Landmarks in the history of adaptation studies:
1950s-1970s –hierarchical view of the relationship between film and literature and predominantly negative view of adaptation; fidelity the main category of the adaptation discourse
1970s – institutionalisation of film studies, typology of adaptation (Wagner - transposition, commentary, analogy) and fidelity challenged
1980s – emphasis on intertextuality and adaptation viewed as a cultural practice; the reader empowered and active
1990s – fidelity further problematised; revival of a narratological approach but also new connections with translation theory
2000s – emphasis on intertextual dialogism, contextual readings and a return of the author as textual agency
2010s - Kamilla Elliott – call for methodological hybridity – formal analysis coupled with a cultural/contextual approach
Journals – Literature/Film Quarterly, Adaptation
The medium specificity thesis is a theoretical argument with a long tradition. Therefore, there are many understandings and uses of the idea of medium specificity.
One version of the medium specificity thesis is a type of discourse that analyses the possibilities (or strengths, affordances) and the limitations (or constraints) of each medium. This can also be done comparatively, by differentiating the defining characteristics of one medium from the characteristics (formal properties) of other media (for example, the discussion around the differences between film and theatre, or the distinction made by G.E. Lessing between temporal and spatial arts, poetry vs. painting).
Another version of the medium specificity thesis (the version that Noël Carroll in Theorizing the Moving Image is especially critical of) uses medium specificity as a criterion of evaluation of different artworks (meaning that a work realised in a particular medium is considered successful/effective if it uses medium specific techniques, and is criticised if it uses modes of expression that are considered to be non-specific). This is also a version that emphasises medium purity, the idea that each medium should rely on (or should mostly use) those means of expression that are specific to it and not try to imitate other media or borrow from other media.
One problem with this is that if, for instance, we take the example of film, scholars and filmmakers have had different ideas of what constituted the specific/essential qualities of the medium. The Soviet school of montage (S. Eisenstein amongst others) places emphasis on editing as a medium specific tool and believes that the other elements of filmmaking should be subordinated to the use of montage, whilst a scholar such as A. Bazin claimed that photographic realism is what defines the medium of film and therefore emphasised the importance of the long take and the depth of field. For the structuralist filmmakers of the 1960s and the 1970s (Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow etc.), what mattered most was the materiality of film (the celluloid strip or the film stock which could be scratched or tampered with in various ways) and the film projection. Of course, this notion of the film’s materiality has been complicated by the fact that most filmmakers nowadays are no longer using analogue film but have switched to digital film.
Criticism of the medium specificity thesis
Media should not be restricted to what they ‘do best’. Media practitioners should be allowed to use the full range of capability of a medium, without limiting themselves to what might be considered the essential or unique qualities of that particular medium, the characteristics that differentiate it from other media.
In other words, to quote V.F.Perkins (Film as Film), a technical resource should not be treated as ‘an artistic obligation’. The main concern should be how to convey particular meanings in an expressive and imaginative way, and not rigidly apply certain techniques or force certain stylistic choices.
In an age where there is increased dialogue between different media, a concern with medium purity can be very limiting.
According to Noël Carroll, the relation between the different media is not one in which there is a strict division of labour; the media do not need to ‘specialise’ in certain effects.