Anachronism and the transgression of center in Jeanette Winterson's boating for beginners/Jeanette Winterson'in boating for beginners adli eserinde anakronizm ve merkezin yikimi.
Winterson challenges the grand narratives of Western culture to validate individual or "local narratives" that reveal "alternative life styles" and alternative modes of existence (Lyotard 353). Considering that "the fixity of reality is the hallmark of a static status quo", Christy L. Burns explains the widespread use of fantasy in Jeanette Winterson's fiction as a commitment "to open[ing] up a space for alternative life styles" (304). Boating for Beginners (1985) is an experimental attempt at rewriting the Biblical Flood Story by situating Noah in a pattern of relationships with his family, his society, and his God, Yahweh. Rather than the sublimated divine being and his prophet, both Noah and Yahweh are depicted as members of typical contemporary consumer society, with their material greed and discriminative social norms and popular culture. This study explores the anachronistic context of Boating for Beginners as an attempt to transgress the discriminatory boundaries of Western culture, their "grand narratives" of power, by decentering them in order to validate the margins as much as the center. Jeanette Winterson does this not for nihilistic purposes, as many potmodernist authors do, but only to break the tyranny of the center by revealing its inconsistencies.
Winterson's early religious education does not only familiarise her with the Bible, but initiates her, at the same time, into the inconsistencies of religious discourse. As revealed in her semi-autobiographical novel (1), Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, also, she was rejected for her sexual choice, by the religious community the central discourse of which is based on the concept of love. Costel Ciulinaru refers to the central status of love in Christianity as that "The Holy Trinity is the foundation and the purpose of creation due to love," and he equates "creation" with "love", "[...] because God-The Holy Trinity has created evertything by love" (196). Winterson, however, displays the way in which even the concept of love is abused by the power politics of religion. Moreover, as a feminist writer, she believes in a holistic conception of existence that deconstructs all the grand narratives of Western Culture, its patriarchal discourse especially. Love, as the basic concept in Winterson's perception of reality, is more inclusive and conceived as a form of energy that unites the parts of a whole which includes not only all human beings but the whole universe.
Crossing temporal and spatial boundaries, by reversing the chronology of time thousands of years back to the biblical Flood Story, Winterson deconstructs the biased concepts of western culture to open up a holistic space that covers alternative lives as well as different modes of existence. Winterson begins to deconstruct the Biblical narrative by setting Noah's story with the Ninevah of Jonah's story. Noah's image, as a morally wise man as opposed to the rest of humanity in the Biblical context, is reversed by depicting him as well as his God, Yahweh, as corrupt capitalists. The novel opens with a newspaper extract that states that "Bags of rocks and chunks of Ararat, Turkey, that Biblical archeologists believe are relics of Noah's Ark have been taken to the US for laboratory analysis" (1999). This paradoxical statement, reflecting a scientific attempt to cross the mythic boundaries of religion, seems to contradict Winterson's postmodern commitment to deconstructing the "meta narrative" of religion. Considered in terms of anachronistic transgression, however, this epigraph, quoted from The Guardian dated August 1984, helps Winterson to close the gap of thousands of years in her attempt to factualize the myth in order to nullify its authority by referring to its culturally constructed nature. By depicting Noah as a selfish capitalistic patriarch plotting against the Ninevites, she de-mythifies Noah's image, with reference to this scientific attempt at factualising the myth by finding the proof of Noah's Ark. Defining anachronism, in its simplest terms, as "temporal dislocation", Luzzi explains the strategies of it as the subversion of "[...] the more rational and empirical elements traditionally associated with [past]" (83). Thus, as opposed to Noah's prophetic image in the Bible, he is depicted as an ordinary man who becomes a celebrity in the consequence of his accidental discovery of the unpronouncable, the God, who is nothing more than a cloud of gas extracted from the rotten ice cream. After their collaborative popular novel, "Genesis or How I Did It [which] had sold out over and over again", they write the second volume Exodus or Your Way Lies There" (15). In the process that follows their collaboration, both God Yahweh and Noah are depicted as typical capitalists who want more and more material rewards from the film rights to their book. God becomes furious when Noah starts a filming project without asking His permission. "Things with wings and lyres" angels, "begged the Unpronouncable for mercy" whereas "one of the more hyperactive angels", Lucifer, calls "[d]estroy him, destroy him" (53). As opposed to the God that created Adam in his own image in Genesis, Winterson's Yahweh in Boating for Beginners is selfish, vindictive and corrupt, just like Noah himself. Yahweh's first reaction, when He is annoyed by Noah's capitalist ambitions, is to destroy human kind: but "[it] would mean a riot. I've just started to get some control down there, and our Good Food Guide's selling well. I like being in print" (53). Rather than for the sake of "Christian love", He delays it, since He needs humankind for His commercial success. Failing to agree with Noah in His later negotiations, God decides to destroy mankind in a flood, excluding, ironically, Noah and his family, the real cause for His anger.
Noah and his family, on the other hand, have been making the best of his reputation. Rather than a prophetic messenger dedicated to man's well-being, he is a retired boatman, an ordinary person who ran pleasure boats on Euphrates and Tigris. Becoming the Messenger of Yahweh and a celebrity, transforms Noah's ordinary life into one of wealth and luxury. While going to meet Yahweh to convince Him about their filming project, at the Gaza Strip, "Noah's limousine came careering across the sands, with Japeth, Ham and Sham sitting on the back [...] Noah was driving and looking for all the world like an enervated cue ball" (89). When accused by Yahweh of being concerned only with his "bank balance", and threatened with the destruction of mankind, Noah is worried, not about the disaster that is going to fall upon men, but about his own profit: "But what about my tour company? What about my inventions?" (91).
All three of Noah's sons and their wives, like Noah himself, live in luxury. The local newspaper, The Tablet, publishes news about the miracles performed by Noah, and his great film project of adapting Genesis, in which his own household is employed: "The greatest excitement was generated by the imminent return of Japeth, Ham and Shem with their lovely wives Sheila, Desi and Rita. Japeth the jewelery King, Ham the owner of that prestigious pastrami store, More Meat, and Shem, once a playboy and enterpreneur, now a reformed and zealous pop singer" (21). All their "god given" success depends, in fact, upon their father's reputation. Ham's "expanding chain of pastrami stores", for example, is assisted by God: "He has guided me through the Money markets and the loopholes in the Health and Safety Regulations because he is more than YAHWEH, the God Love, he is YAHWEH, the Omnipotent Stockbroker and YAHWEH the Omnicient Lawyer" (30). The presentation of Noah as a celebrity who decides to retire except for occasional public appearances after making best of his reputation, functions to subvert the Christian discourse of love. By depicting Noah as a typically capitalistic patriarch, who is "right wing, suspicious of women and totally commited to money as a medium for communication", Winterson criticizes the materialistic and patriarchal center of the western culture which totally excludes the concept of love (69).
Through the temporal border-crossing in Boating for Beginners, Winterson "mix[es] up the times-what is forward goes back, what is back goes forward" (Barnes and Barnes 243). Modern consumer society, with its popular culture, material greed and technological conveniences is set against the simple life style of the holy men depicted in the Bible, whereas the cultural conceits, discriminating discourses as well as human opportunism and egoism remain the same. This kind of transgression of temporal boundaries has been termed "regressive anachronism", which, "[b]y emptying contemporary problems into the dustbin of history [...] give[s] readers the unsettling impression that they are encountering events and crises that has been same since time immemorial" (Luzzi 75). One of the main reasons for Winterson's "'updat[ing' the past to the present" is to deconstruct the oppressive discourse of the patriarchal culture. By de-mythifying Noah's religious image, thus, Winterson nullifies his critical perception of women.
Through his negative opinion of women, Noah is depicted as the representative of a typically sexist society. He commits himself to a big campaign against deep-freezers, for example; for him "A simple diet prepared by a simple wife [...] are the corner-stones of a godly life," so a woman's priority is her house and her family" (15). Noah takes advantage of his power in denying women's rights, first as a male, then as a capital owner and finally as the mouthpiece of the divine being, "the unpronouncable". By all means then, "[t]here was no need after all, to be vegeterian, charitable and feminist. Noah promised a return to real values and, if possible, the Gold Standard; and he had the backing of the unpronouncable who couldn't be wrong because he was God" (15). As a man, a money owner or a prophet, in all cases, however, women become the target of Noah's aspirations for a better life. Frozen food, banned by Noah, is considered responsible for all kinds of problems in family life. The rejection of frozen or ready made food, in fact, reflects the anti-feminist attitude of patriarchy. For Burns, Boating for Beginners "playfully invert[s] social expectations for women, linking the present to some fantastically reconstructed moment in the past (the time of Noah and the ark)" (Burns 280).
It is paradoxical, however, that the most enthusiastic supporters of Noah are women themselves. The president of the association that fights against frozen food, NAFF-No Artificial and Frozen Food, for example, is a dedicated activist woman. An expert who has carried out a research on the behalf of NAFF, blames all familial maladies on this food, through women who make use of it, by declaring that "[w]e're all tempted by the odd packet of petits pois, how quickly that becomes ready-meals and oven chips, how quickly that leads to the wife being out somewhere, the children neglected and rebellious, and the husband forced to fend for himself" (88). The president of NAFF, Lady Olivia Masticater, declares that "[t]here is now every reason to believe that frozen food has contributed to the rise of feminism, premarital sex and premature hair loss" (88). Noah's ally, the novelist, Bunny Mix, is another conformist woman who also does not favour refrigerators and ready food. Her anti-feminist criticism, however, is not limited to emancipated women only but encompasses new forms of writing as well. She disapproves of those "claiming to develop new art forms," and she receives Noah's approval in believing that "[t]he experimental novel is a waste of public funds" (59). She dedicates all her books, excessively romantic and sensational, to Noah, whom she considers is "the regenerator (along with herself) of tattered morality" (16). Winterson imposes the maladies of the postmodern age upon the mythical context of the flood story. While highlighting the ordinary human quality beyond centuries and thousands of years, she deconstructs these facts by indicating their constructedness.
In line with the "temporal anachronism" that aims at setting the problems of the present within the past in order to highlight the unchanging human nature, "anapotism", or spatial anachronism, is employed in the novel, to de-construct Euro-centric concepts of western culture. Aravamudan claims, with reference to Vico, that
nation-centered conceit is a nation's habitual overestimation of its own originality, power, and antiquity. Vico attributes this conceit to ancient cosmologies, and perhaps we can update it as the target of critics of Eurocentrism and other forms of racialism, nationalism and localism. For instance the attribution of global modernity to the West is replete with intellectual diffusionist hypothese that radiate outward from metropolis to colony, spirit to matter, and civilisation to barbarism. (337)
By substituting Nineveh with England, the ideas, concepts and norms that belong, basically, to European civilization are transferred to legendary Nineveh, the Middle East (Aravamudan 336). The Orient (the metropolis), then, becomes the Occident (the colony), the civilized becomes the barbarian, the spiritual becomes the material etc. The tour that Noah intends to take, for example, to "heathen" lands to show the film adaptation of his collaborative work with God, is to England, the heart of Europe, which is othered from the "Oriental" perspective as the site of primitive:
Stunned by the success of their literary collaboration Noah and God had decided to dramatise the first two books, bringing in Bunny Mix [the writer of popular romances] to add legitimite spice and romantic interest. The cast would be large, probably most of Ur of the Chaldees, and the animals would take pride of place. The whole show was to tour the heathen places of the world, like York and Wakefield, in a gigantic ship built especially by Noah's most experienced men. (20)
The Eurocentric conceits are de-centered by marginalising Europe as the site of the primitive. Winterson furthers her deconstructive claims by not privileging one binary opposition over the other, but rather totally eliminating all the boundaries to attain a cosmic wholeness over the basis of love, which is unifying, not discriminatory like grand narratives that are centered on power. She neutralizes patriarchal conceits, not by asserting women over men, but by de-contructing religious discourse, which forms the basis of women's subordination to men, by the reflection of frail human nature through the characterization of God and his Messenger. By the means of anachronistic transgression she juxtaposes the traditional basis of human goodness and love, the Bible, with the human nature, its liability to selfishness and corruption, to reveal the hypocricy of the power politics centering grand narratives of western discourse.
Winterson employs temporal and spatial transgression, anachronism, as a means of de-constructing western norms to re-construct alternative forms of existence by transgressing the traditional conceptions of gender and human ontology. As revealed by Cockin, "[f]or the female political subject, the body was a site of ideological conflict during the British campaigns for women's suffrage in the early years of twentieth century and it continues to haunt feminist subjectivities and gender transgressors" (18). To defy the body politics of western culture, Winterson develops a transvestite character, Marlene, who together with two other characters, Gloria and Desi, own human love and understanding as opposed to Noah, his three sons as well as Yehwah, the God. By transgressing, first, gender boundaries, Marlene annihilates gender discrimination, then, by her demand to have both her operated organ back as well as keep her breasts she blurs the gendred boundaries of the logocentric discourse. Winterson defies the body politics of traditional culture by depicting Marlene as neither male nor female. By reflecting Marlene's marginal case through the perspective of Desi, Noah's cosmic-conscious daughter-in-law, Winterson widens the conception of reality by considering Marlene's case as only one of the manifestation of many other possible forms of plural realities. The naive young Gloria, who is just on her way to know the world by helping Noah's daughters-in-law at their clinic, is shocked by Marlene's marginal demand for her organ back. She asks Desi whether "there really people who ..." (37). For Desi, however, "[t]here are always people who ... whatever you can think of. Whatever combination, innovation or desperation, there are always people who ...'" (37). Marlene's genderlessness frees her from the gendered boundaries of the center.
As a "boundary challenging text", Boating for Beginners refers to "women's awareness of themselves as marginal" (Nourse 487). Despite their diffrent orientations, there is self-sacrifice, love and human solidarity in the base of Marlene, Desi and Gloria's friendship. Like Marlene's transgressional gender, Desi behaves selflessly by warning as many people as possible about the flood, when she overhears God's decision to destroy humankind after His bargain with Noah. Moreover, she refuses to board on Noah's Ark, to which she has right as Noah's daughter-in-law. She meets Marlene and Gloria to face the flood together. These women's solidarity in this anachronistically regenerated "society troubled by the alienation that is [...] a consequence of its technological character", reveals one of the basic themes in the novel (Haddock 487). Alienation from others as well as the self blurs spiriuality, and results in corruption. The materialistic indulgence into appearance blurs one's perception of reality. Thus, living in such a society, Marlene doubts whether people will believe them when warned about the flood. Marlene says, "[w]e can do our best to warn people as soon as we can prove it, but what makes you think anyone is going to believe a zoo keeper, a transsexual and a member of the rich middle class?" (95).
The basic idea suggested, by Winterson, through this transgressional anachronism and marginality is to reveal a new concept of reality. David Lodge defines Winterson's concern with "the un-familiar" in her novels as a means of "transgress[ing] known limits, and transporting] the reader into new imaginative territory" (in Burns 278). As a woman who works as a cook at Noah's house, Gloria's eccentric mother, Mrs Munde, reveals, for example an extremely "un-familiar" ontology. As opposed to the alienated "[m]odern people [...] [who] don't feel much", Mrs Munde defines her heart as a "roaring heart", a lion, that will escape one day (61). However, she is convinced that this escape will not be a separation but a re-union with stars, which is the "Gross Reality". She says: "I love the stars because they calm me down. When I look at them I feel like I'm looking into myself, without all the cares of the world. The lion sleeps then, but only then [...] they didn't seem far away. Something you love is never far away because you know it so well, because it has become part of you" (62). The identification of the stars with "Gross Reality" as the extension of Mrs Munde's existence, represents, in this context, an ontology that makes her the part of a wider existence. This existence is defined, in the book that Gloria has been reading on the train which "wasn't actually a thriller, although it was about space. Space and the new physics. There is no such thing as objective experiment, it said, because the observer always effects whatever he observes. Subject and object are only arbitrarily split for the purpose of limited investigation" (73). Defined in these terms, quantum physics develops, in the twentieth century, as the study of the smallest particles of the atom. By its finding that particles behave both like particles and waves at the same time, quantum theory opens up a new space for the discussion of the borderline between the physical and spiritual world. Thus, the borderline between material and energy is bridged, as one can be both at the same time. So, reality is not limited to the visible world only, and both visible and invisible reality are manifestations of the same "Gross Reality" (2). This metaphor is explained through a tale told to Gloria by her mother, about a young man who goes out to find the secret of the world. After a long period of searching, he learns that "[t]he secret of the world is this: the world is entirely circular and you will go round and round endlessly, never finding what you want, unless you have found what you really want inside yourself" (65). As a part of a wider unity, every individual retains the whole.
Despite her controversial de-mythification of the Biblical Flood Story to transgress the boundaries of traditional belief, Winterson also re-constructs myths in Boating for Beginners, to offer many variations of reality by trangressing the boundaries of fantasy and imagination. Pellegrini asserts that "what remains true is the potency of the myth. Committing to the myths as a way of transsgressing boundaries of rationality is important for Winterson in achieving "a sense of connectedness that crosses and disrupts borderlines of self and other" (190). For Winterson herself, however, "[m]yths hook and bind the mind because at the same time they set the mind free: they explain the universe while allowing the universe to go on being unexplained; and we seem to need this even now, in our twentieth-century grandeur" (66). This seemingly paradoxical reference to "myths" reflects Winterson's multiple border crossings throughout the novel.
Love also unites the parts of Winterson's holistic universe. She refers, for example, to traditional religion's excepting non-believers from god's love. She believes that "[t]he sinister side lay in their atttitude to those who didn't believe. If you refused the message you were an outcast, and although they might claim to love your soul the rest of you could literally and metaphorically go to hell" (70). The main problem of the modern world is "the move towards the reason, the loss of wonder, the empty place in the heart" (71). Marlene, for example has a tragic story: "Immediately after her sex changed she had fallen in love with a curate, older than her in most ways, riddled with guilt about pleasure that did not involve pain, and unable to enjoy love for its own sake"(94). It is conditioned by Noah's religion that "love is hard and strong and love makes choices. Love discriminates and above all, love cannot embrace the inherently unlovely, i.e. those without YAHWEH in their hearts" (70). This principle contradicts itself, for it refers to Yahweh as God of love on one hand, but rejects non-believers on the other. As suggested by Marlene, "[w]hy should a God of love disown a large part of his beloved?" (70). Despite this pain, however, Marlene is a dedicated lover, who "had seventy lovers [...] [though] never [...] found the one" (93). Love is presented to be the magic that makes one see beauty in ordinary things and connect one to the cosmos (93).
Winterson's anachronistic contextualization of capitalistic society helps the transgression of traditional boundaries, which provide her with a background to reveal her criticism of Grand Narratives, present a plural perspective of reality, and suggest love as the central cosmic truth. First, depicting Noah with reference to Yahweh, who is created by Noah himself, then both Noah's and Yahweh's opportunism and materialism, she demythifies traditional religion. She, then, by developing such characters as Gloria, Mrs Munde, Marlene and Desi re-concstructs a context through which she validates the cosmic truth which connects all the existence to the whole through love, solidarity and human understanding.
Aravamudan, Srinivas. "The Return of Anachronism". MLQ. (December 2001): 331-353. Barnes, Anette and Jonathan Barnes. "Time out of Joint: Some Reflections on Anachronism". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 47.3 (Summer 1989): 253-260.
Burns, Christy L. "Fantastic Language: Jeanette Winterson's Recovery of the Postmodern Word". Contemporary Literature. 37.2 (Summer, 1996): 278-306.
Ciulinaru, Costel. "The Basis of Love in Orthodox Christianity". The Scientific Journal of Humanistic Studies. 3.4: 196-201.
Cockin, Katharine. "Inventing Suffragates: Anachronism, Gnosticism and Corporeality in Contemporary Fiction". Critical Survey. 16.3: 17-32.
Haddock, B. A. "Review Articles: Vico and Anachronism". Political Studies. 24.4 (December 1976): 483-487.
Lewis, Barry. "Postmodernism and Literature". Postmodern Thought. Stuart Sim. ed. London: Icon Books, 1999.121-133.
Luzzi, Joseph. "The Rhetoric of anachronism". Comparative Literature. 61.1: 69-84. Lyotard, Jean-Francios. "The Postmodern Condition". Literary Theory: An Anthology. Julie
Rivkin and Michael Ryan. eds. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. 355-363.
Nourse, Jeniffer W. "Conservative Realists and Experimental Writers". American Anthropologist. New Series. 99. 2 (Jun., 1997): 386-387.
Pellegrini, Ann. "Touching the Past; or, Hanging Chad". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 10.2 (2001):186-94.
Winterson, Jeanette. Boating for Beginners. London: Vintage, 1999.
(1) See Julie Ellam. "Jeanette Winterson's Family Values: From Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit to Lighthousekeeping". Critical Survey. 18.2: 79-88.
(2) For more information see The Ghost in the Atom . P.C.W. Davies and J.R Brown. eds. Great Britain: Canto, 1993.
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|Author:||Kurt, Zeynep Yilmaz|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2012|
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