the immortality of pickles

by Nariman Youssef

Salman Rushdie on adaptation, in which he broadly includes adapting films, “translation, migration and metamorphosis”:

In my novel Midnight’s Children the narrator Saleem discusses the making of pickles as this sort of adaptive process: “I reconcile myself,” he says, “to the inevitable distortions of the pickling process. To pickle is to give immortality, after all: fish, vegetables, fruit hang embalmed in spice-and-vinegar; a certain alteration, a slight intensification of taste, is a small matter, surely? The art is to change the flavour in degree, but not in kind; and above all (in my thirty jars and a jar) to give it shape and form – that is to say, meaning.”

The question of essences remains at the heart of the adaptive act: how to make a second version of a first thing, of a book or film or poem or vegetable, or of yourself, that is successfully its own, new thing and yet carries with it the essence, the spirit, the soul of the first thing, the thing that you yourself, or your book or poem or film or your pre-pickle mango or lime, originally were.

Is it impossible? Is the intangible in our arts and our natures, the space between our words, the things seen in between the things shown, inevitably discarded in the remaking process, and if so can it be filled up with other spaces, other visions, that satisfy or even enrich us enough so that we do not mind the loss? To look at adaptation in this broad-spectrum way, to take it beyond the realm of art into the rest of life, is to see that all the meanings of the word deal with the question of what is essential – in a work adapted to another form, in an individual adapting to a new home, in a society adapting to a new age. What do you preserve? What do you jettison? What is changeable, and where must you draw the line? The questions are always the same, and the way we answer them determines the quality of the adaptation, of the book, the poem, or of our own lives.