Postmodern concepts of the body in Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body

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This article is concerned with Jeanette Winterson's use and reworking of postmodern concepts of the body in her novel Written on the Body. Feminist appropriations of those concepts can be problematic: they tend to focus on the way in which a coherent body image is constructed and then imposed on the body parts, whereas many feminist theorists continue to emphasize the wholeness and integrity of the female body. Written on the Body offers constructive ways of theorizing the female body within a postmodern framework, because it is shaped by concepts of wholeness and fragmentation at the same time. Winterson develops a critique of androcentric science and medicine that strives to know the female body by dissecting it, analogous to the way modern society compartmentalizes human lives into neat manageable units. Against this, a concept of wholeness is strategically employed. Likewise, Winterson criticizes the equation of the female body with a penetrable surface. The androcentric concept of sexuality that associates penetration with the exploration of hidden depths and the achievement of power and knowledge is unmasked as necrophiliac. However, by constructing a lover/narrator whose gender remains undeclared, Winterson manages to unsettle perceptions of gendered difference. The text produces different meanings depending on whether the narrator is read as a man or a woman, and sexuality requires a basic human sameness from which a host of differences emerge that may or may not be gendered. In Written on the Body, Winterson disturbs fixed boundaries and rigidly gendered identities that objectify the body in order to build up a concept of the body that is fluid and leaves room for changes and mergings with other bodies, where bodies are held together not by a stable body image and a gendered identity, but by forces of connection and interaction between parts of the body.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-63
Number of pages16
JournalFeminist Review
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 1999


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