Transnational Adaptation: ‘The Dead,’ ‘Fools,’ The Dead, and Fools

In Brandon Chua & Elizabeth Ho (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Global Literary Adaptation in the Twenty-First Century. London: Routledge. pp. 19-33 (2023)
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This chapter sketches a literary history of writing the colonial interregnum through the comparison of a canonical Dublin text and its filmic adaptation with a canonical Johannesburg text and its filmic adaptation. Njabulo Ndebele’s short story ‘Fools’ (1983) repurposes formal elements from Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ (1914), transposing strategies for representing late colonial Dublin to a Johannesburg township during the height of apartheid in a context of extreme racial domination; beginning with close comparative readings of both stories, my chapter argues that the context in which ‘Fools’ emerges determines the significance of its reappropriation of Joycean formal devices and simultaneously forces a re-reading of Joyce’s flirtation with bourgeois naturalism in ‘The Dead.’ Further, the respective publishing contexts of ‘Fools’ and ‘The Dead’ go on to determine their reception and recirculation, as demonstrated by the diverse histories of the American John Huston’s adaptation of ‘The Dead’ (1984), and Ramadan Suleman’s South African adaptation of ‘Fools’ (1997). In following this circumatlantic history of influence and adaptation from Joyce to Ndebele to Huston to Suleman, across hemispheres and media, I mean to articulate a relationship between modernist form and forms of modernity, particularly as those forms that appear and reappear in the global south over the course of the long twentieth century. Particular attention is paid here to the history of underdevelopment in the global south and how it impinges upon the production and circulation of literary adaptations.


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