112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Representation and Performative Sampling in Film Adaptation

Aili Zheng, Willamette University

I will consider the representation of performativities in film adaptation, followed by an analysis of Mihály Kertész' (Michael Curtiz) historical epic based on Arthur Schnitzler's drama Der junge Medardus.


Film adaptation has a long and persistent history of being discussed in terms of fidelity. Is the film true to the source text? Much as a stage production is part of an event that also includes spectators as participants, literary texts yield a variety of interpretations. Robert Stam therefore questions the assumption of an "extractable 'essence'" and—given the production constraints of filmmaking—argues that "fidelity in adaptation is literally impossible." Beyond this fundamental limitation, filmic representations especially face difficulties in dealing with performative aspects of social environments, with the values, schema and cultural codes that provide the interactional matrix of reality. I will develop some general considerations regarding the rendering of cultural performativities in film. In How to Do Things with Words, John L. Austin introduces a fresh approach to the study of language use: in "appropriate circumstances" utterings can be performative in that they produce the social outcome of which they speak. Within the same volume, Austin—and John R. Searle in later work—adjust and sideline this conceptual framework for the reductive paradigm of linguistics. However, in a broad range of cultural disciplines—from anthropology to theater studies—the groundbreaking notion of performativity has opened new vistas in research on social and cultural practices.  The analysis of actions linked to performativities are especially pertinent for the diegesis of film. As an example, I will explore the performativities of social status and cultural legacy in Mihály Kertész' (Michael Curtiz) historical epic based on Arthur Schnitzler's drama Der junge Medardus.