York English Professor Ian Balfour wins two fellowships in one year

Ian Balfour, an award-winning author and professor of English at York, is the recipient of not one, but two, fellowships to do research this year, first in Los Angeles, followed by Cambridge, England, in the spring.

The first fellowship is as a Visiting Scholar at the Getty Research Institute. It’s a three-month fellowship that runs from January through March. The second fellowship is for the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge, which starts at the end of April.

This is the second time Balfour has secured a three-month fellowship at the Getty. The first was during the 2005 -2006 academic year, but the fellowship was extended for one year.

Right: Ian Balfour

"I was very fortunate to be able to come to the Getty Research Institute twice," says Balfour.

He stresses the Getty scholarships are not just for art historians, as most people think; they are also for people in the humanities and social sciences. "Ideally, they like to have half from art history and half from the humanities and social sciences," says Balfour.

At the Getty now, Balfour is in the process of pursuing a project that has always fascinated him – the subject of films, particularly international ones. His theme for both fellowships is Adapting: Filming Literature in and beyond the Culture Industry, which fits well with this year’s Getty theme of "change".

"Adaptation always entails a change of form and almost always entails a change of period or a return to a significantly earlier period from the adapting film to the adapted text," says Balfour. "For a few years, I’ve been teaching a course on the adaptation of literary texts into film in the English Department looking at mostly mainstream Anglo-American culture, novels and films. The process of teaching this material, however, has showed me that there is much to be learned from attending to how a given literary text is translated into a given film or, sometimes, more than one."

The Getty gives scholars the opportunity to explore their own research projects, without academic obligations, while making use of Getty collections. Fellowship recipients are invited to join their colleagues in weekly meetings devoted to the overall theme.

"For these fellowships, I wanted to push myself to work on more adventurous and avant-garde films, and to stretch my global reach," says Balfour.

That’s why, in addition to looking at Western film adaptation, he’s taken on the study of Japanese and Indian films, including Woman in the Dunes, a 1964 Japanese film directed by Teshigahara Hiroshi and based on a novel by Abe Kobo, about which he gave a talk to the other Getty scholars.

"The culture of adaptation is very different in Japan. There is a high adaptation rate of literature to film and there’s a very different ethos regarding adaptation in Japan. The visual lexicon has a lot to do with the non-film, visual arts other than film," says Balfour. "It’s all new territory for me so it’s been fascinating to learn about this."

Balfour is also anxious to articulate some of the ideas that have come out of his teaching into a book about the poetics, and sometimes the politics, of such adaptations. As a professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, Balfour specializes in romantic poetry and prose, contemporary theory and criticism, along with eighteenth-century literature and philosophy.

"It’s great to be doing this here at the Getty and in the company of art historians," says Balfour. "It gives me the chance to branch out a bit and maybe it will bleed back into my courses at York."

Balfour is the author of Northrop Frye (Twayne Publishers, 1988), The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy (Standford University Press, 2002) and essays on the Romantics and popular culture. He recently co-edited Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film (Mit Press, 2004) with film director Atom Egoyan as well as And justice For All?: The Claims of Human Rights (Duke University Press, 2004), with Eduardo Cadava.

He is working on completing his next book, The Language of the Sublime.

For more information, e-mail Balfour at ibalfour@yorku.ca.