Are film adaptations inextricably linked to the text from which they are adapted?

(Apologies – this is the most unacceptably late blog post ever. Having just gotten power this past weekend, things have been hectic, and things slipped through the cracks. I hope the intellectual wanking [plus a bit of outside research – yay] below makes up for it, even if just a little bit.)

While reading the passage about music being the “transcendental signifier,” I couldn’t help but do a bit of research on my own. While the definition of signifier and signified is simple, there’s a lot of dense, nebulous concepts surrounding it, like the whole idea of music being the transcendent signifier because its abstract form is resisting the signified, whatever that means. Well I wanted to know what that meant, hence me looking all this stuff up.

My Google quest lead to this link:

Here’s a quick excerpt (this isn’t about transcendental signifiers, but it is within a larger text that deals with that concept): “Derrida criticizes Saussure for saying that the purpose for which writing exists is to represent speech.”

That reminded me of the Burgess quote in the essay, which says that books were made to be movies. The site goes on to talk about how Saussure’s theory of language is criticized because writing doesn’t have to necessarily be phonetic, and therefore isn’t inextricably linked to speech.

Are film adaptations inextricably linked to the text from which they are adapted? There is a “language of film” which takes a life of its own in films. Filmic techniques that aren’t in the book, but are used to represent the spirit of the book. Are those akin to the non-phonetic language that cannot be transmuted from writing to speech? I’m totally fascinated by the idea of filmic language, or the language of various mediums in general, so the idea of thinking this in terms of written word and speech feels appropriate.

Elliott says, “The incarnational concept of adaptation represents the novel’s signs as transcendental signifiers, wandering ghosts located neither in the heaven of the transcendental signified of the psychic concept nor in the dead corpse of the empty signifier of the ventriloquist concept. In the context of adaptation, the transcendental signifier seeks not a signified, but another signifier that can incarnate it.”

If the transcendental signified is the universal concept, than the signifier is that which allows us to understand that concept. Here, the idea of “transcendental signifier” is something that seeks to be incarnated within other signifiers. So it fits that Burgess quote about words whetting the appetite for “the true fulfillment.”

If speech is merely looking to be incarnated as word, then word is looking to be incarnated into the visual language of film. But if we accept Derrida’s criticism above, what parallels the non-phonetic writing? What, in film, transcends this whole business of signifiers being incarnated? Are movies fully realizing the books signifiers? Or are movies taking on more than the signifiers – the signified. The book is made up of signifiers, and that’s absolute. You can’t really debate about a signifier, since it’s tangible. But beneath the book’s pages is an interminable and highly interpretive world of the signified, and I think that’s the non-phonetic language that films is picking up on.

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One Response to Are film adaptations inextricably linked to the text from which they are adapted?

  1. Darwin Eng says:

    Alas, I am not a theoretical person, but there are a few interesting ideas you propose/ask. Ignoring Elliot’s extremely flowery language describing transcendental signifier, filmic language seems to be the focus of your post. The ideas of signifiers and the signified all have to do with language. Thus, if there is suppose to be a distinction between filmic language and literary (written language) and even spoken language, does that mean that each one of these have a different set of signifiers and signifieds? I am pretty sure that Derrida and Saussure never considered a filmic language. The quote of Derrida criticizing Saussure already proves that there may be a difference in the language between writing, speech and film. Furthermore, each one of these have so many overlaps (film has both writing–the script–and speech–the performance on screen) that it makes me wonder if there is a separation (this reminds me of the way Elliot tries to describe the different types of adaptation–they too have many overlaps.

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