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1999.
19-20

Studies and research: movie and literature

BODIES AND CORPORA: THE VISUAL JANE AUSTEN

The visual body of Jane Austen’s work has grown considerably in the past decade. Over the course of just a few years, devoted readers of the six finished novels by Austen have been offered a profusion of iconic remakes. My text focuses on an exploration of the ways in which the body, politics and history — categories rather subdued and kept at bay in Jane Austen’s fiction — are represented in contemporary film and television adaptations of her novels, when the iconic and the visual are used as a means to find the missing link between an old, elusive discourse and its new consumers.

The decorous fading of the bodily features in Austen’s novels is in the new, visual versions of her texts replaced by vibrant new representations which see the body as the necessary site of discourse. Even though in most cases (with the exception of Heckerling’s Clueless), late eighteenth century decorum is maintained, the visual representation of the actors’ bodies introduces the possibility of subversion, action that is possibly improper and dangerously sexual. The sex drive introduced by the representation of the actors’ physique is all the more significant if one bears in mind that all of Jane Austen’s novels deal with one subject — premarital courtship. Moreover, this new body is both visible and invisible, it paradoxically acts underneath the clothes, so that the costume functions as a kind of mobile screen simultaneously revealing and concealing, frustrating yet encouraging recognition and interpretation — a counterpart of the very screen on which the film itself is shown. This other representation is therefore not one of a nude body, but of a body struggling for representation, or rather defying representation itself, just as is the case, on a different level, with the synecdochic bodies in Jane Austen’s text.

The marriage market that Austen is perpetually involved with unavoidably foregrounds the politics (of representation). Once the marriage market has been recognized as the principal interest of story telling, representation itself participates in the political impact of matchmaking. The performance of her characters is therefore a social act as well, in which narration affects and is affected by the transactions on the marriage market. Furthermore, the marriage market of Jane Austen’s novels neatly reflects the politics of adaptations of her novels for film or television. In other words, Austen’s novels too are goods on a film or TV market; by managing to preserve their appeal, they are never short of suitors in guise of film and TV producers. Austen’s plots operate as parables of their own consumption: they portray heroines on the marriage market and are themselves goods attracting eligible admirers — readers, viewers, writers, producers.

This brings me to the question of history. Repetition and its longevity are essential for the social practices in Jane Austen: obsessive and decorous repetition is the inciter of the historical otherness of her discourse. Consequently, the repletive and overflowing time of the six-part TV series (the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, for example) captures the temporal dimension of Austen’s novels usually lost in the succinct duration of a feature film. It therefore follows that the representation of the past in a six-part period piece — as opposed to that of a feature film — rests on a symptomatic temporal paradox: the longevity of history is in a way echoed in the very time-consuming effort to film, view and represent the past. In more ways than one, the growth of the visual body takes time.



Tatjana Jukić

THE CINEMATIC VISION OF TIN UJEVIĆ
FRENCH FILM AND LITERARY TRADITION

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