Monday, 7 January 2008

Films, cover versions and singular value judgements

I’ve recently seen the film The Kite Runner. Though my companions had, I have not read the book, and thus didn’t share their (familiar) qualms about seeing a previously enjoyed book adapted and re-presented this way. Such qualms are interesting in themselves, however.

The obvious thought is that they result from a dislike of the idea of seeing the results of someone else’s imagination which may contrast with one’s own. But that itself raises the question: why is that a distinctive reaction to the case of books turned into films and not in other cases? Why does it not apply, as I may have mentioned here before, to cover versions of pop songs?

Typing this, I’m listening to Christopher O'Riley’s solo piano versions of Radiohead songs. Whilst there is something odd about them, and I could easily imagine disliking them - they verge on the naff – the fact that they change the original, and presumably may change the way I hear the originals, isn’t necessarily disturbing. It would only be disturbing if I thought that there was a good chance that they would do this in a particular bad way. In the case of films of books, though, the very idea of it being someone else's take seems in itself a bad thing, whether or not the take is bad. (A good take may be more powerful, in fact, and thus worse than a bad one which one simply passes over.)

In his account of one-off or ‘idiographic’ judgement, the post-Kantian philosopher Wilhelm Windelband suggests that the more general importance of such singular judgement is exemplified (and thus partly explained) by value judgements which, he thinks (and in this has something in common with other post-Kantians) are obviously singular. He says:

[E]very interest and judgment, every ascription of human value is based upon the singular and the unique… Every dynamic and authentic human value judgment is dependent upon the uniqueness of its object. It is, above all, our relationship to personalities that demonstrates this. It is not an unbearable idea that yet another identical exemplar of a beloved or admired person exists? Is it not terrifying and inconceivable that we might have a second exemplar in reality with our own individual peculiarities? This is the source of horror and mystery in the idea of the Doppelganger -no matter how great the temporal distance between the two persons may be. [Windelband 1980: 181-2]
Now in the case of ‘our relationship to personalities’ this seems true (and the comments about Doppelgangers suggestive). And if it applied to an attitude to books, it might explain why a copy (both like and unlike) would be disturbing. But why think of other objects of more obviously aesthetic judgements in singular rather than general terms? Why isn’t the song ‘Yearning’ from the novel Steppenwolf more a universal than a particular, which might be instantiated in any number of cases?

That said, I can imagine that some reproductions might have a corrupting effect on the original. I hold out no hopes for my photography group home work this month: a re-creation of Frantisek Drtikol’s The Soul (above).