Colloquium | Thomas Leitch

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - 12:00pm

Thomas Leitch

The Same But Different

Linda Hutcheon has described adaptation as “a derivation that is not derivative—a work that is second without being secondary.” This description is apt in large part, as Hutcheon herself acknowledges, because it applies to so many texts besides adaptations. In fact, virtually every text ever produced could reasonably be described as the both novel and familiar, the same as the earlier texts that make it intelligible and marketable but different enough to appeal to jaded audiences. In different periods in this history of literature, painting, and music, the relation between familiarity and novelty has often tilted in favor of one pole or the other.  Even particular artists and audiences are likely to change their preferences about the relative value of novelty and familiarity over the course of their individual lives. All the same, it is hard to think of a single text of any sort that does not claim public attention on the grounds that it is just like earlier texts but better, the same as them but different.

Given the ubiquity of this apparent contradiction, it makes sense to consider why producers and consumers of texts alike favor new texts that are both novel and familiar; to examine several test cases in which texts have been framed as either particularly familiar or particularly novel; to explore the conceptual and institutional strategies through which both audiences and theorists have sought to reconcile or disavow the apparent contradiction between the aesthetic norms of novelty and familiarity; and to ask why it might suit theorists to distinguish adaptation from other cases of what Hutcheon has called “repetition without replication”—or why it might not.

Thomas Leitch teaches English and directs the Film Studies program at the University of Delaware. He was published extensively in narratology, genre theory, and adaptation studies. His most recent books are Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind to The Passion of the Christ; A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock, coedited with Leland Poague; and the forthcoming Wikipedia U: Paradoxes of Authority in Liberal Education and Online Research.

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