Not Adaptation but "Drifting": Patrick Keiller, Daniel Defoe, and the Relationship between Film and Literature

Robert Mayer
2004 Eighteenth-Century Fiction  
Two recent films by British filmmaker Patrick Keiller-London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997)-are mindful of and indebted to two works by Daniel Defoe-Robinson Crusoe (1719) and A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-26). The films raise important questions about Defoe's texts and the link between film and literature. In the twentieth century, that relationship has further intricated the always complex borderline status of the novel, and while some filmmakers and theorists
more » ... e argued against any kind of continuity between literature and film, more have linked them in a variety ofways. The intersection of film and literary prose, fictional or otherwise, has often been discussed in terms of adaptation theory. Relying on literary models (the film as a translation or as a reading of a text), commentators on adaptation have often seemed to privilege the literary over the cinematic work. The present article, however, is not a discussion of the adaptation of literary texts to film. Instead, it examines particular films and texts that reveal important points of kinship but that are also different in so many ways that Keiller' s films often seem like outright rejections of Defoe. Keiller's London and Robinson in Space are like Defoe's Tour in detailing journeys that aim to represent the current state of the land through which the travellers move. Both text and films also evince a sense of England as a political and moral space that is constructed by the observers themselves. Nevertheless, the Tour, with its triumphal air, is very different from Keiller's films, which envision England as a late twentieth-century, Thatcherite desert island. Both Defoe's novel and Keiller's films, furthermore, focus on their own particular Robinson, a character who is in each case, in very different ways to be sure, shipwrecked in an alien world. At the same time, finally, the twentieth-century films and the eighteenth-century text evince a deep correspondence in the ways that they interrogate generic and formal borders. Keiller's films emphatically problematize the distinction between documentary and fiction films. Drawing upon the work of situationist thinkers such as Raoul Vaneigem, they also implicitly move the discussion of the link between film and literature beyond any narrow consideration of adaptation and point to a fresh understanding of that relationship, one that is rooted not in literary but in cinematic theory.
doi:10.1353/ecf.2004.0048 fatcat:3oe7lqoekrdnnjezprp7nt2wu4