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Nina Almayer, Aurora Marion and 'The Cultural Air We Breathe': Character Status and Embodiment in Joseph Conrad's Almayer's Folly and Chantal Akerman's La Folie Almayer.

Kelly, Alice M.

The work of Joseph Conrad has been canonised in very specific ways, so that
Heart of Darkness – a text which inarguably privileges the narratives of white men
– has ‘become part of the cultural air we breathe’ (Armstrong, 2006, ix). However,
turning towards Conrad’s lesser-known first novel Almayer’s Folly (1895), we
find at its heart an articulate, desiring young woman of colour, Nina Almayer. The
way she eloquently voices the overdetermination of her race and gender in colonial
patriarchal culture functions as a pocket of resistance, a breathing space, in
this ‘cultural air we breathe’ when we perpetually recirculate white male bodies as
the only characters worthy of our readerly investment. Tracing first these breathing
spaces in Conrad’s novel, this paper then focuses on Nina’s afterlife in Chantal
Akerman’s 2011 adaptation La Folie Almayer. In her last narrative work, Akerman
stages Nina’s experience of epistemic colonial violence and racial prejudice at the
centre of her film. Nina’s character status is actualised through the resonant performance
of the actor Aurora Marion, who brings her own cultural poignance to
the text and the Conrad canon. By following Nina’s power on the page to her embodiment
on the screen, I work to retool the colonial literary archive for feminist,
postcolonial readers, to circulate a different, more inclusive kind of ‘cultural air’ in
literary scholarship, in which the meaning-making character status of women of
colour is properly recognised.

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