Elliot’s Ghost Mode

Can content have a life apart from form?

While the answer has traditionally been no, as this possibility was deemed a heresy, Elliot’s presentation of the “psychic concept of adaptation” presents a different approach to adaptation. Elliot seems determined to explain that to translate content to a new medium one does not have to adhere to the text and images, which have been deemed by others as being impossible (134-135). Instead of pursuing this rigid mode of adaptation, Elliot captures the spirit of the work through the psychic mode, “The Novel’s Spirit—(The Novel’s Form)—(Reader—Filmmaker Response)—(Film)—Viewer Response.”(138) While she equates that the spirit of the author is found in the spirit of the text, Elliot states that this ghosting of spirit allows for the capturing of the essence of the original.

Though this mode is a possible avenue, one must question the possibility of success with this mode. While films have sought out to do this, it brings the question of qualification to mind. Is the film adapting the spirit of the original work? Or, is it merely borrowing from it. One film that is open to this debate is The Coen Brothers’ O’Brother Where Art Thou? The film is said to borrow from Homer’s The Odyssey; however, that interpretation is not canon. It may borrow or recreate the spirit, but does that qualify it as an adaptation? Furthermore, can the original text still have a life, or its own identity, in this instance? Is it still recognizable? While it may be present, it does not necessarily maintain its own identity in the form.

Elliot’s mode does capture the spiritual authenticity of the work; however, when the spirit is extracted is the it recognizable when applied elsewhere? While I think this mode is very effective, i.e. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, I’m not sure if it is all inclusive in the sense of the preservation of the original text.

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6 Responses to Elliot’s Ghost Mode

  1. Sara Tener says:

    Before addressing your principal question, I would like to point out that Elliott also discusses the potential complications related to the “psychic mode” of adaptation. She expresses that the “spirit of a work” is sanctioned by certain entities (author, critics, reviewers, etc.). We need to acknoweldge that these are individuals who are given a potentially arbitary merit. Whether or not a text retains the spirit of a text is subjective.
    In any case, I think that content can be considered apart from form, and I’d like to relate a personal experience that I think might convey this. When I was in undergrad at Queens College, I took a creative writing class, and we were taught to employ various forms of poetry. I had always written what I felt as opposed to using a particular form: it was the content and the feeling to me that was important. Though it was difficult, I managed to transform some of my original compositions into “proper forms,” and they retained what was most essential about them. Someone else reading the two different poems might say otherwise, and this is why fidelity discourse is fruitless and why your question will receive a multitude of responses: it is a highly subjective question.

    • Laura Callei says:

      Sara- I am so glad that you brought up Elliot’s discussion of the “psychic mode” of adaptation because while I was reading this I was a bit confused. I caught myself thinking, ‘what is she talking about?’ I feel like it may be taking adaptation a little too far but I also appreciate her establishment of a psyche in relation to the entities that make for an adaptation. It is something that we have yet to discuss in class and that I think could make a wonderful discussion!

  2. I was wondering: if the spirit goes through all those incarnations?, then doesn’t it become something different each time? It’s like the telephone game, where by the last person the message is change. In the case of the telephone game, both the form and content changes though. In the novel v. film aspect, we will always have the “original.” But that original depends, especially in our digital world, what we come across first: the “original” novel, the film, the play, etc. I mean *The Shining* is a adaptation, but seriously who cares about the book. *smiles* For me and even more for future audiences the film becomes the original work and we see if the book measures up to the film.

    I think that content is easily transferable. That content while not exactly like other novels, might carry a simple construction: boy meets girl, boys sees hot guy, and breaks up with girl for the hot guy sex. This content can be multiplied many times over, it’s just the details that are different. This for me is what gives films such diverse options when it comes to adaptations. Of course the novel lovers will say that reduces the novel, but I think Elliot points to someone good when she says, but the film also expands and adds other things to fill that space.

  3. Mike Ketive says:

    In many cases, whether a film is a canonical adaptation or not, I would feel we would be remiss in calling it either “adaptation” or “borrowing”. Instead, the term “inspiration” comes to mind, particularly when you mentioned “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” as a non-canonical adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey”. If we viewed many of these adaptations as being inspired by certain texts, then perhaps we may not be so concerned with whether or not the spirit of the text lives or dies in the transition from text to film. In truth, we know there are only so many plots and so many ways to insert characters into existing formulas, and this idea applies to any text, be it an original text or an adaptation of a text, so it’s fair to say that many texts are inspired by others. The film is inspired by the book, which was inspired by another book, which was inspired by another book and so on and so forth. While some may use the “call a rose a thorn, it’s still a rose” argument in response to this notion, I feel as if a text inspired by another text may not undergo nearly as much scrutiny as it would if it were marketed as a text adapted from another text.

  4. I love these questions you posed: Is the film adapting the spirit of the original work? Or, is it merely borrowing from it.
    I think that movie-goers are often disappointed when they watch a film adaptation that does not cause them to feel the same way that the original literature did. This common disappointment should be enough to drive film directors, script writers, and all parties involved to strive to capture the spirit produce in the original work. When you mention borrowing spirit, I wonder how is that the same or different. You can’t borrow spirit, right? You either are successful at capturing it – or you’re not. If you were to borrow spirit, that would mean you’d have to return it…

    • trevor11 says:

      I think that when discussing spirit you have to also think about a sense of permanency. Like Lisa says your can’t really borrow spirit now can you? I feel like when something really captures the spirit of something its adapted from, in a way it has now developed its own spirit that can now stand on it’s own and now can be the bar where standards are held too. Nolan’s films are an excellent example. Those 3 films have a spirit that movie-goers and Batman fans alike will want maintained. Just like they did with the comic version it draws from. So I feel like if it does accomplish the task of capturing spirit, from that point on it has its own.

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