The unwilling spirit

Sorry for the late post on Elliott. Storms thrusting me out of our 21st century comforts led to a lack of power and internet and ultimately illness.  Then the holiday arrived and wrangling the bird and people and expectations propelled me further off track.  Anyway:

What are the effects of an adaptation on an unwilling spirit?  Elliott describes critical references to “the spirit of the text” as the psychic concept of adaptation (136) and uses many references to mysticism, the soul, and death to get her point across.  The spirit of a text can, in modern criticism, be boiled down to authorial intent: “Twentieth-century critics tend to represent this authorial spirit in less mystical ways: the authorial soul or personality becomes authorial intent, imagination or style” (136).  She goes on to reference a process by which the spirit of a text transfers from author to novel to reader/filmmaker to film to viewer.  Not directly stated is the process by which the author’s intent becomes spirit, but it is alluded to in her discussion of Wuthering Heights–someone must die for their spirit to be released.

For the most part it seems as if adaptations are made from the texts of long dead authors;  Brontë wasn’t around for any of the adaptations of Wuthering Heights.  This allows for others to easily interpolate (their) meanings into that of the original author’s, as Elliott states:  “[P]sychic ghosting of what passes between novel and film in adaptation inevitably allows a host of personal, filmic, and cultural agendas to be projected onto the novel and identified as its spirit” (139).  That the author’s spirit is good, that it provides a blessing over the film adaptation, is important in that it creates a sense of legitimacy as it ties the text to the adaptation.  However as Elliot points out, deciphering the intent of a dead author is left in the hands of literary critics, or those who’ve gained a degree of scholarly or cultural cache (such as Kenneth Branagh (142)) and so the interpolation is not only allowed but expected.

Elliott does quote Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting (also an actor in its film adaptation) but he seems to fully accept that his role as authority over his text ends or is lessened by adaptation (139) and so for all intents he has gone gently into that good night.     What about those, still kicking, authors who rage rage against the dying of the light?  Alan Moore, author of many adapted works such as V for Vendetta and Watchmen maintains that adaptations are evil.  While Elliott refers to spirits, Moore’s criticism of adaptations lies in more concrete (yet still disturbing) realm.  In 2008 when talking about the (then) upcoming Watchmen film he refers to modern film as a “bully” that “spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination.  It is as if we are freshly hatched birds looking up with our mouths open waiting for Hollywood to feed us more regurgitated worms.”  He has maintained that his text is unfilmable, so presumably an adaptation would be besides the point or better yet- besides his point.    I don’t mean to imply that authorial intent provides the sole/proper reading of a text, but WB’s blatant disregard of Moore’s wishes display a degree of violence.  Driven by consumerism, the movie studio has in a sense killed the author, freeing his spirit so that it may be used according to their wishes:  In Moore’s view he is the worm being digested and regurgitated.  Unlike in Elliot’s essay, the protestations of this living author more clearly demonstrate that, at least in film adaptations, the power of capital is crucial in establishing how authorial spirit is read and presented to others.

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