In an effort to understand adaptation better, I perused Timothy Corrigan’s “Defining Adaptation,” in which he discusses the historical arc and thematic consistencies of adaptation studies and advocates for sustained adaptation within the field. As well, it seemed only fitting to then deepen that understanding with an examination of James Ross’ call to examine the contextual adaptation of word meaning, “Contextual Adaptation,” and Richard Rorty’s treatment of metaphors as adaptive products and devices in the first chapter of Contingency, irony, and solidarity, “The contingency of language.” These texts make clear that, much as in the life sciences, adaptation is vital to evolution. I will begin by examining the concept of fidelity as an impossible criterion, adaptation as a continuum of meaning conference, and identity formation through adaptation.
The process by which a text is deemed to be deserving of the special dignity of original is layered in arbitrary determinations: While only in rare circumstances is the authorship of a particular text in question, authorship in the general sense as the originator of novel creation is unclear, assuming it is possible at all—as is the conditions under which the extent to which any text shares similarities with other texts be evaluated as a matter of originality; as well, it must also be determined by which aspects of any text should the potential faithfulness of any other text’s similarities be judged. According to Ross, “language [through any media] accomplishes diversity without any specific intention” of the speaker or author, and there is no “single set of truth conditions for key notions” that will reveal what anything actually means (26, 21). So, in the absence of any possible absolute meaning, considerations of the context must be taken into account, but this is only possible from within the specific context being considered. Consideration-after-the-fact corrupts the context as it then becomes the contexts of the object of analysis and analyzer together in a most contrived manner.
Adaptations, rather than simply being a series of diminishing echoes of a sacred source, represent a continuum of “self-contained stories that also contribute to an overall whole,” a process of storytelling that transcends any one medium’s limitations (Corrigan 33). Adaptations change to suit their medium, audience, and a host of logistical factors but remain rooted in discernible archetypal elements; these archetypes though change as they manifest over time. They must if they are to mean anything. Similarly, first order logical expressions are devoid of meaning and merely act as “only archetypes or paradigm schemes and not true stories” (Ross 25). For Rorty, these archetypes act as nothing more than “old tools which as yet have no replacements” (22). Rorty marks the evolution of language by the replacement of such old tools with “metaphoric redescriptions”—as a sort of linguistic “mutations finding niches” (16). The metaphors, by their nature, lack any meaning and can neither be true nor false: “[T]ossing a metaphor into a conversation is like suddenly breaking off the conversation long enough to make a face, or pulling a photograph out of your pocket and displaying it, or pointing at a feature of the surroundings…. [or] like using italics, or illustrations, or odd punctuation or formats” (18). These metaphors produce effect and create new possibilities for description and consideration.
As old metaphors become familiar, they become literal—and thus subject to truth-value—and lose their potency like many older texts that are adapted to a new context, medium, or audience. The adaptation facilitates a heightened degree of relevance and capacity to recreate and intensify “the interior workings of human perception as a unique new form of perception” as well as compel its audience to “test and measure [its] own social experiences” through the work (Corrigan 28, 29). It is critical to scrutinize adaptations as reflections and extension of the human self, which is “created by the use of a vocabulary [through any media] rather than being adequately or inadequately expressed in a vocabulary” (Rorty 7). As our language use evolves, so do the contexts in which we use and give meaning to that language; and so do we, and as we evolve, so do the media we use and the ways it extends from us and expands our subjectivity: “‘[C]hange is not a choice’” (Corrigan 24).
As they invite us to abandon any pursuit of the absolute, Corrigan, Ross, and Rorty speak directly to the value of adaptation in scholarship as well: Adaptation “scholars and practitioners accordingly need to change and refocus regularly”; an “[a]lertness to [contextual adaptation] may enlarge analytic invention”; and a “new vocabulary makes possible, for the first time, a formulation of its own purpose” as a tool that provides a particular set of descriptions to challenge previous vocabularies and their subsequent paradigms (Corrigan 34, Ross 26, Rorty 13).
Corrigan, Timothy. “Defining Adaptation.” The Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 23–35.
Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009.
Ross, James. “Contextual Adaptation.” American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 1, 2009, 19–30. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20464434.