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Free Content Desire and the ‘Deconstructionist’: Adaptation as writerly praxis

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Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufmann, Adaptation is a semi-fictitious narrative of Kaufman’s effort to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief (1998) for the screen. Interrelating Barthes critiques of authorship/authority and the readerly/writerly with adaptation theory, this article demonstrates how the film performs an immanent critique of the process of adaptation by laying bare its practical, theoretical, and political implications. I argue that whereas the screenwriter is a traditionally absent figure in adaptation criticism, his self-reflexive presence in the film hijacks both interpretation and critique by deconstructing the filmic adaptation process through writerly praxis. The critical exploration of the binaries of text and adaptation, reader and writer, fact and fiction, work and theory is made possible by the figuration of Kaufmann who, as a Barthesian reader in the throes of the reading and writing processes, writes himself into the story and projects his desires onto the screen, thereby undermining all authoritative claims on the original text and its interpretation.
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Keywords: Adaptation (2002); Charlie Kaufman; Roland Barthes; Spike Jonze; Susan Orlean; The Orchid Thief

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: City University of New York

Publication date: March 1, 2014

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  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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