H: Ghosts as Representations of Loss
For the following Discussion Forum topic, you will need to have read:
• Written on the Body (novel) by Jeanette Winterson
• “Generative Melancholy: Women’s Loss and Literary Representation” (journal article) by Victoria L Smith – pdf posted to Bb/Content
For this Discussion Forum (DF): Reply to this header post. In the body of your reply, copy and paste an In-Depth Response (400 words) that does the following:
“What to say? That the end of love is a haunting. A haunting of dreams. A haunting of silence. Haunted by ghosts it is easy to become a ghost. Life ebbs. The pulse is too faint. Nothing stirs you. Some people approve of this and call it healing. It is not healing. A dead body feels no pain.”
– Jeanette Winterson, Powerbook (2000)
The fact that the narrator of Written on the Body arrives and remains unnamed, un-gendered, and unsexed throughout the novel has caught the attention of many literary scholars and particularly queer theorists. Though controversial, many find Winterson’s choice to not gender nor sex her protagonist to be a liberating move that opens up the possibility of her telling a “gender-less” love story. Why would Winterson want to tell a gender-less love story? One reason could be that Winterson herself is a lesbian. In fact, Winterson’s debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (published in 1985), is a memoir of Winterson’s “coming out of the closet” story; however, it’s important to note that Winterson herself has resisted much of the scholarly world’s attempts to categorize her as a “lesbian feminist writer.”
In Victoria L Smith’s article, she argues that some women writers use language in an “excessive” way in order to represent loss, especially when that loss goes unrecognized due to social discrimination. Some scholars see Written on the Body as an attempt to tell a story of love and loss between two women that, due to discrimination and the politics of gender and sexual orientation, is a story that often goes untold or unrecognized. What these scholars argue is not that Winterson couldn’t publish a lesbian story of love and loss, but that she uses a gender-less protagonist in the hopes of underscoring and making her readers more aware of our (heterosexual/heteronormative) expectations for a love story.
First: (100-150 words) Answer the first two Key Questions for Secondary Readings for the Victoria L Smith article, and pose any questions you have for your classmates.
Feel free to ask comprehension questions here – this article is a little dense and definitely jargon-heavy! Smith uses some jargon from the field of psychoanalytic theory to get her points across. It’s worth reading though, for her interesting ideas about women’s representation of loss and melancholy. The good news? It’s not too long ? If you’re struggling, try to read for the main ideas.
Second: (250-300 words) Apply one or more of Victoria L Smith’s main ideas about women’s literary representations of loss, melancholy, etc. to Written on the Body.
Remember to point to specific textual evidence from both Winterson’s novel and Smith’s article to back up your claims.
If you would like to bring in any outside research you’ve done on Written on the Body or Winterson as an author, that’s great! but not required.
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