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Posts Tagged ‘Written on the Body’

Is?this?supposed to be therapeutic? I’m just asking.?I suppose?it’s cheaper than therapy, although I don’t recall seeing it on the ENG377 syllabus.


2007.09.02??Modern or Postmodern? That is the Question.
2007.09.06??So, What?s the Difference?
2007.09.07??Written WITH the Body
2007.09.09??‘I’ – Thinking
2007.09.14??Where the Story Starts
2007.09.17??Post Modo Condition
2007.09.19??Fight Club – The Movie
2007.09.20? Futurism in Fight Club?(add-on to previous post)
2007.09.25 ?Why Jameson?s Piece is Postmodern
2007.09.29? Life in Dying
2007.10.02 ?Fight Club Environmentalism
2007.10.05? Making Sense (???)
2007.10.08? Cindy Sherman
2007.10.10??Linda Hutcheon?(expertise project)
2007.10.15? Nikki Lee

2007.09.01? To Esther on Post/Modern Stance
2007.09.01? To Misty on Post/Modern Stance
2007.09.07? To Kim H. on Winterson
2007.09.07? To Alex on Winterson
2007.09.17? To Michael on Winterson
2007.09.17? To Christine on Winterson
2007.09.23? To Marina on Fight Club, the film
2007.09.23? To the Class Experts on Lyotard
2007.09.29? To Hannah on Fight Club, the book
2007.09.29? To Esther on Jameson
2007.10.04??To Zena on Fight Club, the book
2007.10.04??To Tammy on Fight Club, the book
2007.10.15??To Aliya on Cindy Sherman
2007.10.15? To Melissa on Hutcheon

ANALYSIS PART I: I am the One Trick Pony

As I wrestle with what postmodernism means and how it functions, I’ve discovered that I am absolutely obsessed with limits. Reading through my blog I see frustration with and examination of:?

  • language as limitation on thought
  • the subject’s limited ability to represent
  • limits on history as merely one version of truth
  • limits on context within postmodern fiction
  • and limits of form?when representing the real.

Postmodernism has revealed the ways in which?I’m?confined?within the ideological?prison of my own thought,?AND it has?simultaneously?slipped me the key to freedom. Now that I?understand how?postmodernism functions, I see?it in fiction, film, magazines?and photography. It has become?relevant in my other classes and has even?jumped out at me while watching television. I love that ideology is being exploited all over the place, but still, I have one question burning deep within my soul. It’s the one?that everyone in class either fully?understands or isn’t asking.

When Lyotard says:?

“The artist and the writer , then, are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done” (Lyotard, 81)

I still?need to?know… What the Hell does this mean?!?!

Moving on, the following?passage from “‘I’-Thinking” shows my concern for the limits of language and subject:

I found what Winterson hasn?t written is most important. Where power?exists and determines what is ?acceptable,? or at least ?attributable,? lies in our perception of how?the masculine and feminine are defined by language. (Hello Saussure, my old friend.)?Winterson?s brilliance?demonstrates the subversive by using that very device.?The notion of the free-?thinking I??is exposed for?all its cultural baggage.

Here I refer to?Cixous’ idea that?language shapes our thoughts along problematic dichotomies such a masculine/feminine, strong/weak, etc. Winterson challenges?the reader’s?need to assign?a male or female identity?to her genderless narrator, pointing out the limitation of “thought?dichotomies”?in practice. Rereading this passage surprises me after just having just?presented on Hutcheon. While my language here isn’t quite right, the idea of the self-reflexive operation?is interesting. Both the power of language to?define, and?the limitations?as?it confines are revealed simultaneously.?Perhaps we?discussed this idea in class that day, but prior to reading Hutcheon (my hero) I didn’t think I understood. Apparently I did. Go me.

Don’t you worry. I’m not getting all high and mighty over this one small victory. I continually struggle?with other issues, particularly the end result of?mixing fact and fiction in historeographic metafiction. All?accross my?blog and strewn about comments to classmates are references to the movie The Last King of Scotland. Apologies “for bringing it up once again” generally accompany the post because I can’t seem to let it go. In “Why Jameson?s Piece is?Postmodern” it appears for the third time:

This movie is … about a very real Ugandan dictator, but his life is revealed through the perception of a fictional doctor… the main character with significant influence on very disturbing events within the film… Then, in the DVD special features, Ugandan extras said they are glad children can watch this film and finally learn about Ugandan history. (BIG) PROBLEM! This isn?t history!… Will Ugandan children know? I think not.

Here is where I get stuck between Jameson and Hutcheon. Like Jameson, I have this?engrained notion that context is important.?As I say later in the same post, I attribute my discomfort with this specific?historical fiction?to the fact that?this film will likely be?the only access?Ugandan children?have to their country’s history. Since?they have no?background?in postmodern analysis, they will surely mistake this representation?(one?portrayed through the lens of white culture) for the?real. This is?the result of Third World, culture consuming capitalism that Jameson talks about.

On the other hand, when it comes to my personal consumption of the postmodern, I want?the veil lifted?from the powerful ideology?that orders?my world. To understand that there is no one absolute truth, as far as I can see, is the only way to open the door to new ideas… without limitation (ha!). Hutcheon,?with her positive spin on the postmodern and its power to reveal, is – quite frankly- my hero, as I’ve already stated above. I’m not sure if I will ever resolve this internal conflict. I fully believe there is value?to?both sides of this coin.

From the argument above, my question becomes, what is real or contextual anyway? Hutcheon says that?”history” has?only ever?been a representation and access to?”reality” has only ever been an assumption. To follow this thought into the realm of photography, as I understate?when summing up?my “Cindy Sherman” post:

Interestingly,?using a doll as an unrealistic representation of a human being, although it seems to be a drastic difference of subject/object?from the first [human] pictured above, is no different in concept.?Sherman brilliantly exposes photographic “realism” as equally flawed in all.?

Sherman offers a quick and dirty example of Hutcheon’s self-reflexive form. Her photography is used to?demonstrate?the power of historic photo documentation and realism as it influences our perception of reality,?to?subvert?it using the very form we trust to be real, and to reveal the ways in which photography fails to grant acces to the real at all.?By subverting or turning the medium in on itself,?the limitations of ideology implode.?Sherman is at once artist/actress, subject/object,?woman/clich?.?When I see this mental back flip in action, it?makes my heart soar. I?want to scream?”THAT’S A PERFECT TEN!”

And yet… there is still The Last King of Scotland playing to children in Ugandan theaters. Thanks to Hutcheon and Sherman I’m left to wonder?whether concepts are more or less important?than the events that actually?happened. Is the insertion of a fictional narrator within an historical setting really any different than the history written by a textbook author with an eye toward patriotism? The more I grasp how little we’ve learned from a history we’ve assumed was real, perhaps this fictionalized account of a real dictator?bears less?negative impact?than the lessons learned from such a story.?I suppose the best we can do is handle?postmodernism?with care, limiting its political and capitalist consumption of culture?in the Third World… whatever that means.

PART II: Old Tricks, New Tricks

And the award for best posts to date goes to:

  • Life in Dying
    I felt I made a new connection in Fight Club between body, as the limited modern form striving?to achieve a?real experience,?and the soul or idea of legend as postmodern form struggling to break free from the limitations of form. I spent FAR more time on this than any other post, engaging with?the narrative?as well as narrative- through- the- lens- of- theory, and?organizing these thoughts into essay form. Yeah, I was home alone for two days.
  • Making Sense (???)
    Here I was able to follow several significant threads discussed in class, applying one aspect of a particular theory to every text. Addressing issues from?the complication of all our?narrators, to the problematic concept of gender, I was able to beat these topics into submission, taming my unruly, jumbled thoughts.

The award for best?comment to date:

  • To Zena on Butt- Wipe
    This comment engaged with Zena’s question, recounted a class comment, brought in textual evidence, and also taught me a thing or two in writing it.?

The award for best classmate post goes to:

  • Esther’s “I Can Spell Jameson, So It’s Not a Bad Start”
    This post came along right when I needed it, particularly since Esther posts early?if not on time. She summarizes the highlights of Jameson’s theory, adds visuals to demonstrate her argument of lacking historical reference in architecture against Jameson’s need for context, and poses a few questions for comment. You just can’t ask for more.

Based on my previous accomplishments, these next three goals?are what I plan to?strive?toward?for the remainder of?my blogging career:

  • Increased engagement?with?comments
  • I should get over my need to be original and address some class topics already. I’m always pushing so hard to move beyond what has already been discussed. The alternative would be to “go deep.” Wait, I do that.
  • More humor. I used to be funny.
  • More silly?pictures. That used to be fun too.
  • Oddly, perhaps I need to spend LESS time banging out?these marathon?posts and more time on other class work – or just living life.

How to acheive these things? I could just relax. The problem is that I find this class so darn interesting.?Yeah. I happen to like?taking?our shiny, new information?out for a spin?through the?informal blog, particularly?where a?little misjudgment and hitting the guard rail is allowed. Sue me.

So far this?semester, our class?has covered:

  • John Barth’s short story, “Lost in the Fun House”
  • Jeannette Winterson’s novel, Written on the Body
  • and Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Fight Club.?

To help define what postmodern means we have explored excerpts from:

  • Simon Malpas’ book, The Postmodern (2005)
  • H?l?ne Cixous? critique “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays” (1975)
  • Jean-Fran?ois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979)
  • Frederic Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991).
  • and Linda Hutcheon’s Poetics of Postmodernism (1988)

How?do I cohesively make sense of all this????Having drank fully from the fire hose for weeks on end, I wonder… Will I digest or?blow??This post?is where?I just vomit in my mouth a little.

As Malpas explains, “at the heart of identity there is a ?thinking I? that experiences, conceptualizes and interacts with the world” (Malpas, 57). Consequently, running rampant throughout postmodern fiction is the question of this subject’s reliability as an authority?representing truth.

  • Barth’s narrator, Ambrose,?is at once a child and an adult, interweaving the blind?experience of?”living in the moment”?with 20/20 hindsight?and calling attention, through various narrative devices, to the limitations of the narrating subject both as child and adult, in other words, as narrator looking in at the main character and main character being himself.
  • Winterson complicates her narrator by creating a nongender-specific bisexual who objectifies?the beloved, Louise, pitting the power of subject?vs. object, one against the other, both creating and destroying the linguistic barrier to?fully realizing true love.
  • Palahniuk splits?his narrator’s identity into two dueling?subjects within the same body who both objectify not only Marla, but each other, creating a power triangle rather than a single identifiable?power source.

By complicating?the subject, these authors use fiction?to turn?the subject?in on itself and reveal it’s limitations. The point for the reader is that perspective and?representation are not natural ways of reaching some sort of truth, but are cultural devices?that, until postmodernism hit the stage, were accepted?as natural. The most we can hope for, as Stephen Colbert often points out, is mere “truthiness” (or “falsiness” as the following parody explains), which is called into question each time subjectivity becomes decentered by an alternate?version of the?traditional subject. (Hello, Derrida!)


Sexuality is also addressed in each piece, not just in terms of masculinity or femininity, but where the two overlap. According to theorist H?l?ne Cixous:

Traditionally, the question of sexual difference is treated by coupling it with the opposition ? a culture?s values are premised on an organisation of thought in which descriptions of the feminine are determined by masculine categories of order, opposition and hierarchy. (Malpas, 72)

Lyotard says that metanarratives order the world for a particular culture and not all cultures order the world in the same way. Because of this he believes reality is not real, that it is rather ?simplicity, communicability? (75) in the name of the ?unity of experience? (72) and that the postmodern ?puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself? (81).

  • Barth calls masculinity into question by addressing the subservience of women in the ’50s and how that defines the angered narrator’s role as he matures socially in contrast with what he feels differently internally.?
  • Winterson’s non-specifically gendered and bisexual narrator?draws attention to the?dysfunction of defining through opposition, creating a world of confusion for the reader while, at the same time, pointing out the problem.
  • Palahniuk’s split identity, one masculinized and one feminized, are?embodied within one male person which shows that neither masculinity nor femininity encompass fully what comprises the essence of a human being.

These narrators struggle with the idea?that identity is formed through the constriction of language and social mapping?according to opposing?genders. Each illustrates that society provides no useful language or ordering of our world to address these grey areas. Postmodern work obviously strives to draw attention to the gap between the grand narrative and what actually exists.

And, although there are many more threads to follow, the HUGE question of history (revered by Jameson as fact of lived experience) versus historicity (truthiness and the closest we can get to truth) is the last item I have time to duscuss. Jameson argues that the democratization of art subjects it?to the corruption of marketing and capitalism. They are inseparable?to the detriment of?world cultures and history through?depthless representation and pastiche unless we map how the depthless came to be, “in which we may again begin to grasp our new positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spacial as well as our social confusion” (54). SOOO, the question of historical validity appears repeatedly in our fiction selections.

  • Barth criticizes history by describing the role of generations of copulation in constructing social understanding of sexuality.
  • Winterson explores the narrator’s serial monogamy and only in breaking the tradition does he/she find love.
  • Palahniuk creates Tyler Durden who desperately wants to break free from history to redefine it from his point of view.

According to Malpas, Hutcheon?argues that parody is not dead, it is now focused to use form?to reveal a failure of form. She also finds great value studying?the unrepresentable in fiction, as?much as that?which has been represented as “history,” because both employ the same narrative devices (Malpas, 25-26). In the fiction we have read, we can see this parody in action, where our authors provide recognition of the power forms hold, and turn around to employ these forms to point out the flaws within them. We’ll talk more about this next week when we read more of Hutcheon.

Other pan drippings, grey in color, that deserve to make it into the gravy bowl are

  • body/soul connections
  • bodily parts in gender definition,
  • disease: death in life and life in death
  • and many, many more.

Sadly, the repair man is here and I have to supervise the fixing of shit.

In class we began to analyze what the narrator had learned, if anything, by the end of Winterson’s novel, Written on the Body. I believe that several important massages were accepted by both the narrator and myself, as a participating reader.

In deep mourning for Louise’s lost love, the narrator says, “?I couldn’t find her. I couldn’t even get near finding her. It’s as if Louise never existed, like a character in a book. Did I invent her??? (189).

The question feels plausible since the narrator questions reality throughout. In this moment, Louise appears to be a haunting memory, if only of a fantasy, but Gail Right offers proof that Louise and her remaining souvenirs were not invented.

“?No, but you tried to [invent her],? Gail said. ?She wasn’t yours for the making??(189).

Does the narrator ever fully understand his or her objectification of Louise? I think yes. The last passage of the book speaks to this conclusion:

The walls are exploding. The windows have turned into telescopes. Moon and stars are magnified in this room. The sun hangs over the mantelpiece. I stretch out my hand and reach the corners of the world. The world is bundled up in the room. Beyond the door where the river is, where the roads are, we shall be. We can take the world with us when we go and sling the sun under your arm. Hurry now, its getting late. I don?t know if this is a happy ending but here we are let loose in open fields. (190)

If, as the narrator says, ?it?s the clich?s that cause the trouble? (189),?or the language that?confines us, then the?confines or walls are exploding in a moment of clarity. Windows have turned to telescopes searching beyond the language, magnifying the world outside. This is the place where Louise and the narrator can finally exist together. The entire universe is theirs for the taking.

But is this a happy ending? It all depends on whether or not Louise’s final appearance is real. If so, one might think yes. Both the narrator and Louise have finally escaped the boundaries of subject, object, power and submission, using the term ?we? to capture the equality of the lovers let loose in open fields. Still there is a sense of urgency in ?Hurry now.? It?s as if the ability to escape the shackles of language is fleeting. One cannot avoid defining thought with language for long.

Then again, can we trust Gail? She’s never met Louise. What if Louise is not real? The last paragraph begins with ?This is where the story starts, in this threadbare room,? I returned to?the?novel’s beginning?for further insight.?From that perspective, the escape truly is brief. In the room where the story starts, we find the narrator avoiding heartbreak again by falling back into the same cycle of clich?s with Gail that were experienced with Jacqueline:

Still waiting for Mr Right? Miss [Gail] Right? And maybe all the little Rights? ? I am desperately looking the other way so that love won?t see me. I want the diluted version, the sloppy language, the insignificant gestures. The saggy armchair of clich?s. It?s all right, millions of bottoms have sat here before me. The springs are well worn, the fabric smelly and familiar. I don?t have to be frightened, look, my grandma did it ? my parents did it, now I will do it won?t I, arms outstretched, not to hold you, just to keep my balance, sleepwalking to that armchair. How happy we will be. And they all lived happily ever after. (2)

If this?is where the novel ends, stuck back in?the cycle with only a breif peek into the fantasy of Louise,?it becomes painfully obvious that the narrator nor the reader can remain free from the boundaries of language, the boundaries that keep us separate from love and from our beloved.

This book raises so?many questions. How can one operate outside language, even with its flaws? How would the story be told? The minute we try, the trap snaps shut once more. Even if Louise were allowed her own quotes, wouldn’t they be?filtered through the narrator’s reactions? Perhaps we must tell every story from two or more perspectives, but how does that effect our own as author or narrator? If Louise and the narrator exist outside of language, how do they communicate? Have they become one and the same – just knowing? Has anything really changed? Louise, if real,?still doesn’t speak upon arrival except through her body, through touch. Perhaps that’s the key to truth, experience without words.

Again I’m left wondering, what do we do with this? Even when we strive to reach beyond the comfortable clich?d armchair for something more, when we can?glimpse?the possibilities of the Universe and want to run freely in the open fields of equal love, we aren’t quite sure?how to step through to the other side linguistically.

Much like this…


In The Postmodern, Malpas says:

at the heart of identity there is a ‘thinking I’ that experiences, conceptualises and interacts with the world … This ‘I’ has been questioned, challanged and problematised by more recent modern and postmodern theorists. (57)

Gender?assumptionsThis ‘thinking I’ is certainly problematised by Jeannette Winterson in Written on the Body. By withholding the gender of the narrator and writing that narrator into numerous sexual experiences, the reader is left to his or her own devices in decoding the mystery. Faced with two choices, the reader can insert the association of his or her choice and move on or allow shifting assumptions to wash over the conscious mind.

As Malpas explains, according to theorist H?l?ne Cixous’ in her critique of modern subjectivity “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays”:

Traditionally, the question of sexual difference is treated by coupling it with the opposition … a culture’s values are premised on an organisation of thought in which descriptions of the feminine are determined by masculine categories of order, opposition and heirarchy. (72)

To consider Winterson’s audience, reader reactions within our class seem fraught with desire to code the narrator’s gender. Some folks are downright frustrated and?combing sentences?for any?give-away. Obviously to reveal the strength of this?desire is important, but why? Without a gender definition,?is it?impossible to contextualize the significance of the novel’s events?

Having read the?book’s back cover, I knew that the narrator’s gender would never be revealed. This could be why I never grew frustrated. Certainly it was an odd experience seeing my perceptions slip from one gender to another. I became increasingly aware that situations and characteristics attributed to the same character conjured different results. By no means did I “get” what was happening?to me, but the following passage by Malpas outlines that experience rather well:

One is not simply a woman or man, with all of the cultural coding that goes along with this. Instead, Cixous argues that a feminist criticism must explore the ways in which differences within a subject can be continually opened up to new forms of exploration and challenge. To this end she presents the idea of a feminist writing, an ?criture f?minine, that is able to affirm these differences, resist the closure of a male-oriented logic, and present subjectivity as a structure of continual renegotiations that transform the categories of patriarchy. (73)

Allowing myself to ride the gender wave with fluidity, I found what Winterson hasn’t written is most important. Where power?exists and determines what is “acceptable,? or at least “attributable,” lies in our perception of how?the masculine and feminine are defined by language. (Hello Saussure, my old friend.)?Winterson’s brilliance?demonstrates the subversive by using that very device.?The notion of the free-’thinking I’?is exposed for?all its cultural baggage. The reader? is offered an opportunity to see?how their own assumptions?are based on linguistic code, the power of Western culture’s structure of ordering.?Within the story, while the narrator is?able to?convert Russian to English as a professional translator, he or she is also ?betrayed by the failings of language as it applies to the?properties of love.?The resulting?awareness of linguistic confines illuminates the more naturally occurring bisexuality or grey areas within?the gender dichotomy, i.e. recognizing in masculinity the presence of sensitivity, or within?feminity an ambitious determination. (73)

The questions now is, what do we do with our new awareness??Do we get all radical and create?an entirely new?language, or do we collectively assign new meaning to old words? Before answering, maybe we should read “Is There Anything Good About Men?” by Roy F. Baumeister, Professor of Psychology & Head of Social Psychology Area, Florida State University. As he argues, if men are perceived to occupy?positions of power, it must also be recognized that they?occupy the majority of prison cells, make up the greater portion of the homeless population, and are often portrayed by the media as buffoons. Culture is a?tool employed by all for daily understanding. It is not necessarily bad in its limitation, if only we take the time to study what it reveals about our thoughts and motivations.

Jeanette Winterson, in her?novel Written on the Body, recycles?the narrator’s conversation?with two different partners.

Renoir?s?BatherWith Inge, the anarcha-feminist who hates to blow up beautiful things:

She said, ‘Don’t you know that Renoir claimed he painted with his penis?’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘He did. When he died they found nothing between his balls but an old brush.’
‘You’re making it up.’
Am I? (22)

And?again with Catherine, the writer, who feels?that writers don’t?make?great companions:

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Do you know why Henry Miller said “I write with my prick”?’
‘Because he did. When he died they found nothing between his legs but a ball point pen.’
‘You’re making that up,’ she said.
Am I? (60)


Why does Winterson do this? I think there are several things going on here.

  • The repetition moves beyond reinforcing the narrator’s?serial monogamy. It seems to say that the?interactions within?each?relationship are as?worn out?as the dating pattern itself.

  • To repeat the?reference to male genitalia?in regard to both art and literature speaks to the inequality of masculine and feminine influence in the canonical world. Women are often the subjects of art, but not?equally and?respectfully acknowledged as creators of that same art. (According to this article, “of the approximately 25,000 artists working between 1880-1930, probably forty percent were women, but fewer than five percent were shown in museums.”)

  • In addition to Winterson’s reference to clich?s, quotes and?previously designed literary styles, she?incorporates this device to?demonstrate?that people are not original from day to day within their own consciousness, let alone in the scheme of humanity – whether from person to person or age to age.

  • The question of reality comes up here too. The conversation, in single quotes, shows each partner questioning the veracity of the narrator’s story. ‘You’re making that up.’ The reply from the narrator is never spoken aloud. The words Am I? are asked as if to say, “Its been said before. Does that make it true? What is real anyway?”

Do you have?any more connections to throw into the mix?

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