CRITIC:

I am tempted to characterize transposition as not a concept with a method, but as a method with conceptual implications. This, I think, avoids the kind of "largesse" of so many competing "theories of literature" that are created (generally on flimsy or gimmicky pretenses). This is not to say that transposition does not imply a range of questions on the order of "what is x?", which thus aligns it with a kind of ontological consideration. Beyond this, though, transposition asks "what is x in conditional and multifactorial circumstances a, b, and c?" Where it differs considerably from other such "adaptation" based renderings such as Apocalypse Now may appear superficially simple: the movement from Conrad's novella to film is a change in media genre. From the media perspective, however, this is NOT a simple transition, and it comes with a whole host of associated questions (how does the literary form conform to cinema with all its assumptions and expectations? how does description of the literary variety translate into visuals? what is edited out, what is nuanced, what is kept intact? is it an attempt at resemblance or simply understated referentiality to the original? is it actually NOT a representation, but an entirely new product? etc). 

Transposition might fare better by sidestepping representationalist regimes, a la Deleuze. Perhaps the last thing you might want to invite is a retread of Platonism decanted in literary form where, for example, Gogol's "The Nose" operates as the form from which the genetic variety of copies emerge. For a good critique of representationalism, I can definitely recommend Deleuze's 'Difference and Repetition,' and in more art-based discussion, Dorothea Olkowski's 'Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation.' 

So, to return to film, transposition can take place here in showing fidelity to its program by ensuring that any transposed film leads to a film product, not cross media genres. Of course, this brings up the nagging question of "what of those works we want to transpose into a particular media did not have access to that media at that time?" That's the blockage, right? It's an old tune: how does one adapt Homer's oral tales into text, and what does one lose in the process of translating across media genres?

I'm not yet sure what I can say with respect to the model of human action (agency and choice, really) and causality since I do not assume linear processes. At best, perhaps I embrace "assemblages" as a kind of multifactorial thing, and that what appears causal may be a narrowing of perception to that which is rendered discrete and measurable (and I know the real is conditioned by its analog continuum!). I think instead of such a loaded term like "form" (which then unduly commits you to Platonism or some kind of essentialism), "frame" might be more flexible because it indicates to others that, among all the arbitrary mechanisms by which we produce the new, these are the rules you have selected. It is not up to you to axiomatize those rules, to justify their "reality" as such; instead, your task is to tell a convincing story as to why adopting these rules is interesting for what it produces. We have to remember that the very method of transposition you and others have worked on was a collaboration of deciding on what rules should be applied to this literary game to produce something interesting, right? It was a deliberate selection which deselects other possible rules. 

Here is a question: can transposition work in reverse, or is it an irreversible arrow of time (like dropping an egg)? That is, can it be somewhat Newtonian, recalling that according to the classical view of physics, all processes, like the orbit of planets around a star, have rules that make complete sense even if you run them backwards. So, "transposing" this to the transposition context, is it possible to transpose a contemporary work to the past? Could someone transpose Irvine Welsh to, say, to the time and place of the Frankish kingdom? I suppose that would take intimate familiarity with the details of the past, and we all know history is fairly subjective once you get beyond the unrevealing objective facts of dates and places. But then, I suppose, the same critique could be levelled at transposition: what makes us think that we "understand" the present time in which we live? Was it not Foucault who reminds us that we cannot periodize history or have a full understanding of it until it has past, and even then it would mean access to all documents that were written (and not!)? Of course, this might be unfair because then we would need to insist on some ideal form for transposition involving some kind of omniscient figure - and so we need to acknowledge any method's limitations!
HW:
Yes, transposition could definitely occur in reverse (and obviously within one language). It might be amusing at some point to take a text transposed from an previous original and transpose it back to that original culture or to a parallel culture at that time. Say, the transposition of The Nose transposed back to Germany at the same time the original was written by Gogol. However, as a person who has spent years in Germany and Russia, almost half my life, I am very skeptical about a contemporary person's ability to understand a different culture, let alone a life that unfolded two hundred or even a hundred years ago. Far too often, the present-day experiences are mapped onto a past experience that bears no resemblance to our life today. This is a classic mistake made in American feminist readings of the classics. Even with my long-term German roommate who has four younger sisters, I am constantly amazed at how incorrect my understanding of their minds and life is, despite intimate knowledge over more than a decade.

There are a variety of reasons for why the term form is used. One of those is precisely because a transposition can take place within a single medium, as in this case with literature, but also across media (e.g. from novel to film). But another consideration has been the old-fashioned concept of form and content. Personally, I am utterly baffled by the critical literature on film adaptation where academics write things like, there is no such thing as content without form. To me, outside of academia, life is content without form. Hence, content exists a priori to form. Furthermore, content in art can assume various forms, although here the meaning comes close to medium/media, but further evidence that a distinction can be made between the two. Since we are working off of texts at this point, the form is primarily the written word and sentence, this is the form of the medium literature. By contrast, film has spoken word, image, sound as the form of its medium, so a transposition from literature to film would be more complex, but is certainly conceivable. 

Another reasons is that we already have x thousand adaptations, to take an arbitrary number. Even if one views the term adaptation as generic for all derivatives, the vast majority of these adaptations have content that is similar enough to allow a person reading, let's say, the book and one seeing the adapted film to have a discussion about the content in which each would recognize a similar story. The cases of so-called updates like Apocalypse Now or Clueless or the recent controversial staging of Tannhäuser in the Rheinoper, to take an example from outside of film, tend to add or eliminate characters, scenes, etc., deviating substantially from the original. The idea of transposition is not to negate the value of these approaches, and it may well be that a shift in the direction of such updates is preferable, especially with regard to syntax, but by focusing on the retention of the original's form, we are not only able to differentiate the genre materially, but we can also draw attention to the structural similarities between the present and past day. Whereas fidelity adaptations and update adaptations, either imply the immediate relevance of the past (fid. adapt.) or a loose relationship (update) on the order of, well, if we were to tell a roughly similar story to that one, what would it look like today? Transposition says, the story is basically the same, we live, eat, think, sleep and die, but some of the content is a little different. Take a look. Some parts are identical, especially feelings, emotions, some psychology, it's not all that new, especially structurally, and yet there are distinctions, particularly in the content, what we see on the surface.
Post a Comment