Readings in Women Writers
Readings in Women Writers ENG 353
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Rudden 1 Casey Rudden T A Regina Salmi ENG 353 Sec 2 28 April 2004 The Meeting of Opposites in Written on the Body The definitiveness of the separation of gender and the idea of genderlessness are two very opposing ideas In Written on the Body Jeanette Winterson creates a genderless or gender shifting narrator to create a platform for her exploration of opposites This narrator creates a basis for Winterson s attempt to break down barriers and cross the boundary from the cliche to the original because the narrator itself is a contradiction in terms by constructing a lovernarrator whose gender remains undeclared Winterson manages to unsettle perceptions of gendered differences Lindenmeyer 48 The separation between genders is so definitive that employing such a narrator demands the reader to question the basis of many of the novel s constructs which Written on the Body does in explorating of the foundation of opposites While the cliche and originality may be considered opposing terms in and of themselves in the novel Winterson explores the consequences of the meeting of opposite forces in an attempt to demonstrate the ability for opposites to meet The entire novel is wrought with opposites among them cliched and original language used to describe love the body and cancer and in turn western medicine and holistic medicine love and loss and the self and the other Winterson employs various techniques to manipulate the boundaries that separate these opposites she sets them up against one another in comparison and uses symbolism and imagery in attempts to breach the boundaries or meld the two forces into one In her exploration of how opposites are used in Rudden 2 Winterson s novel to explore the feminist ethics of love Andrea L Harris states that Written on the Body explores the intersubjective ethical rami cation of the meeting of opposed terms that are the focus of this study 130 Winterson s exploration of opposites is a discourse on the nature of opposites themselves that they cannot be merged or the boundaries between them crossed The various ways that all of these are portrayed and inspected establish a treatise on the attempt to cross or merge boundaries separating opposites In her novel Winterson uses language especially the use of language to describe love to show the difference between the original and the cliche Along with her other explorations of opposites and boundaries Winterson explicates on how these two things cliche and originality embody the complex problem that is opposites While the cliche results in the awkward and impossible attempts to vocalize the clashing of opposing forces originality emerges in the ability to exist in the clashing netherworld of the boundary between them Cliche comes from the futile attempts to merge opposites or cross boundaries and originality comes from the epiphany that opposites are unable to be merged and that the differences between opposites create a whole and complete entity in and of themselves This is fully realized when in her meeting and abandoning of Louise the narrator explores and investigates many opposing forces in its attempt to realize what went wrong in their relationship This is mainly an attempt to rationalize the opposing difference between the narrator s self and the other that is its inability to completely merge itself with Louise With the ambiguous return of Louise at the end of the novel an epiphany occurs for the narrator that demonstrates the truth of Louise s return This realization is that while opposites such as the self and the other cannot be joined or boundaries between them Rudden 3 crossed the m 39K 39 J ofthis 39 r quot quotquot creates an ability to see the netherworld between opposing forces or live in the boundary area separating them and this is a place of originality In her exploration of attempts to mitigate the nature of opposites Winterson demonstrates that true originality comes from the realization of this impossibility and that cliche is just the result of impossible attempts at subjugating the true nature of opposites that they are in fact unmergable or uncrossable The use of language to describe love is central to Winterson s treatise in that she explores cliched versus original descriptions of it in this context Throughout the novel the narrator is frustrated at its inability to express its feelings in original terms Brian Finney states that Winterson admits in the novel that the entire subject of love has been verbalized so extensively and repeatedly that it is almost impossible to write anything new about the experience Her subject is less love than the problems associated with describing it in narrative or textual from 23 Winterson associates cliched language with these problems in describing love as the narrator repeats the phrase It s the clich s that cause the trouble repeatedly throughout the novel when having trouble expressing itself It s the clich s that cause the trouble A precise emotion seeks a precise expression If what I feel is not precise then should I call it love Winterson 10 A constant struggle is established with the narrator s inability to express emotions of love or simply to discuss the nature of relationships in general When attempting to tell Jaqueline he current lover about her relationship with Louise the narrator questions the instinctual use of cliched language I mumbled something about yes as usual but things had changed THINGS HAD CHANGED what an arsehole comment I had changed things Things don t change they re not like the seasons moving on a diurnal round People change Rudden 4 things There are Victims of change but not Victims of things Why do I collude with this misuse of language Winterson 567 Cliched language is used throughout the novel to illustrate the problems in describing love and as a backdrop against the original expression of emotion The narrator s letter to Louise upon leaVing her is an illustration of this ux between the original and the cliche in describing love It is fraught with sentiments such as I love you more than life itself I have not known a happier time that with you I knew our path would be steep but I did not foresee the sheer rock face we have come to and If it could be my life I would gladly give i Winterson 105 But the narrator also philosophizes over the nature of love in the letter and this language is highly original Can love have texture It is palpable to me the feeling between us I weigh it in my hands the way I weigh your head in my hands Winterson 105 In this way the cliched phrases act as a backdrop for the original language emphasizing their differences Throughout the novel the ability to describe love with language is a struggle for the narrator and during this struggle the nature of opposites is further explored Language is used to explore the con icting natures of cancer and the body It is used when the narrator attempts to rewrite Louise in an effort to better know her join with her and remember her using the language of Western Medicine This is opposed to the holistic nature of cancer and also the holistic nature in which opposites should be Viewed The narrator s initial struggle with the basis of opposites is explored and displayed through language Language is used to describe the opposing natures of the body and cancer which result in continuing frustration of the narrator over its use In this case the narrator in the exploration of cancer and the body s con icting natures attempts to rewrite Louise using the language of Western medicine despite the holistic nature of cancer which is an Rudden 5 attempt to redeem her loss of Louise and inability to join herself and Louise or cross the boundary into her The narrator struggles with the concept of cancer in that it is opposing to many conceptions of the body The cause of cancer is unknown there is no cure while cells in the body multiply to heal themselves cancer is a multiplying of deadly cells Cancer is death growing in the life of the body and these opposing ideas confound the narrator Cancer is an unpredictable condition It is the body turning upon itself We don t understand that yet We know what happens but not why it happens or how to stop it Winterson 105 It is this language describing the contradictory nature of cancer to life and the body which prompts the narrator to use language in another way to explore these differences The narrator s discovery of Louise s cancer causes it to abandon her in order to save her Its loss of Louise prompts it to attempt to remember her by rewriting her and it does this by learning about anatomy in attempt to remember Louise in that way The language use in this section is contradictory to the terms of life and cancer itself and contradictory in the way that it describes Louise The loss of Louise and in kind the narrator s inability to merge or cross into her causes it to remember Louise through language I became obsessed with anatomy If I could not put Louise out of my mind I would drown myself in her Within the clinical language through the dispassionate view of the sucking sweating greedy defecating self I found a lovepoem to Louise I would go on knowing her more intimately than the skin hair and voice that I craved I would have her plasma her spleen her synovial uid I would recognize her even when her body had long since fallen away Winterson lll Rudden 6 It is this language that not only represents the contradictory nature of cancer and life but also demonstrates one of the narrator s attempts to mitigate the nature of the opposite She uses language to remember Louise and in a way invade Louise s body with herself Use of the language of Western medicine to describe Louise is contradictory in the way that Cancer is contradictory to the body Cancer is holistic in its invasion of the body while Western medicine isolates the body into discrete parts Harris 139 As the narrator says Cancer has a unique property it can travel from the site of origin to distant tissues It is usually metastasis which kills the patient and the biology of metastasis is what doctors don t understand They are not conditioned to understand it In doctorthink the body is a series of bits to be isolated and treated as necessary that the body in its very disease may act as a whole is an upsetting concept Holistic medicine is for faith healers and crackpots isn t it Winterson 175 Thus the narrator s method to rewrite and remember Louise in this way is actually contradictory to the nature of cancer itself It attempts to tear Louise into small pieces and remember each piece individually when she should actually be viewed as a whole entity The narrator s use of language to rewrite Louise is actually an attempt to understand her body and disease more and in kind to join with her or enter into her in a way But because of the nature of the narrator s opposing use of language this attempt is unsuccessful Prior to her knowledge of Louise s cancer the narrator attempts to join with Louise in this same manner I didn t only want Louis s esh I wanted her bones her blood her tissues the sinews that bound her together I would have held her to me though time had stripped away the tones and textures of her skin Winterson 51 This Rudden 7 attempt at joining and crossing is unsuccessful because it does not view the self holistically but as a combination of parts As Harris states she then attempts to recreate Louise but uses the language of Western medicine to do so The more she thinks of Louise in this light the less alive she becomes The narrator violates Louise when she takes the notion of crossing boundaries too far during their separation by using a Western medical approach to the body 138 In the novel the narrator separates Louise s body into sections titled The Cells Tissues Systems and Cavities of the Body and The Special Senses It is in the first sections that the language it uses is more technical and cliched and in the second that it takes on a sense of originality Here the use of language to describe love opposes itself in a demonstration of the nature of opposites The Special Senses can be seen as the parts of person that have more to do with intelligence and spirit and the brain than the other bodily systems It makes sense that the language in this section is more original in its description of love and it is also more invasive She is a perfumier of sandalwood and hops I want to uncork her I want to push my head against the open wall of her loins Winterson 136 This demonstrates a clear attempt of the narrator to use language to cross itself into Louise or the other This attempt can be viewed as unsuccessful because of the opposite nature of the languages that it chose to use to do this With the use of Western Medical language the narrator separates Louise into parts instead of viewing her systems cavities and senses as a whole entity This is a failure of language in its inability to recognize the impossibility of viewing a thing as both one of parts and a whole Language is the narrator s attempt to describe the act of or actually mitigate the nature of opposites or to join the self with the other It is its failure at these attempts that Rudden 8 prompt its abandonment of the relationship and exploration of love and loss On the rst page it conjectures Why is the measure of love loss 9 As Brian Finney writes in his exploration of language in the novel Just as the experience of love if de ned and renewed by its concomitant loss so the language of love is de ned by lack 23 In the novel the narrator forces loss upon their relationship when she deliberately abandons Louise The narrator does this because it believes that Louise would be better cared for by her husband who is an oncologist In this way the narrator forces the loss of Louise long before it was necessary Although this loss was forced that narrator attempts to make it equal to the love she had for Louise saying that the loss has made her feel dead You must be rid of life as I am rid of live Winterson 119 The oppositeness of love and loss is shown it their proportionate equality and in this way the greatness of love is equated to the deathlike feeling of loss to lose someone you love is to alter your life forever The particulamess of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death This hole in my heart is the shape of you and noone else can t it 155 Love and loss are expected to be conjoined although they are opposites in that loss de nes love A friend of mine said It was the perfect romance Was it Is that what perfection costs Operatic heroics and a tragic end Winterson 187 Thus loss and love are de ned in the novel not only by their oppositeness but by the proportionate equality of that oppositeness the amount of the love is equal to the amount of grief felt at its loss Throughout the novel language is an attempt to express or achieve the merging of opposites and in this novel there is no greater or more pertinent opposite pair than that of the self and the other All action and language in the novel is in the end an attempt for Rudden 9 the narrator to join itself with Louise or to cross the border that separates itself and Louise Throughout the narrator s attempts to use language to express love or recreate its beloved it begins to understand that it cannot fully have Louise but only a version or interpretation of her just as Louise cannot fully have it 137 If the entire novel is a struggle between in irreconcilable differences of opposites and an inability to realize this then it is the narrator s realization of that fact that allows it to cross into the only place where opposites merge This place is the place of their differences the line of boundary where the opposites clash And thus the narrator can only express love originally when it realizes the impossibility of merging with Louise After the narrator returns to London to search for Louise it begins to realize the difference between them and the impossibility of their merging This realization is described as much of the opposites in the novel are explored through language or rather the narrator s attempt to recreate Louise through it 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 No but you tried to a said Gail She wasn t yours for the making Winterson 189 Here the narrator admits that it was wrong to attempt to recreate and invade Louise through words But the point when the narrator truly and fully realizes this is the moment when Louise returns While the actual reuniting of the two is ambiguous in the text it can be viewed as actual in the difference of the language used to describe it compared to the rest of the novel In this section the language the narrator uses is truly original the love between the narrator and Louise particularly when they are reunited at the end of the novel involves wonder the expansiveness of her visions as she describes the scene of their reunion is now the measure of love Harris 1423 The way the narrator describes their reunion is Rudden 10 fantastic From the kitchen door Louise s face I put out my hand and felt her ngers she took my ngers and put them to her mouth The scar under the lip burned me Am I stark mad She s warm This is where the story starts the walls are exploding The windows have turned to telescopes Moon and starts are magnified in this room Winterson 190 The sheer originality of the language used to express the narrator s emotions indicates a change This change is in the narrator who has become reconciled to the impossibility of merging itself with Louise and thus can exist in a mystical world where the boundary between them exhibits the differences Thus only the narrator s acknowledgment of the impossibility of merging with or crossing itself into Louise the other allowed it to express its feelings of love with full originality Another sense in which the cliche is used in the novel is in the plot The story of the narrative is cliched boy meets girl boy loses girl boy reunites with girl It takes us through the same steps that many other love stories have First is the whirlwind romance of the meeting and beginning of the relationship next is the gutwrenching desolation of lovers tomapart usually not because of their own wills but because of a misunderstanding or miscommunication or force outside their own control This cliched device serves to maintain the dignity of both the hero and the heroine in that whoever may be at fault for the break of the relationship neither is truly at fault In the novel s case this is the ignorant yet noble sacrifice of the relationship on the part of the narrator to save Louise Then of course the obvious conclusion is that of joyous reunion and all wrongs made right As the story is one that readers have read many times Winterson uses the genderless narrator to refresh the storyline the uncertain gender of the lover and the uncertain nature of the reunion breathes life into this much repeated plot Rudden 11 sequence Finney 72 Winterson employs this genderless narrator in an attempt to solve the problem that women writers may have as stated by Virginia Woolf that They write as women write not as men write Woolf 745 Woolf advised to women writers that the book has somehow to be adapted to the body Woolf 78 Winterson s use of the genderless narrator is an attempt to rescind her own gender and identity from the novel and to indentify Woolf s feminism with artistic inspiration Burns 366 As Winterson has said I am a writer who happens to love women I am not a lesbian who happens to write Finney 26 Thus the genderless narrator is Winterson s attempt to create a universal and original story about the nature of love free from the constrictions that gender creates This narrator is the final twist from the cliche to the original that encompasses so much of the novel The novel explores opposites in the attempts of language to merge them In this exploration the genderless narrator is constantly struggling with the attempt to merge itself with its other Louise The self and the other as opposites cannot be joined or boundaries between them crossed and only the ax 39K 39 J of this 39 r quot quot quot can create an ability to exist in an original place between the opposing forces In her exploration of attempts to mitigate the nature of opposites Winterson demonstrates that true originality comes from the realization of this impossibility and that cliche is just the result of impossible attempts at subjugating the true nature of opposites The various ways that opposing forces such as language concerning the cliche and originality the body and cancer and western and holistic medicine along with love and loss and the self and the other are portrayed and inspected establish a treatise on the nature of opposites themselves Winterson uses original language and constructs such as that of a cliched Rudden 12 love story with an original genderless narrator to show the difference between the original and the cliche In this way Winterson explores how these two things the cliche and originality embody the complex problem that is opposites While the cliche results in the awkward and impossible attempts to vocalize the clashing of opposing forces originality emerges in the ability to exist in a world where boundaries are forever separated and different Cliche comes from the futile attempts to merge opposites or cross boundaries and originality comes from the realization that opposites are unable to be merged and that the differences between opposites create a whole and complete entity in and of themselves Thus cliche and originality opposites themselves cannot be merged into one method of expression but can be used together to view the differences and the boundaries together thus making the combination stronger and original in itself