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London Aesthetics Forum: Some Puzzles About Adaptation

James Harold (Mt. Holyoke) Turning a work of literature into a movie: some puzzles about adaptation

Date: 24 May 2017, 16:00 to 18:00

Venue: Room 246, Second Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU


The adaptation of stories from one medium to another has been almost completely neglected as a philosophical topic. This neglect is surprising for two reasons: first, adaptation is everywhere. Short stores get adapted into plays; plays into movies; movies into operas; songs into poems; and on and on, backwards and forwards. The second reason is that adaptation poses a number of complex and thorny philosophical puzzles (or so I shall argue). In this paper, I focus on one particular kind of adaptation, from the medium of literature to the medium of movies. I discuss three main questions about this phenomenon:

1. What do we mean when we say that a movie is faithful to its source?

2. Is being faithful to its source a merit in a movie adaptation?

3. How do we decide when a movie should be counted as being an adaption of some particular preexisting work of literature, such as a novel or play?

In this paper, I try to answer (1) and (2), at least tentatively, and to make a few suggestions about how to answer (3). My view is that there are several different senses of faithfulness; and that only some of these senses should count as artistic merits. Further, I try to show that an investigation of adaptation tells us something about the identity conditions for stories.

The London Aestetics Forum is generously sponsored by the British Society of Aesthetics