Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson

WOTBLouise leaves her husband but when she finds she has cancer, she leaves her new lover too. Written on the Body is a journey of self-discovery made through the metaphors of desire and disease.

 “Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes, never unfold too much, or tell the whole story. I didn’t know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book.”

 The author writes: All of my books are about boundaries and desire – the boundaries we should try to cross, like fear and class and skin-colour and expectation, and the boundaries that seem to define us, such as our sense of self, our gender. Disease, especially a disease like cancer or aids, breaks down the boundaries of the immune system and forces a new self on us that we often don’t recognise. Our territory is eaten away. We are parcelled out into healthy areas and metastasised areas. Parts of us are still whole, too much has been invaded.

Against this, I wanted to look again…….at love’s ability to shatter and heal simultaneously. Loving someone else destroys our ideas of who we are and what we want. Priorities change, friends change, houses change, we change. Part of the strangeness of being human is our need of boundaries, parameters, definitions, explanations, and our need for them to be overturned. For most people, only the positives of love and faith (and a child is both), or the negatives of disaster and disease, achieve this. Death comes too late. The final shattering affects others, but not ourselves.

A period of celibacy: It hasn’t rained for three months. The trees are prospecting underground, sending reserves of roots into the dry ground, roots like razors to open any artery water-fat;  Despair as clock approaches bedtime

A visit to the STI clinic: like ante-chamber of Judgement Day – out of way of deserving patients

An avoidance of romance: escape coca and hot water bottles

Satiated: Cheeks like gerbils because mouth was full of Louise; Wet with sex and sweat’ Smells of my lover’s body still strong in my nostrils which reminds me of the Song of Songs; Three days without washing and she is well-hung and high; the pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin

Men having affairs are easy to spot – new underwear, cologne

I wonder how promiscuous one-night-stands affects the body – the only other time we give our bodies into the hands of strangers is when we die and go to the undertakers

For many of us, love is something inside our heads and/or hearts. The quotations below muse upon the sheer physicality of life:

“You’ll get over it…” It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never loses. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?”

“Time that withers you will wither me. We will fall like ripe fruit and roll down the grass together. Dear friend, let me lie beside you watching the clouds until the earth covers us and we are gone.”

“Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your morse code interferes with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied upon it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut.”

“You never give away your heart; you lend it from time to time. If it were not so how could we take it back without asking?”

“Explore me’ you said and I collected my ropes, flasks and maps, expecting to be back home soon. I dropped into the mass of you and I cannot find the way out. Sometimes I think I’m free, coughed up like Jonah from the whale, but then I turn a corner and recognise myself again. Myself in your skin, myself lodged in your bones, myself floating in the cavities that decorate every surgeon’s wall. That is how I know you. You are what I know.”

“Odd to think that the piece of you I know best is already dead. The cells on the surface of your skin are thin and flat without the blood vessels or nerve endings. Dead cells, thickest on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.”

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1 Comment »

  1. […] We have discussed her books: https://gaymensbookclubbristol.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/why-be-happy-when-you-could-be-normal-jeanet… […]

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