Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

Article: Zapkin

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Philip Zapkin

Pennsylvania State University

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Distrustful Art: Imagining a Polyphonic Common in Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs


This article argues that Peter Carey’s 1997 novel Jack Maggs—an adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations—deploys self-reflexivity and critical interrogation of authorial coherence for its postmodern, anti-capitalist project. Carey’s heteroglossic play puts his novel in conversation with its predecessor as the metafictional author Tobias Oates writes his novel alongside Maggs’s letter, paralleling Carey’s revisions to Dickens’s portrait of Magwitch (narrated by Pip). However, as Carey’s text destabilizes the narrative’s potential to establish knowledge, it also undermines the authority of Carey’s own writing, prompting readers to question not only Dickens and Oates, but Carey and Maggs as well. This cacophony of voices challenges the ideological underpinnings of late capitalism because the collaborative form of adaptation undermines ownership, particularly intellectual property ownership, at the heart of contemporary capitalism. I claim that adaptation locates readers within a cultural commonwealth, illustrating the productive value of a common (i.e., non-privately owned) culture.

Keywords: Adaptation, commons, heteroglossia, minor character elaboration, Peter Carey, Jack Maggs, Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

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Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

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