English 442A: Special Studies in the Novel : Literary Fiction and Feature Film--Course Description
Course Definition & Goals
Although the study of literary adaptations on film and TV is becoming more common and indeed more acceptable as a feature of English and or Media Studies in higher education, it is still surrounded by knee-jerk prejudice about the skills such study affords. . . . Studying both fiction and filmic sources can be fraught with problems—particularly in making decisions about giving the ‘appropriate’ amount of attention to each medium, and fostering the skills specific to each form; but perhaps the chief problem lies in teasing out our own and others’ conscious and unconscious prejudices about this kind of ‘hybrid’ study [my emphasis].
– Imelda Whelehan, “Adaptations: The Contemporary Dilemma”
By adaptation study, I do not mean the dutiful one-on-one, page-to-screen comparisons of movies with their source novels in order to reach the preordained conclusion that the book is indeed better, but adaptation study as it has been ever more powerfully theorized over the past ten years by such figures [who] have placed adaptation study on a new footing by throwing out the old duality between sources and adaptations and redefining adaptation as part of an intertextual process.
--Thomas Leitch, “How to Teach Film Adaptations, and Why”
I've never been one of those people who compared the book and the movie of the book.That's never interested me because I've always separated them as two very distinct art forms, so I never got mad if the movie wasn't the book, or vice versa. I knew from a very young age that it was impossible to convey in a movie the entire experience of a novel.
–Sherman Alexie, fiction and screen writer
Film and the novel are cousins not far removed, and the DNA they share is narrative. . .
–A.O. Scott, Film Critic, “The Page Floats, Transformed,” The New York Times
The novel is a narrative that organizes itself in the world, while the cinema is a world that organizes itself into a narrative.
--Jean Mitry, Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema
Contemporary writers of print narratives, whatever the genres, are increasingly turning from page to screen, welcoming the current surge in narrative readership advanced by digital innovation: “When the page floats transformed,” as film critic A.O. Scott notes, readers’ minds and hearts seem to be all the more captivated, bookstores and theatres all the more crowded—in our time, more people are “reading” in ways never before imagined, their experiences personally, culturally, and aesthetically complicated, challenged, and enriched by innovative narrative formats.
Still, many traditional literary and cultural film scholars continue to be at “knee-jerk” odds, recursively engaged in battles of disciplinary supremacy and thus limiting the degree of interdisciplinary intercourse and innovation. Some recent scholarship in textual adaptation has attempted to stop the competitive field battles and move toward collaboration, and one key tactic has been to redefine adaptation studies as part of a process that foregrounds intertextuality (double rather than single exposures, so to speak).
Bundled together, these issues point to three core question that we’ll be asking and critically investigating throughout the quarter:
- When a print text is adapted to screen, when “the page floats, transformed,” how does the reading and valuing of the print as well as the film adaptation enrich a contemporary reader’s experiences?
- Why do some readers, including lay people and professional scholars, seem to retreat in their responsiveness, sinking back into entrenched reading norms, lowering their thresholds for new insights, protecting their “horizons of expectations?”
- How might these readers shift those horizons, seeking from multiple reading formats renovation rather than restriction? What’s to be gained in seeing literature and film as complementary rather than combative?
Here are some main challenges to this course:
The sudden UW mandate to conduct all spring 2020 courses online will significantly narrow options for interaction and will require much online lecture distribution rather than discussion--I'm disappointed by this predicament, as I've researched extensively and found strictly online learning to be a far inferior mode of student learning and course enjoyment/retention for literature-based courses. But that's our only option.
Besides the novels we read, you will also need to buy or stream/download the film adaptations that we study and view them critically by yourselves rather than in past 442 in-person courses I've taught where we as a class together watched and "read" the screening of the film, stopping at pivotal points in the "chapters" to analyze characterizations, conflicts, set designs, etc.
Moreover, given the closure of the majorities of libraries and other free wi-fi , relatively quiet sites in the Seattle area, many of you may be highly restricted to your access of high-speed Internet "safe-distance" quiet sites to read and post to our course listserv and to me; consequently, I will be doing my best to write and post to you--and you to me--only during our T/Th class time sessions--It is crucial that you keep those two hour time slots reserved for online reading and posting questions and commentary.
Novels and films will include at least two of the following:
Stranger than Fiction
No Country for Old Men
Up In The Air
Only the last two of these three films were adapted from a novel--You may purchase DVD editions via Amazon or rent Scarecrow or stream them, depending on what kind of technology you own/prefer/have access to.
The novels--No Country for Old Men and Up In The Air ---are available at UW Bookstore, and I will send you via our listerv the electronic print script for Stranger than Fiction. We'll read the script or novel first, analyzing it critically for themes and the literary techniques an author employs to convey those themes; and then we will view/read the film adaptation, analyzing the film techniques that the screenwriter and directer employ to audiovisually to convey similar (but sometimes different) themes.
Again, the focus on the course is not to debate how one format is better than the other; instead the focus is on how the differences and likenesses between the two formats might complement each other and/or appeal to different reading/viewing audiences.
Course grading will be divided between a midterm essay and a final essay that you will send to me electronically via our class listserv, both the midterm and the final will require analyzing part of a print novel that I choose and its corresponding film image that visually reflects that print portion of the novel plot.