This essay deals with the question of the multiple constraints that determine the production of highly commercialized literature, namely, novelization. As a literary genre, novelization is easy to define: it is the novelistic adaptation of an original film or, more specifically, of the screenplay of this film. As a cultural practice, however, novelization is hardly known, given its lack of prestige, therefore its near-absence in the scholarly field (novelizations seem so “bad” that nobody thinks they deserve any serious interest). Culturally and institutionally speaking, novelizations are blatant examples of commercial literature, that is, literature not written on the initiative of an individual author eager to give a personal form to certain ideas or feelings but ordered by a publisher to fulfill certain commercial needs. Despite all the prejudices against the genre, however, novelization is a fascinating literary practice which can helpfully be studied via the notion of constraint. At the same time, the notion of constraint can be usefully enriched by the example of novelization, which brings to the fore aspects that are less clearly seen when one focuses on high or elite literature. The essay presents, first, some aspects of the genre, which is less simple or homogeneous than may appear. Second, it discusses a seminal article that has opened the mainly form-oriented domain of constrained writing to the broader field of cultural and institutional constraints: R. A. Peterson's “Five Constraints on the Production of Culture: Law, Technology, Market, Organizational Structure, and Occupational Careers” (1982). Third, the essay offers a comparative analysis of the novelization genre in various cultural environments, reusing Peterson's set of institutional and cultural constraints. The case study of novelization demonstrates that constrained writing is not simply a matter of obeying internal formal constraints, as is generally believed, but also of following external, institutional constraints: the latter are less known due to the fact that the most often cited and studied examples of constrained writing belong to literary genres or domains where these external constraints are less directly felt.
Skip Nav Destination
Jan Baetens; Expanding the Field of Constraint: Novelization as an Example of Multiply Constrained Writing. Poetics Today 1 March 2010; 31 (1): 51–79. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-2009-014
Download citation file: