Thinking Sex: Representing Desire and Difference
A Feminist and Gender Studies Course
Bryn Mawr College, Fall, 2002


Archive 13: Reading Written on the Body


For previous postings, see course forum archive

Name:  Anne Dalke
Username:  adalke@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Welcome Back (to Writing on the Body....)
Date:  2002-10-15 16:36:19
Message Id:  3271
Comments:

To all thinkers about sex--
Welcome back from fall break; I hope you return refreshed and ready for more talk about...
well, you know what.
This week I invite you to post in the forum all your (pre-and post-class) thoughts about Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body: your initial reactions to the novel, and/or your later, more reflective ruminations about how and what this sort of romantic/imaginative/ philosophical text contributes to our thinking/talking/writing about sex.
Anne
Name:  Elisa
Username:  eespirit@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Winterson's _Written on the Body_
Date:  2002-10-21 23:02:29
Message Id:  3303
Comments:
It took me FOREVER to get into this book. Was I the only person to have this problem?! I hope not. Within my first encounters with the text, I found it to be confusing (switching from first narrative to second to ???) and poorly written. However, it did have some brighter moments for me--- I def. loved Winterson's more philisophical moments in the text... here are some of my favorite parts... (and I encourage people to write about the parts they loved most too!)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
"Love demands expression. It will not stay still, stay silent, be good be modest, be see and not heard, no..." (9)

"When she bleeds the smells I know change colour. There is iron in her soul on those days. She smells like a gun." (136)

"'You'll get over it...' Its the cliches that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You dont get over it because "it" is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes." (155)
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I was frustrated while reading most of the book... I think bc she had moments that I thought were written so beautifully (like the ones I have selected above) followed by text that was written rather awkwardly.

Don't know how I feel quite yet about the split in the middle of the novel... "the cells, etc.," "the skin," etc.... it remoinded me of what Toni Morrison does in _Beloved_, interrupting the flow of the novel's dialogue to write in shorter chapters containing prose... however, I didn't find Winterson's attempt to be as successful as Morrison's.

The thing that struck me the most was that when it came around to the ending of the novel, I thought that I kinda liked the book, (though, I think this might be bc it had a happy ending). Hmmm... I guess I will just have to wait and see how I feel after some discussions in class...

One more thing, I am curious to know what every one else thought about the non-gender-specific protagonist. Was Winterson successful in writing a character that had/has no gender? Was there a point in having the protagonist have no specific gender? Do you think that the story would have been aided in its quality if the protagonist had a gender?

Thats all for now. See you all in class! :)


Name:  Jess T.
Username:  jtucker@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Pre-class thoughts
Date:  2002-10-22 12:50:26
Message Id:  3312
Comments:

For the most part I'd say that I enjoyed Written on the Body. (Although I did have some problems w/ the text which I'll mention below.) It was a quick read for me, where are I hardly wanted to put the book down. And there were several deeply and hauntingly beautiful and desperately passionate (perhaps passionately desperate passages) that I loved in the text.

Like:

On page 110-111:

"I don't want a pillow I want your moving breathing flesh. I want you to hold my hand in the dark, I want to roll on to you and push myself into you. When I turn in the night the bed is continent-broad. There is endless white space where you won't be. I travel it inch by inch but you're not there. It's not a game, you're not going to leap out and surprise me. The bed is empty. I'm in it but the bed is empty."

And on page 89 (the Written on the Body description):

"Articulacy of fingers, the language of the deaf and dumb, signing on the body body longing....She has translated me into her own book."

But I also had issues with the text. I couldn't stand the narrator for the first 1/3rd of the text. I found them to be pathetic and depressing, a character only defined by a series of failed relationships. Through the relationship with Louise I don't believe that the narrator was any less pathetic or depressing, it just became more bearable.

In fact while some of the language is quite sensual and beautiful, the text is mostly a deeply depressing story of misery. The narrator and Louise have about 4 monthes of happiness, which is covered in about half a page of text. And unlike Elisa, I didn't think the text had a happy ending. The last two paragraphs seemed disjointed and not fulling explained--- I took the apparence of Louise to be a hallucination of the narrators. I wanted the characters to be reunited, but the ending didn't feel real to me and it just seemed like the narrator was doomed to have the love of their life be another failed relationship and be depressed. (But then again with the shortness to which happiness is written about in the text, it could have been a happy ending.)

Elisa also asked about responses to the non-gender-specific protagonist, so I'm going to write a bit about that. I think that it was a very interesting thing for the author to do artistically, but it didn't work for me. Throughout reading the novel, either I felt like some where in the back of my brain I was trying to piece together the mystery of the narrator's gender (which was distracting from the story), or that I couldn't fully trust the narrotor because he/she was keeping secrets. I think the point of the character being non-gender-specific was to make the character more universally available for the reader to identify with, but I just found it adding more distance between me and the character, because I felt that I couldn't trust the character and I couldn't really understand them because of this. I think that if the character had a specific gender, my reading of the text and identification with the narrator would have been less frustrated. That being said, I think that reading a text with a non-gender-specific narrator was an extremely interesting and thought-provoking experience.

Well those are some of my pre-class responses to the text. I'm interested to see what other thought of Written on the Body and how my opinions might evolve w/ a class discucsion.

later

Jess
Name:  Kathryn McMahon
Username:  superkatra@hotmail.com
Subject:  a very long comment
Date:  2002-10-22 17:43:16
Message Id:  3321
Comments:
I loved this book! I loved its gentle intimacy and I deeply appreciate Winterson's originality and playfulness. I didn't find the narrator's ambiguous sex to be distracting. Instead, I liked the game Winterson plays with us, the readers, by motivating us to read to see if we could discern the narrator's biological sex, which in the end is undeterminable. Although the novel was rich with the acts of sex, the narrator was sexless. I think it's important here to make the distinction between sex and gender. Sex is determined by biology, while gender is culturally construed. The narrator is depicted with an androgynous gender identity that incorporates both characteristically masculine and feminine traits.
The narrator doesn't tell us "who" or "what" s/he is; we don't even know his/her name or what s/he looks like and this prevents us from projecting any preconceived notions onto him/her. I found that this heightened the accessibility of the text and created a special intimacy between the narrator and the reader because we are forced to take the narrator as is. We go right to the narrator's thoughts and feelings without first experiencing any of the outside world, and for the much of the book we stay there. Although the novel shifts angles and perspectives, it is completely filtered through the narrator's mental states and his/her ups and downs.
This book is hugely sad, but beautiful in its purity of purpose. We see her/his obsession, Louise, through the narrator's gaze and his/her own contact with her. The immediacy of this is intense. We rub up against Louise's exterior just as closely as we rub up against the narrator's interior. We see Louise's person and personality through descriptions of her body and her behavior so that she as a character is completely externalized, while remaining internalized within the mind of the narrator and the context of the book. S/he consumes Louise just as the cancer has the potential to do. The purpose of the narrator is to speak his/her mind in its fullest capacity: to expel Louise onto the page and then show us how s/he swallowed her to begin with. This novel is about consumption: sexual, emotional, and by death and how these interact and play off of each other. Louise's body exists for us within the body of the work. By putting his/her thoughts and feelings about Louise into language (as opposed to non-verbal thoughts), the narrator lays claim to her and owns and creates her as she exists in the text. The narrator discusses this with Gail Right (does anyone else think that this allusion to "Ms. Right" is funny?): "'It's as if Louise never existed, like a character in a book. Did I invent her?' No, but you tried to,' said Gail. 'She wasn't yours for the making.'"
S/he doesn't own Louise in the physical sense or beyond the reality of the interior of his/her mind, but there does exist a space where there is mutual accessibility and privelege, which is the idea of an egalitarian monogamous relationship. This ideal does not exist for Louise and the narrator because the narrator makes a decision for Louise instead of standing aside and letting her do what she thinks is best for her. This conflict of "ownership" is played out in both the language of the story and in the reality of the story itself. The narrator owns the words that create Louise, and tries to carry this ability into the real world where things go wrong when s/he tries to "own" Louise by deciding that she is better off with her husband.
I love the way in which Winterson treats sex, love, emotion, bodies, imagination, reality, and time. Instead of seeing the book as fragmented, I see everything swirling together. She offers up to us the chance to look at love of a body for the sake of the body. How many times do we treat the mind as being of higher status than the body? In reality (our own), bodies frequently stand in for the people they contain. The body is the first boundary to the person that we encounter. It is also the determining factor of our mortality. The narrator remains constant so we do not see into Louise's mind although through the narrator we come in contact with her body and see into it with his/her imagination. I think it makes sense to focus on Louise as a body because it is her mortality that is at stake and this leads up to the conflict between her and her lover.
Louise is not simply objectified as an attractive woman; her body occupies four dimensions of space and time. Instead of existing two dimensionally on paper, we enter into her and explore her and observe her physiology and how her body would be affected by cancer. This linguistic intimacy with her body is a substitute for sexual contact. The separation of Louise and her lover is what causes the narrator to consume Louise via her body through language because s/he can no longer consume her sexually, although the fear of losing this privilege to the onset of cancer is what motivates him/her to leave in the first place. In this novel the narrator pursues his/her subject both sexually and with language by "putting her into words." Here language takes on a sexual nature of its own.
Name:  Fritz-Laure Dubuisson
Username:  fdubuiss@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Written on the Body
Date:  2002-10-22 18:14:01
Message Id:  3322
Comments:
I found that the person who was the main character in this novel seemed to relish the pain rather than the actual relationships. As if the love was better or some how more gratifying because it held some bitter after taste. It was almost as if they needed to have this string of failed relationships, but then again were they really failures if the main character got exactly what they needed? I found it to be more sensual than sexual novel because it seemed to come from someone's personal thoughts and wanderings.That's the good part. Now the rest.. I found the book hard to read and liked the idea of the book better than the actual thing. I feel that Jeanette Winterson failed in creating a genderless character, leaving some who read the book feeling as if they are the ones who don't get it when the author seemed to have a very difficult time with creating and maintaining a genederless character too.
Name:  HY
Username:  
Subject:  Reflections on Written on the Body . . .
Date:  2002-10-23 07:33:33
Message Id:  3323
Comments:
I really do not want to dissect this novel. It was excruciatingly personal and I feel a voyeur even though the narrator volunteers this herself. I want to keep this novel to myself and I want my experience of it not tainted by any discussion. I hated this novel and reading it was painful, but I LOVE this novel. I will reread it.

One question (that I will leave my comfort zone to ask): the back of the book states that Winterson "compels us to see love stripped of clichZ?s and categories." I disagree. Although Winterson takes us (or myself) to explore love in an unprecedented way, I was actually shocked by some of the passages which were quite clichZ?. What do you think?

As I write this in class (I wrote this on Tuesday), I want to run out of the room in hysterics. Please! Don't ruin this book for me. I want its aftertaste to remain the same in my mouth, long after I have read and reread it utterly alone. I have never wanted NOT to share something so vehemently. Can't we let this one alone?


Name:  ngoc
Username:  ntran@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  thoughts on Written on the Body
Date:  2002-10-23 13:11:45
Message Id:  3324
Comments:
when i first read this book, i didn't know what to expect at all... i came to the reading w/ a very open minded attitude. it's kind of funny that at first i thought the narrator was a male... my reaction could mean two things: 1) in my perspective, male can be as emotinal and sensitive as presented 2) i am stuck in this typical heterosexual relationship picture without even being aware of it. in either case, i gave up on identifying when the narrator is a female and when the narrator is a male later on in the novel. instead, i let the reading flow in term of "person" where the narrator is human being with emotions and flesh. this new way of reading is, i think, what the author intended for her readers to do. it's a valuable experience because it brings the reader to a different kind of awareness, challenging our belief of what composes intimacy and the idea that one needs to know or be able to identify w/ certain gender or sexual orientation before one is capable of experiencing intimacy... in other words, our biological make up, our sexual orientation and our preferences can be seen as tools in the process of helping us to achieve/arrive at a rewarding intimate relationship -- it should not have the last word in our experience.
Name:  Sarah H.
Username:  shesson@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Gender Issues and others
Date:  2002-10-24 00:52:10
Message Id:  3333
Comments:
Though I feel that Written on the Body was a quick read, and one that kept me interested and mostly entertained, overall I did not like the book. Most of my dislike stemmed from seemingly technical problems on the author's part. I thought overall it was not very well written, and I agree with Jess -the ambiguity of the narrator did not work for me.

First, the characters seemed very flat to me. I think it might be because the author seemed to approach the text not as a story about the characters but rather a story about the love life of a character. As a result, the reader only sees one side of the person and it makes it difficult to get to know per. I would say that the person seemed overly consumed with their love life, but I don't know if that's the intention or if the author just made her focus too narrow, thereby warping the character into a lovesick person.

Aside from the lacking characters, I also found the writing to be less than communicative. I don't think this is something I can pinopint too well, just a general feeling that it could use a final revision or two.

Lastly, the ambiguity of the gender was a novel idea, and I see several points it may have been trying to convey, but ultimately I think those points could have been conveyed through better, more succinct writing and further character development.

If the author was trying to convey the idea that love takes many forms or that the genders are really quite similar, I think this point would have been better demonstrated by giving an either masculine or femenine character both masculine and feminine qualities. This would have actually said, for example, "look, here is a female, but she is not reacting in stereotypical feminine ways. Ultimately, she is more a human being than a stereotypical woman."

Another thing I think was overlooked in the genderless narrator was the fact that although underlying feelings may be universal, the expression of those feelings and the journey a person takes to understand or uncover those feelings are very different. They are based on a person's many traits, one of those being their physical shape. I feel like the genderless character was sort of a shortcut or cheapskate for developing a REAL character with REAL qualities who could still be seen and understood universally. In the same way we are trying to create sex-ed curriculums for a real group of people, rather than ideal, I feel like the author should have opted for working through the difficulties of a real character rather than making one who could never exist.

Finally, if the idea really was to create a novel in which gender was not an issue by pretending the characters had no gender nor were shaped in complex ways by their gender, why do all the other characters have genders?! The only answer I can think of is that it would have been too hard, which points again to the failure of the author to really express the idea she was going for.


Name:  Lindsay Hills
Username:  lhills@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Romeo and Juliet
Date:  2002-10-24 10:03:37
Message Id:  3334
Comments:
ok. so i felt like i couldn't adequately articulate my thoughts in class on tuesday...but after talking them out with people, i think i might be able to articulate my two concerns with the text.

1) the ending of the novel is incredibly vague in order to allow the reader to interpret what they think actually is happening with the illusive Louise.


Gail: "don't you think its strange that life, described as so rich and full, a camel-trail of adventure, should shrink to this coin sized world....what else is embossed on your hands but her? you still love her"
Narrator: "with all my heart"
Gail: "what will you do?"
Narrator: "what can i do? what do you want me to say? that i'll get over it?

In this passage i feel we realize the true love that the narrator has for Louise. The narrator, once promiscuous in search of sex more then love, only learns to love, in the self sacraficing encounters she has with louise. The the author chooses to illuminate teh physicalness of louise, rather then the mental, the words that are used and how they drip of sensualness and care, lead me to believe that the narrators encounter with louise is more then just physical, more then just the physical ness of sex and a body. In the final months before the nerrators departure from louise, we see teh development of this love relationship. The narrators ability to leave louise, in order to do what is best for her, is an act of selflessness and one more example of how the narrator has undergone a transfiguration of sorts, in this environment of love. Before the narrator would not have done such a thing.

So i feel there was love between these two individuals, something that has been questionable amongst people. So the narrator, by this act of selflessness, causes theirself undo amounts of pain, heartache. It seems like their life is now ran by the "what if's" in life. they become almost obsessed with this notion of lost love. After searching all over for their love, to no avail, there is a sense of greater loss and moreso emptiness, seen in the passage above. I feel liek the author conveys through the narrator this sense of nothingness, a sense of incompleteness, emptiness, helplessness. The narrator talks about time being this great "deadener." The narrator says this in just, with sarcasm, not really believing in the potential of forgetting or moving on. thus i believe, this is wear we see plain examples of how this ending might be interpreted as one of suicide.

To continue. There is a break in the text, leading to the imagry of the narrator and louise, together. Then a break again. "This is where the story starts..." It is in this ending that an intepretation of suicide is indeed plausible. The idea of emptiness, depression, hopelessness leading to the narrator's suicide, and as a result allowing them to be in a greater space beyond the confines of the body or world. It is in this space that the story of love is really able to flourish, in this conclusion of rebirth into a greater place, where everything seems to be serene and celestial.

Taking one's life to be with one's love, is nothing new, and i think in a way gives this novel a deeply tragic romantic twist, that pulls at one's heart in a different way.


2. We call them gender pronouns, but why, they don't reference ones gender but rather an indicator of ones sex? this is where our class gets confusing? the gender of the individual is obviously androgynous as i think katie pointed out. but if what we really want to know is if it is indeed a boy or girl then that is a question of biological sex. Also i think winterson on some level might be inserting a social commentary, intentionally or not. The idea that we live in a 2 sexed society, that allows little acceptance or support for individuals who are biologically born inbetween our definitions of male and female, is certainly highlighted. Why can't this person be neither? why do we want to make them something (boy/girl) that they might not be? why can't we read the novel as fact, in the sense that the author wrote it in what might be seen as an intersexed androgynous individual as the narrator. Someone who chooses no gender pronouns to be articulated by...they are born into this world, with no language in order to account for their experience, and in the case of written on the body and our discussion with it...that is all to apparent.


Name:  Jill
Username:  jneustel@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Written on the Body
Date:  2002-10-24 12:35:34
Message Id:  3336
Comments:
This book has been one of my favourites since I first read it for C-Sem. I love the way that Winterson invites her audience into the text, and I have always been able to identify with the main character. We have had many different experiences, but I know exactly how s/he feels. The question of gender has never bothered me. I usually associate the main character with femaleness, but there are definite male moments. I have usually felt that way about everyone I've enountered. I have never been able to escape the culturally defined gender roles, so I use them in new ways, I guess.

Class on Tuesday was really depressing for me. I really did not feel like the book touched other people the way it did me, and it made me really sad. I thought that we dwelled far too long on the gender issues, which are really not as important as they would seem, and we merely did a surface scan of the book. I had questions about the ending, as well, but I did not feel like such matters should have devoured the entire class period. I sound all high and mighty, but this book really changed me, and I was expecting it to do so for others. I also do not know what kind of matters I would prefer to discuss, but I felt strongly that class on Tuesday could have been better spent.


Name:  Nia Turner
Username:  nturner@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Written on the Body
Date:  2002-10-25 02:37:54
Message Id:  3344
Comments:
Language, Love, and Loss are central themes of Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson. The language the author uses to express the narrator's thoughts are related to the cacophony of an orchestra. The narrator's thoughts seem to be random, inconsistent, and intense. I would characterize the gender-less voice as schizophrenic. The language conveys to me the gender of the narrator although the author made an effort to conceal the sex of the narrator. I acknowledge her genius and artistic license to recreate the rules of literary writing. However, the narrator's language resonates with the nectar of the female voice. The language seeps of unadulterated emotion. This is not to say that the male voice lacks emotion. The male voice captures emotion in a different language. I love Weather's use of the phrase "learning me your language" (p 9,16). Her words inspire me to ask the question. Can love be put into language? If so what are the limitations? Why is there a need to put love into a language? What language can articulate love? What is LOVE? "Why is it that the most unoriginal thing we can say to one another is still the thing we long to hear? (P9)" "Why is the measure of love loss?" I realized after rolling the words around in my head over and over, like play dough in the palm of a warm moist hand that the narrator never realized the extent to which she loved until she lost the love(s) of her life. She never reconciled with her own capacity to love until the loss had become an unwavering presence. I believe the feeling of loss ate at her spirit/soul. Maybe the narrator fell in love with the body and not the soul of Louise, because if she fell in love with her soul even in death Louise's spirit would remain a living part of the narrator's life. If one loves in spirit the love is never lost. Do individuals love in body or spirit? To be absent of the body is to be present in the Spirit(Bible).
Name:  Tamina
Username:  tmencin@hc
Subject:  Winterson
Date:  2002-10-25 12:33:31
Message Id:  3346
Comments:
I did like this book, but I don't think I would have had an apprieciation for its style before taking this class. The articles that we read earlier helped me in my analysis. For instance, the fact that the main character is genderless is a characteristic of Winterson's style that I found very interesting. I'm pretty sure this would have frustrated me before I took this course. The genderless character made me realize just how much of sexuality I associate with gender. In the conversation that we had in class about this, the question was raised: "Does Winterson use the genderless character effectively, or does it work in her book?" Winterson accomplished, I think, she set out to do, confuse us. Judging by the discussion most people in the class could not pin point the gender of the main character and therefore had trouble judging the characters actions. Winterson is pushing the boundries and forcing us to look at sex, love, passion, anger, etc. in a way that we are not accustom to. She does this in the same way that the articles we read articulate "nonconventional" expressions of sexuality. Winterson also forces us to redefine our previous conceptions of sex associated with cultural tradition and gender. Whether Winterson's actual intentions with the gemderless charafter came through clearly I can't say; but it is important to realize that it definately made all of us think twice about the main character's decisions.
Name:  Bea
Username:  blucaciu@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Written on the Body
Date:  2002-10-25 12:53:13
Message Id:  3347
Comments:
I'm still not quite sure how I feel about the novel. I read the book jacket when I bought the book a while ago, but by the time I began reading it, I had forgotten that the narrator wasn't supposed to have a gender. While reading, I just assumed the author had been writing as a female. Although some parts of the text may have made the narrator seem more masculine, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that s/he was a woman. I think the masculine areas of the book just show how the behaviors/tendencies of men and women can overlap in many ways.

On another note, I enjoyed her writing style. Sarah H. said something about her writing not being communicative. I can understand this, but that's also something I rather liked. I felt that the way she wrote demonstrated very well how one's mind can work, jumping from one thing to another. It made me feel like I was inside the mind of the main character... Living in her memories while still living in the present.

Oh, and just another thought about the discussion we had yesterday in class. I was thinking about the narrator's abandonment issues. I still feel that leaving Louise was not necessarily a selfless act. We've established that the narrator was always being left by his/her lovers... so this was an opportunity to avoid being left (perhaps there was the fear that Louise would die, and the narrator would be left alone). So this was a way for main character to leave Louise before she could do the same. S/he may be seeing Louise everywhere because now there's this guilt because s/he is not accustomed to doing the breaking up - especially when there's potential for a good relationship.


Name:  ngoc
Username:  ntran@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  ethic
Date:  2002-10-25 16:38:29
Message Id:  3349
Comments:
as we were talking about the ethic question in class, people kept on mentioning that they have not taken an ethic course and therefore weren't sure of the validity of their comment. I personally don't think it really matters if the commentor did or did not take a course on ethic. I have taken a course on ethic and it didn't really help me to take a stand on anything we were talking in class. the ethic course will only be of help in term of introducing more ethical perspectives on different issues. plus, i really don't think we can place an ethical value on the narrator's action when we don't even know what ethic means according to our standard ... let alone understand ethic from the narrator's perspective.

oh...another thing... just in case people are wondering if there is any other language without gender... Vietnamese is a genderless language. you can read the whole book without knowing the gender of the narrator if the author choose to do so... when refering to a gender, you need to use a specific way to address... there is no grammatical rules for feminine and masculine cases.


Name:  Maggie
Username:  mscottwe
Subject:  Written on the Bodymsc
Date:  2002-10-25 16:50:45
Message Id:  3350
Comments:
Winterson's language, especially when talking about emotionally and physical love, was beautiful and poetic. As many people have posted, there were many phrases, sentences and paragraphs that were striking in their accuracy, passion, beauty, or desperation. I think that this was especially admirable because it often seems like 'love' has been written about so much that it is almost impossible to write something that makes the reader say 'that is a beautiful and different way to talk about love'.

The un-gendered character was well done because I couldn't pin the narrator down to male or female. Partly, it was an amazing trick, because it can make the story more universal, or interpretable however the reader wishes. But I think it was distracting, because I definitely spent the entire time trying to discern what the main character's gender was, instead of focusing on the story and the language. I appreciate that Winterson is pushing the reader to NOT use our preconceived notions about gender when judging/interpreting people. The only problem is that it is almost more than our preconceived notions, because it is reality. People are male or female, and even transsexual/transgendered people identify with one or the other gender.

I thought in the end when Louise reappears was completely an illusion, and it took me a long time to even be able to understand how people interpreted it as her really coming back. I also thought that the narrator was irritatingly self-absorbed. I think that s/he left Louise because s/he genuinely wanted what s/he thought was best for Louise, but s/he should never have made the presumption that she could make that decision. Also, after s/he had left Louise, s/he shouldn't have wallowed in self-pity the way s/he did. I understand that the point of that was probably to show us how much his/her love took over the narrator. Still, I feel like even the most 'in love' couple would be able to function without the other person... Maybe I am just cynical.


Name:  Iris Dickerson
Username:  hoshicolv@aol.com
Subject:  written on the body
Date:  2002-10-25 17:05:55
Message Id:  3353
Comments:
What an amazing book! I loved her use of language, especially "Is food sexy?"(pg. 36) I don't think i'll ever be able to look at a "dinner date" in the same way. The genderless narrator really captivated me. It was pure experiences with all the gender sterio-type garbage that clutters the real point. The narrator LOVED, that's what matters...not if they were male or female or male. (and I DO think they loved) The section "The Special Senses" really amazed me. (pg.133)For when you love someone you love all of them: body, illness, mind, and soul.
Name:  Monica Locsin
Username:  mlocsin@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Written on the Body
Date:  2002-10-25 22:45:55
Message Id:  3354
Comments:
Reading Written on the body was a new experience for me. I never read a book as sensual as this one and at first I did not know how I would react to the story. Once I started reading, I just could not stop. While I was reading the book, I did not think of the narrator as being a man or woman, I just kept on reading because it was so interesting. If it had not been for the discussions in class I would have not noticed if the narrator was a man or woman and really dissect the story and analyze it. I am glad that we took some time in unraveling the story in class. I liked the comment someone made in class about love lost. I cannot remember the exact quote but it was about how people only begin to realize how much they have lost once the object or person is gone. I believe in this and feel that the book has taught this lesson.
Name:  Jenny Wade
Username:  jawade@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  response to Written on the Body
Date:  2002-10-26 01:16:30
Message Id:  3355
Comments:
I found myself putting off writing this response for several reasons. First of all, like Hanon, I don't want to dissect this book because of its personal importance, and discourage analyzing it to the point where it looses its artistic quality (although I agree that discussion allows everyone to share their points of view and discoveries of the text). Secondly, the reading of this book, in spite of the fact that I loved it and think the author IS an amazing writer, triggored emotions within me that made me reflect upon (and essentially recount) personal experiences (most that I would rather forget). I had a hard time preventing the intense emotions of the narrator from overflowing the pages and per experiences, and instead found them infiltrating my own emotions, my own thoughts, so that I could concisely percept per's pain.

I find it interesting that few people have written (or seem to have liked) the middle section of the book, "The Cells, Tissues, Systems and Cavities of the Body." To me, this section was most intriguing due to its rambling, freeness (both in thought and grammatical structure). The section reminded me of a personal journal where one writes for oneself, letting inner feelings, reflections, thoughts,etc. incredibly intense expressed in broken language because narrative, grammatically complex language could not keep up with the ideas--still I found many of the phrases absolutely beautiful and found the connection between biology and art (in terms of adressing sexual feelings)especially successful. The prose form, biological phrases interupted by metaphors, imagery, and memories a chaotic fusion, overwhelming but with highly concentrated meaning and importance, much like sexual activity itself.


Name:  Nancy
Username:  nevans@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Written on the Body
Date:  2002-10-26 02:07:41
Message Id:  3356
Comments:
First, I have to say that I am one of those hopeless romantics we talked about in class; that is, I do occasionally say things like 'sigh, you know, even if we grow, we'll always love each other forever and ever'. With that mindset, I found myself drawn into the novel. Since Per lacked a defined gender and definitive characteristics, I began to believe I was Per, and I became completely absobed in Per's thoughts and obsessions. As much as I loved the book, I was not satisfied with the ending at all. After finishing the final paragraph I was so dissatisfied that I examined the back cover in a weird frenzy looking for 'just one more sentence' telling me Per and Louise lived happily ever after. It's sad.
After our discussion, or dissection, I think my feelings about Per have changed. I don't trust Per very much anymore. I still think Per left Louise because it was too hard for Per to deal with, and justified it the only way Per knew to. I also think that the feelings Per describes (saying that loving Louise was different than ever before) may not be authentic. Who's to say Per doesn't feel the same way at the start of every doomed relationship, each time believing it is 'true love'.
I didn't like the middle of the book very much. It was a little bizarre, and I skipped some of the biological desciption. It seemed like a dose of reality that didn't belong.
Name:  
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  more written on the body
Date:  2002-10-28 00:18:17
Message Id:  3379
Comments:
sorry this is a little late!

the most facinating part about this book for me was the breaking down of gender roles and re-emerging with simply expereince. It amazed me how much the straightforward experience that we were given could be so differently colored by the gender i asigned it. I waver between whether or not i think that the sexual interactions can actually be androdgonous. On the one had it seems that the sexual organs are very integral to the types of pleasure and acts that happen yet at the same time, in a way, are secondary to the pure intamacy of simply having a sexual experience. As i said, i feel pulled by both views. The sexual interactions are, in my opinion, the hardest sections to write from a genderless perspective. It is incredibly difficult to break down the strict gender=genitalia link that most of us are raised with. I wonder if it is possible to truly break down and if people thought winterson's attempt was successful.


Name:  michelle
Username:  mmcgrath
Subject:  that last post was mine
Date:  2002-10-28 00:19:25
Message Id:  3380
Comments:
sorry ladies forgot to sign it
Name:  Sarah
Username:  smendell@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Selfish or self-aware?
Date:  2002-10-28 03:25:30
Message Id:  3381
Comments:
Sorry, a bit more Winterson for you...
I've been struggling with this question of whether Winterson's attempt at non gender specific writing was successful until tonight when I did some writing about classroom discussion of diversity. In it, I essentially made the statement that everything is personal whether it is meant to be or not because an expression of one's ideas is by default of an expression of personal experience and background. With this in mind, assuming it holds some truth for some people reading this at least, how could Winterson have been successful? While a woman can make a statement on any topic, every statement will be made from the standpoint, background and personal experience of having lived and learned as a woman. To me, writing without sex is not an accomplishment of transcending boundaries but simply an accomplishment of not mixing up pronouns and keeping the truth concealed. I don't see a real point in trying to write without sex except as an exercise of personal importance to the writer so that she may see how profoundly she has been affected by the experience of having been raised a woman. In that way, I think this work reflects a great deal of selfishness--of trying to obtain some sort of enlightment in writing it rather than to produce enlightment for those who read it. Maybe all writing is selfish though and maybe what I've said is unnecessarily harsh. It's the only explanation I can come up with though for trying to understand what happened to me while I was reading it. I very actively disliked portions of the book and yet I could not put it down and read the whole thing in one sitting at a crowded Starbucks in NY. Thinking about it later, I kept coming to this idea that it reminded me of journal entries I had written; ones that are really not well written but are filled with so much emotion and filled with rather cliched examples of love that almost anyone can relate to. So maybe I'm not being so harsh in declaring her work selfish because I am declaring the same of mine. Does it make a difference in evaluating writing to take into account who the work was attended to address? Maybe, like me, Winterson fantasizes writing for a larger audience (important people coming to our homes and looking very pleased when they find our diaries, then rush out to have them printed so that the world may get a better glimpse at "who we were") but in doing so, writes strictly for herself. So is she selfish or self-aware? Or, more likely, is the reason so many readers become so infatuated with her because she is a little of both and therefore more human, real and able to relate to?
Name:  LH
Username:  lhildebr
Subject:  written on the body
Date:  2002-10-29 21:14:00
Message Id:  3423
Comments:
Written on the Body

Ok so I think I am almost done catching myself up.

I had some trouble getting into the book. For the first 20-30 pages I really didn't know where per was going with the novel. But then I woke up at 5 am in Vermont one day over fall break walked into the living room of the condo I was squatting in on mount snow and read until 7:30 am and finished the book. One sitting and I was done. As I was getting closer to the end I intensely wanted for Louise to step back into per's life. I didn't care how or in what context I just wanted to have some kind of finality with it. I was a nervous wreck. I read the last 20 pages in less than 10 minutes, rushing through it anticipating some ending, some relief. And when "Louise" appeared I was satiated. I told Ali Briggs (I was on a random road trip with her while I was reading it and her and I had tried to read the first 20 pages together, aloud in my car while driving through upstate NY, but she got too bored to keep reading) that it was a happy ending. I didn't really believe myself though. I had a weird mixed reaction to the ending, but I wanted a happy ending so I halfheartedly convinced myself that it was a happy ending and went on with my life. The novel had sent me on an emotional rollercoaster and I had to deal with it in some way.

We spoke in class about how one usually relates to a character in a story and that is why s/he becomes so interested in the story. I didn't relate to anyone. But I have this crush. This person (I am making a conscious decision to keep this person androgynous in the spirit of Written on the Body) I have a crush on is someone I spent very little time with and a very brief fling and then I left to travel and then return to school. So I left this at the end of July and I'm totally still smitten. And I don't really know this person. I have spent maybe 30 hours in per's presence and I don't really know per but the impression I have from our interactions has helped me build per's character to be something I would like for per to be. And my per (being fling from home) and per (protagonist of written on the body) seemed very similar to me, in that untamed wild self righteous self absorbed but occasionally will try and do the right thing but fail miserably sorta way. I kept thinking per was my per from home and that is how I related to the story. Which is why I think I wanted to see some finality to the story, even if the finality was only the beginning. But I definitely don't relate to Louise (for the record).


Name:  Deborah
Username:  dsosower@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  written on the body
Date:  2002-11-06 18:06:18
Message Id:  3578
Comments:
Hey all,
I apologise for being so tardy in posting, but until 2 days ago my comp was crashed for like 3 weeks and being fixed and prodded...poor wounded baby! I felt like i had no power to communicate! I didn't talk to people for like a month because i couldnt do so online...just goes to show you how technology is the devil and makes it so you cant function without it. Okay i'm done ranting now.
But, i wanted to write a little bit about Written on the Body...I really enjoyed the book, even though there were some aspects of the narrator that seriously disturbed me. It seems to me that the love that she experiences isn't like love at all, but like a curse. You know the saying that if someone were to achieve immortality, it would be a curse? I feel like for Per to love is to be under a cursed existance. I dont want to feel love if it is the tortured, self-indulgent feelings per expressed. I think it was a mistake for per to have left Louise and very selfish on per's part. I also felt as though per's mind was fragmenting in the end, which was interesting to think that perhaps per is Louise's mind, since as we discussed Louise seemed only to be a body. Also, I dont know if this is just my own personal history or a more general feeling, but it seems to me that Per equated a lot of love with sex...and for me, sex isn;t neccesarily the end-all expression of love and affection. I wish that Per might have written more about the relationship they shared as opposed to the sex they had. Oh well. Something i did like about the writing though is the stream of conscience style...while a little more difficult to get into, it was different and for me the reading of it went fast. yay reading! I love reading...i cant help but read, even to the detriment of other aspects of my life (mainly studying...) I am glad that we put sex into language, because I love reading about human relationships, and sex plays a huge part in almost any relationship! Talk about stream of conscienceness...I hope all can follow my framented thoughts! am i crazy? Or am i louise?




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