Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
Years and years ago, my beloved theory professor and mentor at my MA institution recommended Jeanette Winterson, and most specifically, Written on the Body, if I wanted to better grasp queer theory and literature. I found a copy at Goodwill but have not opened it until now, and now I regret only the many years that I did not absorb this amazing and beautifully-written text.
This novel is written in a nonlinear fashion by an author whose gender is never specified. This author discusses past lovers and the current, elusive lover, a married woman named Louise. Louise and our narrator struggle to identify their relationship, the nature of love, and the nature of the human body when in a sexual or romantic relationship. It’s hard to delve much further into the story, because so much of it involves reflection within the self about how we absorb, process, and return love that is given to us.
This novel is intriguing and a great entry point for undergrads to talk about a queer body. If the narrator is a man, then we might code him as “straight,” based on the past relationships named with women, until we encounter his past relationship with at least one man. This still renders the narrator queer and sexually fluid. Further, if we code the narrator as a woman, and a queer woman at that, based on all the relationships she has exclusively named women in, then her relationship with a man muddies those queer waters and still renders her sexually fluid. I prefer to think of the narrator as a woman, but that’s honestly not important, and Winterson knows it. Rather, Winterson wants us to deconstruct our own bodies and help us think about how we theorize our selves and the way we respond to others in matters of the body. This may not be the easiest novel to read, but it is damn beautiful and engaging.