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2022 | Book

Embodying Adaptation

Character and the Body


About this book

This book explores the impact of the body on the mediation of character in adaptations. Specifically, it thinks about how identity is shaped by the body and how this alters meanings of adaptations. With an increasingly digital world, the importance of the body may be seen as diminishing. However, the book highlights the different political and social meanings the body signifies, which in turn renders character. Through a discussion of adaptations of sexuality, race, and mental difference, the mediation of character is shown to be tied to the physical. The book challenges the hierarchies in place both for the understanding of character, which privileges the actor, and in adaptations, which privileges the original. The discussion of the body, character, and adaptation asserts that the meanings the physical has in its shaping of, and by, character in adaptations reflect the way in which we position our own bodies in the world.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction
This chapter sets out the key ideas of the book, namely questions of performance, the body, and adaptation. It considers the position of adaptations more generally and the recent debates that have emerged in the field. It establishes key perspectives on the limitations of the study of adaptations so far, primarily the limited engagement with reception along with the overreliance on case studies as some have argued. The question of medium specificity is engaged with in some detail here as this forms a central argument of the book and informs the thinking about the body. This sets the groundwork for the chapter structure as outlined here. It concludes by arguing that character and the body may be the most important aspect of adaptation through their ability to shape understandings of identity.
Christina Wilkins
Chapter 2. The Acting Body
Considering a number of key ideas pertinent to the whole book here, this chapter establishes the importance of the body to illuminate the nature of adaptation and how it is received. This is explored in three different areas across the chapter: typecasting, body as adaptation, and fidelity to the body. The element of the physical body complicates our understanding of character, perhaps threatening its reduction to a type. It therefore begins to complicate our understanding of what an adaptation can do. This leads on to our thinking about how the body is used to mediate character onscreen. Here, I argue, the body functions as a form of medium. We can think through this in the way the acting body is adapted continuously for characters, particularly with those actors who are method. Taking these ideas, the role of the body as medium further complicates the relationship between performance and adaptation. Finally, fidelity to the imagined ‘original’ body in literary cases is an issue raised in audience response to particular adaptations. Physicality thus becomes central in thinking about adaptation, but also reinforces the notion of fidelity as subjective.
Christina Wilkins
Chapter 3. Bodily Knowledge
This chapter explores how the body is understood in adaptations through its reception. Specifically, it addresses concerns over star performance and the element of audience knowledge. Reception has been an ongoing concern in adaptation studies as debates over intention and understanding have occurred. This is primarily in terms of whether audiences understand a text is an adaptation and how this impacts its reception. The exploration of the acting body as form of adaptation (established in Chap. 3) and impacting audience reception of the adapted text complicates the discussion around reception within the field. Audience understanding of the text as adaptation may be in place, but complicated by the inclusion of a well-known body. The text operating as adaptation is therefore complicated with the inclusion of star performances, priming audiences to see a character in a particular way that may not initially be present. The chapter engages with a number of approaches to spectatorship, including Janet Staiger’s perverse spectator to consider the role of the audience in constructing the character. It concludes by stressing the role of the audience in the creation of the character—with it the knowledge of the actor, performance, and the text that form a composite that must always be addressed as multiple.
Christina Wilkins
Chapter 4. Character Infusion
This chapter begins by establishing the particular hierarchies in place in both performance studies and adaptations—particularly the primacy of the source in adaptations and the technical ability of the actor in performance studies. This builds previous work done by Cartmell and Whelehan. The focus is on character and how the character moulds the acting body, and how the physicality of that body impacts the text. Discussions and understandings of character in terms of performance present the actor as inhabiting the character, wearing it as a mask. It thus becomes something to enter into, to flesh out. Situating it as such creates an understanding of character as an adaptation of the actorly body and therefore in another hierarchy. This chapter thinks through a restructuring of such hierarchies, considering how we could theorise the character inhabiting the actor and the impact that has on the adaptation. This is aided by a discussion of the role of medium in presenting character and how character is understood. This begins to think through a medium-specific approach to character, positioning it as a textual element. Crucially, it also introduces the notion of the charactor, an approach that merges actor and character through its physical representation.
Christina Wilkins
Chapter 5. Embodying Identities
This chapter takes key ideas set out in the book and uses them to examine two clusters of texts—one involving queer adaptation and the other whitewashed adaptations. It evokes and further explores questions of authenticity in representation and adaptation of identities, as well as the limits of the body in representation, arguing that the adapted body emphasises the physical aspects of identity. This will be complicated by a thinking about the impact of a star’s identity ideologically, particularly along the lines of race and sexuality and thought through with the use of Munoz’s concept of disidentification. The clusters of texts explore how bodies and their meanings are central parts of an adaptation, and say more about the cultural moment than perhaps other factors in the adapted text. Another key argument in this chapter is that fidelity emerges with these critiques more because of the need for authenticity that comes with telling stories of marginalised identities, because otherwise it becomes a replication of the status quo, and subsuming of the nuances of these identities into the mainstream.
Christina Wilkins
Chapter 6. Shaping the Psyche
This chapter explores how psychological difference is constructed in different mediums, thereby allowing for an understanding of what adaptation reveals about these characters marked by difference. It then moves to a number of examples to explore the varying representations of the psyche, through depression and psychopathy. Finally, it ends by considering how a repeated adaptation shapes and is shaped by the psyche of an atypical character, giving a sense of how the character (and their mind) alters the cultural understanding of the body we encounter. Through its discussion of illness identities, the textual techniques used to communicate interiority, and the impact a character’s mind has on the actor’s body, it continues challenging the hierarchies in place in adaptations and acting. As with our discussions of audience knowledge previously in Chap. 3, the reading of these bodies as symptomatic relies on culturally understood signs of difference, along with understandings of how the interior is communicated. The latter perhaps becomes performative, as with the first. This reinforces the culturally specific ways these expressions manifest, resulting in a slippery notion of character that may be required to change in order to remain relevant and coherent. Adaptation of texts, characters, and the body, therefore, is necessary to situate ourselves in the world.
Christina Wilkins
Embodying Adaptation
Dr. Christina Wilkins
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