Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

"I'm a Wild Success": Postmodern Dickens / Victorian Cuaron

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

"I'm a Wild Success": Postmodern Dickens / Victorian Cuaron

Article excerpt

Back to Square One: Revisiting the Classics

In its postmodern fascination with the politics of representation, (1) contemporary cinema has established a fruitful dialogue with the so-called "canonical" literature of the past. Contemporary audiences might consider ourselves lucky: we are offered not only critically productive angles of vision of certain classics but, equally importantly, pleasure. A pleasure which is manifold; on the one hand, we are allowed to re-visit a multiplicity of texts that some of us have experienced through the intimacy of reading; on the other, we are given the opportunity to inscribe our own reading in an ongoing cultural dialogue, sharing it with that of the director, the critics, the audiences. Further, there is the mere (scopophilic) enjoyment of the multiple semiotic possibilities which representation offers. Still further, we are allowed to reflect on the ways in which film adaptations of classic novels might become postmodern artefacts where copies become originals and originals become copies, thus not only blurring the distinction between these two categories, but effectively establishing a cultural exchange which successfully brings the classic back to our days. From Shakespeare to Jane Austen, E.M. Forster, or Virginia Woolf, what critic Harold Bloom described as 'the Western canon' (1994) has been visually represented in recent decades (the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s have been particularly prolific in this respect). The work of one of the most popular novelists of the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens, could not remain silent in the fin-de-siecle dialogical interchange. (2)

Alfonso Cuaron's production of Great Expectations relates to Dickens's novel as an adaptation. From Bluestone's 1971 Novels into Films to more recently published works, critics such as Giddings (1990), McFarlane (1996), Cartnell and Whelehan (1999), Naremore (2000), Stam (2000) and Lothe (2000), among others, have considered the relations between literature and film from a variety of critical angles. While the earliest studies of adaptations had commonly evolved around formalist comparative considerations of the narrative texts (written and filmed), where the debate about fidelity often played a predominant role, later critics have turned their attention to a more politically engaged criticism. (3) The study of literary texts and their filmed adaptations has grown more interdisciplinary, as proved by Robert Stam (2000) when he raises the interesting point by which the literary text ceases to be a structure closed in on itself to become an open semiotic system, constantly reworked by boundless contexts. Just as a literary text can generate a plurality of readings, Stam argues, so a novel can generate a plurality of adaptations. When critical attention is paid to films as dialogical responses, readings, critiques, interpretations of their source texts, these texts become intertexts, in a process complicated by the passage of time, change of location and a multiplicity of transformations.

The concept of intertextuality is particularly useful here as it disrupts notions of stable meaning and objective interpretations. Meaning becomes "something which exists between a text and all the other texts to which it refers and relates, moving out from the independent text into a network of textual relations" (Allen 1). In his discussion, Stam refers to Bakhtin's notion of dialogism, where the Russian formalist insists that all linguistic communication takes place in social situations, between language users. Language is dialogic precisely because it is socially inscribed, so that no utterance exists alone, meaning being forcefully dependent both upon what has previously been said and upon how it will be received. The dialogic nature of language implies, for Bakhtin, its social, ideological, subject-centered, and subject-addressed nature: a "word is a bridge thrown between myself and another. If one end of the bridge depends on me, then the other depends upon my addressee. …

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