Brilliant article by Salman Rushide on what makes a good literary adaptation. 

What are the things we think of as essential in our lives? The answers could be: our children, a daily walk in the park, a good stiff drink, the reading of books, a job, a vacation, a baseball team, a cigarette, or love. And yet life has a way of making us rethink. Our children move away from home, we move away from our favourite park, the doctor forbids us to drink or smoke, we lose our eyesight, we get fired, there’s no time or money to take a vacation, our baseball team sucks, our heart is broken. At such times our picture of the world hangs crookedly on the wall. Then, if we can manage it, we adapt. And what this shows us is that essence is something deeper than any of that, it’s the thing that gets us through. 

But those who do not know who they are, are doomed too: individuals who sacrifice themselves for the sake of pleasing others, comedians who stop telling jokes because they find themselves in a humourless world, serious people who start trying to tell jokes because they fear being thought humourless, people in a new situation, a new relationship, a new university, who act against their natures because they think that’s the way to make things easy for themselves.

Whole societies can lose their way through a process of bad adaptation. Striving to save themselves, they can oppress others. Hoping to defend themselves, they can damage the very liberties they believed to be under attack. Claiming to defend freedom, they can make themselves and others less free. Or, seeking to calm the violent hotheads in their midst, societies can try to appease them, and so give the violent hotheads the notion that their violence and hotheadedness is effective. 

[Tip of the hat to The Mute Oracle and Kalafudra]


5 Responses to “Adaptation”

  1. “In an interview conducted at the Telluride film festival last autumn, Boyle, when asked why he had chosen a project so different from his usual material, answered that he had never been to India and knew nothing about it, so he thought this project was a great opportunity. Listening to him, I imagined an Indian film director making a movie about New York low-life and saying that he had done so because he knew nothing about New York and had indeed never been there. He would have been torn limb from limb by critical opinion. But for a first world director to say that about the third world is considered praiseworthy, an indication of his artistic daring. The double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away.”

    This is the sort of paragraph that proves how eloquent Rushdie is. Do you see the farce here? He presents a hypothetical situation, and then draws inference from it without ever touching on any tangible happenstance. “i imagined” a situation and concluded that “double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away.” But he does it so elegantly. I love this guy and his intelligence.

    It begs the question – when will I ever gain the skill of puking hyperbole, and convincing everyone that it’s elegant prose?

    p.s. It’s the elegant cover-up of farces, along with erudite expositions that shows Rushdie’s brilliance here.

  2. @The Mute Oracle Oh don’t worry, you’re pretty good at ‘puking hyperbole’ and making it seem like elegant prose.

    Have you noticed how Rushide nonchalantly disses Tolkein’s writing? Maybe it’s because I never got around to reading the whole book (because it bored me to tears), but I have to agree with him on Peter Jackson’s films being superior to the book. A friend I know just spewed some venom after reading that.

  3. @Prestidigitator: It did sting me a bit when he wrote that. He has a valid point there though. Jackson is a better director than Tolkien is a writer. But Tolkien’s impact as a writer should not be measured in his prose. I haven’t had a better imaginative escapist trip like the one I’ve had while reading LOTR. That’s gotta account for something. Hell, it was Jackson’s worship for Tolkien’s work that brought the movie to fruition.

    But I’d eat up anything that Rushdie pukes without giving it a second thought.

    p.s. Thanks for the compliment. Your talents at writing far surpass mine. But you excel as a muse even better.

  4. @The Mute Oracle “But you excel as a muse even better.” As if things between us weren’t disturbing enough. :-/

  5. 5 bpsk

    Sorry PS, Rushdie’s my favorite author, but sad to say, this article was an exercise in verbal diarrhea. What was he, paid by the word?

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