Can fidelity be divorced from moralizing judgements?
Connor notes that one of the criticisms leveled at fidelity as used in adaptation studies is that it must fall back on a hierarchy between the adaptation and its source. That is, per critics such as Ray, fidelity criticism ultimately boils down to the boring discussion of whether or not the adaptation is better than the original–producing the unproductive question, “how does the film compare to the book” (2)? Connor holds that “fidelity debates provide a way of avoiding questions of quality” (2).
This avoidance is enabled by the ease of comparing two things (e.g. determining faithfulness or matching) as opposed to determining which of two different things is better (e.g. the question of quality or merits). What fidelity discourse can do when not avoiding questions of quality is highlight a reader’s judgements and ultimately the basis for those judgments. An adaptation provides an alternative text on which one can judge their judgements about the original text. Connor notes that he’d rather refer to a ‘prior’ rather than ‘original’ text since there is something about the first text one encounters (be it the original or adaptation) that causes some sort of firm allegiance to it. And so fidelity discourse is important not for determining faithfulness between source and adaptation but between prior text and reader. The degree to which a reader wishes to challenge or support a particular adaptation implies a link between reader and text and the reasons for that link are what should be addressed: “Questions of matching or mis-matching address the viewer’s ability to recognize the systematicity of the differences between source and adaptation; question of judgment speak to the perceptiveness of the viewer in recognizing both the systematicity of the individual works and the grounds for her own judgements” (3).