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Transmedial Adaptations and Their Discontents:International Film and Literature

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Organizer: Jerrine Tan

Co-Organizer: Claire Gullander-Drolet

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Many distinguished auteurs have frequently adapted from acclaimed novels: Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick are two such famous adapters (Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers On A Train, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, to name a few). More contemporarily, we have Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette. As comic books increasingly become the foundation for ever-growing cinematic universes (Marvel and DC), so do we get a proliferation of “canon” and “noncanonical” narratives, and as many boycotters decrying “bad adaptation!” as we do diehard fans.

The OED defines adaptation as the act of making (a person or thing) suitable or for a specific purpose; it can also mean to rework something to fit a new purpose or to a different context or environment. Inherent in the action of adapting, then, is the suggestion of molding the original work to become less jarring, less of itself—to smooth out its edges and sand out its kinks so as to better fit a new context. Considered from this perspective, while adaptation may facilitate a greater reach of artworks—and greater diversity and accessibility by extension-- it also constitutes a loss.

This double bind is nowhere more visible than our contemporary film climate, where adapted works have often played a pivotal role in fostering international artistic exchange whilst also functioning as pressure points for the uneven power dynamics (national, racial, linguistic, gendered) that underpin the global cinematic marketplace more broadly. Adaptations encapsulate something of the paradoxical desires for greater diversity in the cultural objects that we consume: on the one hand, the desire for more narratives from outside of one’s context, on the other, the seeming need to localize such narratives in order to make them legible and digestible, adapting them for local audiences and to local contexts to accommodate tastes and appetites in order to sell.

To this end, we ask: how might adaptation serve as a bridge for—or otherwise make visible—the gap between the foreign and the local, what’s outside and what’s within, what is familiar and what is strange? What are the political stakes of these dislocations, particularly when the national and linguistic contexts in question fall outside the dominant few? When and on what terms is an adaptation successful? What are the implications when we speak of the “faithfulness” of adaptations? And what might “bad” adaptations teach us about the exigencies of international visibility?

We invite papers that engage creatively with any aspect of adaptation and transnational exchange, including, but by no means limited to:


The narrative affordances (and limitations) of adaptation as an artistic medium
Transmedial adaptations
The transnational circulation of adaptive works
Adaptations that invoke a logic of “minor transnationalism”
Intersections between adaptation and translation
Bad adaptations

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