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Content at Work

September 29, 2016

The Original French Version HERE - The English version has been translated by Jon-Michael McLean


While adaptations have been flourishing like never before, one could almost forget that we are witnessing an old phenomenon. Adaptations are indeed inherent to the development of publishing, as well as the industries of cinema, audiovisual, and digital technology.


Yet the phenomenon has not ceased to develop, even to the point of taking on an exceptional dimension today. This is, without a doubt, because there has never before been a choice of mediums so complex and diversified. In this way, the works spread out – and become distorted – in a chain through complex circuits that need raw material in order to function. For these mechanisms are first and foremost commercial; evidently, they allow for the reutilization of a successful work in a new medium on the market. At the present time, multiple exploitation, as shown regularly by the professional weekly magazine Livres Hebdo, is moreover one of the keys of publishing success.


However the motivations of these endeavours are also pedagogical: these adaptations most often concern adolescents. The idea is to bring works which are attached to a medium that may less likely be taken up to an audience that is used to other mediums. This is the founding idea of comics that recast classics of literature. Benoît Berthou reminds us of the terms, but also of the effects that are perhaps less predictable, such as the “documentarization” of works or plastic ideological interpretations, before concluding his article by putting forth the expression made possible by this previously unseen combination of adapted written works and newly created images. This is a conclusion shared by Liliane Cheilan, who studies a precise case, that of adaptations of The Turn of the Screw, and who shows well how cinema, opera and comics have favourably meddled with the “white spaces” of Henry James’ text. Marianne Berrissi, from her side, reveals some treasures of invention in focusing her interest in the destiny of children’s picture books adapted to the screen, in particular self-adaptations of illustrators, and she too shows the originality of these singular productions.

Consequently, if adaptations receive rather poor press, if common grounds still persist in designating them as being necessarily inferior to the original work, it must be admitted that certain creators have been able to demonstrate the originality of their creation in this very framework. It is true that it is not the adaptation of the works of Gabrielle Vincent by Daniel Pennac that would come to counter this common opinion. And one must undoubtedly take on the clement stance of Pascal Humbert in order to praise Scorsese’s version of Hugo. But at any rate, original and singular artistic creation is well and truly present at the heart of numerous adaptations. And its success does not hold solely to some dogma that would state that “to adapt is necessarily to betray”, echoing the “cannibalization” demanded by Raymond Chandler, for work nevertheless undertaken on his own texts.


Jean-Luc Fromental reminds us with force that adaptations are above all an affair of authors and encounters. This is the case of Robert Crumb’s The Book of Genesis, which surprises in demanding a return to the sources of the text, or of Posy Simmonds who invents a new medium in order to slide into the literary universes of Gustave Flaubert or Thomas Hardy.


It is in this way that, in offering the creator matter to digest, to dissect, to interpret and to recreate, the process of adaptation leads to the elaboration, certainly rare, but noteworthy, of certain masterpieces. Among these – as demonstrated by most of the articles in this series – are those which are above all else linked to the author’s work undertaken in any given medium, to his or her reflection as to the limits and possibilities of the art form, to his or her final capacity to examine it and to make it evolve.


At a time when a certain logic of content seems to dominate discourses regarding culture, all the contributors to this article remind us that the works are as complex as they are inseparable from their medium, which is a dimension entirely apart, while being, more often than not, a main issue of artistic action.



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