And then Elliot messes me all up!

as we work our way through these readings, I have involved myself in the futile effort of nailing down a single clarified opinion about film adaptations.  Before Elliot, I thought I was on my way, leaning toward a defense of adaptation and a heightened appreciation for it. I was in great shape when on page 157 she begins the De(re)composing concept.  When she quotes J. Hillis Miller, “each [critic of Wuthering Heights] takes some one element in the novel and extrapolates it toward a total explanation,” I already knew the next line. Equating film adapters with literary critics is perfect for me.  It is an argument which is solid and helps me rid myself of negative judgement of film.  If each film is just like an essay, a perspective, then it is easy to view it objectively.  I was also enjoying how she used the novel in numerous ways to “extrapolate” elements of film criticism. In this way, she was further removing the novel from being sacred.  Wuthering Heights is adapted in several languages, cultures, as a tool for literary, film, and numerous other criticism. It is a resource.

and then it all got messed up!

In the discussion regarding the Incarnation Concept of adaptation, Elliot reveals a duel sentiment clarified in Charles Lambs thoughts. He says (of one part) ” When the novelty is passed, we find to our cost that, instead of realising an idea, we have only materialised and brought down a fine vision to the standard of flesh and blood. We have let go a dream, in quest of an unattainable substance.” (166)

Flesh! Blood! Brought Down! Down with our DREAM standard!

It is true, for me, that once I watch an adaptation, the dreaming is OVER.  I just did not realise it until Charles Lamb told me so.  Now I am not sure I can handle the idea of my dreams becoming flesh and thus able to die.

This is exaggerated and dramatic, of course!  What can you expect after all that Wuthering Heights talk!  Anyone else have their opinions of adaptation crushed (or mildly skewed) after this essay?


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in 11 Elliott. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to And then Elliot messes me all up!

  1. Laura Callei says:

    Amelia- I love what you did with the reading here and I definitely agree with you. Once I watch an adaptation I feel as though my dream is skewed. What I had thought a certain character or setting to be imagined in my head when I read a beloved novel and then when I watch the film adaptation of the novel, I usually find myself thinking, ‘that is not what he/she is supposed to look like!’ or ‘Why is this film set in LA when it should be in NY!’ I love when you said, “Now I am not sure I can handle the idea of my dreams becoming flesh and thus able to die.” It’s such a morbid thought to think about, the idea that our dreams are becoming real and thus are inevitably able to die. I guess it definitely gets us thinking on a whole new level about adaptation!

  2. Marie Mosot says:

    This may read like I’m attacking your point of view, but I disagree because I care – I genuinely hope to offer a different, more liberating way of looking at it :)

    The thing about the incarnational concept is that it plays on what Stam called iconophobia. It promotes a negative view of adaptations if and only if one values illimitable words and ideas over images and materialization, if one maintains the hierarchy of spirit over form, literature over film. As Elliot points out in her conclusion, it’s a logocentric way of viewing adaptations, and postmodern sensibilities have made compelling arguments against such ways of thinking. Why does incarnation have to mean degradation? (It doesn’t have to.) Why resist what already exists? Is it not possible to accept novel and film separately? Even Plato conceded that his Ideals could be and are embodied in the physical world all the while maintaining that they exist in an absolutely unreachable realm – can we extend a similar view to adaptations? (For the record, I’ve always had trouble accepting Plato and his Ideals, but for reasons that may not extend analogously to adaptation.)

    Just because something is made flesh doesn’t mean that it’s “able to die.” In fact, quite the opposite: artists across the centuries attest to the immortality afforded by their mediums. A painting can perform the same incarnational function as a film, but does that mean the experience of the original necessarily withers, dies, is deprived of life? To Stam, that was the fallacy of parasitism, which like iconophobia, assumes an originating authority that doesn’t exist. It does not necessarily follow that to visually render what was originally not visual is to kill it or end the dream. Though that is your subjective perceptual experience of the process, it’s based on deep underlying assumptions – logocentrism and hierarchal understandings in general – that have been proven to be unstable and not sacrosanct. “Becoming flesh” could, in fact, continue the dream, which is exactly what Elliot argues is the mechanism working behind the incarnational model: there is no transcendental signified, only signifiers seeking other signifiers (which reminds me of Walter Benjamin: there is no original in a world of copies), forms seeking other forms in a never-ending movement between abstraction and “phenomenological realism” (164). As a result, the incarnational model exposes the emptiness of inherent meaning in language, the hierarchal biases towards and subjectively phenomenological assumptions about literature. “Incarnation reveals the limits of language” (167).

    If TL;DR: the dream ends only if you let it :) I think you should keep at your original conception of adaptations as criticism – it’s a good one and certainly more productive than the despair attending the incarnational concept.

  3. Mike Ketive says:

    Elliot’s way of looking at adaptions is a pretty bleak way to tackle the subject, and though I agree with you to a point, I personally try to look at an adaption of a text as someone else’s visual ideal about the text and in turn, juxtapose it with mine rather than accept it as THE visual representation of those characters in a text. While it’s true that one person’s vision of what certain characters and certain scenarios look like may be lost in the face of a visual adaptation, the fact that you were able to dream up visuals in your head as you read in the first place shows that you’ll be able to associate that pleasurable dream to reading the text in the first place. One may complain about minor details such as “Why is his beard that color?” and “Why did they use such little lighting for that scene?” but if you can recall your vision amid the complaints over particular visuals, then your dreams still remain valid. In agreement with Marie, the only way the dream dies is if you let it die.

  4. Melissa M says:

    When viewing any adaptation, where you have previously envisioned a character or a scene, you must almost always take into account that every viewer has a different scene depicted. If you assume this, then your dream of a character or scene does not in fact die, but can be built upon from the adaptation you are viewing. If you have ever read a book which you love, which for me is The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and it has been been adapted to something totally different from what you imaged, you can either kill your dream of the character, or simply say, this works for me as well. It doesn’t need to be so cut and dry as Elliot makes it seem. You can have two visions or you could even unify the two visions.

  5. I agree with all of you as you all have made sound points. I think Elliott doesn’t necessarily make adaptation seem cut and dry, as she points out the overlapping between most of these modes. It has come to my attention that I have not seen many adaptations, or things that I recognize to be adaptations. But in regards to the adaptations I have seen, dreams that derived from the novel were not crushed by the adaptation. It was merely the way the director envisioned the novel, just like I have. And although our visions did not coincide, the manifestation of the actual adaptation does not bother me. I’m thinking about what you said previously Amelia, that film adapters are like literary critics, and just because we don’t particularly agree with a certain critic doesn’t mean that their theory is invalid. I feel the same way about film adapters.

  6. Darwin Eng says:

    I agree! In some ways, I wish that these “theorists” would be able to settle down on a single opinion about the nature of adaptations. You made the point on how an adaptation is almost like an essay. And just like an essay, there are so many different ways to approach an adaptation (I am always reminded of the Woolf essay that we read early on in the class–how even though she was staunchly against the medium of film, one can see glimpses of her approval of films). In the case of or Elliot and all of the different modes of adaptation, it is impossible (as Tricia says above) to be completely cut and dry. It in order to create “rules” for adaptation, Elliot is attempting to account for every single possibility and opinion (even if it is headache inducing).

Comments are closed.