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Fantastic language: Jeanette Winterson's recovery of the postmodern word.

Jeanette Winterson's novels have always been fantastic, toying with the conventions of fantasy and stretching the limits of the short verbal refrain. Not until recently, however, have her use of fantasy and her liturgical style been explicitly fused into a kind of fantastic language. In Art and Lies, Winterson adopts the voice of Sappho to articulate her concern for the flattened state of language: "Delicate words exhausted through overuse. Bawdy words made temperate by repetition. Enchanting and enchanted words wand broken.... That is the legacy of the dead" (65). Winterson not only attempts to recover the words of the dead--as the history of literature brought into the present--but more importantly she works to overcome the "death" of language. Fantasy is no longer a vision that fills up the imagination; it is the inspiration that arises in and through the sensuous and erotic aspects of language.

In a review of The Passion in 1988, David Lodge adeptly fingered a key element of Winterson's distinction--her return to a Romantic poetics. As Lodge notes, the Romantic tradition "deals with the unfamiliar, transgresses known limits, and transports the reader into new imaginative territory. There is a certain stylistic price to be paid for this adventurousness, and a certain danger to be faced" (26). Writers who indulge in the risks of imagination may doubtless also press their language to fantastic limits; Winterson's style often teeters on the verge of excess, and, as Lodge warned, her lack of self-irony can sometimes be mistaken for bathos and pretension. Indeed, quite recently her own blithe comment that she liked one of her own books best has triggered a backlash against the audacity of her strong, assertive prose, so that reviews of her latest novel, Art and Lies, find Winterson "either too clever or too perverse for words" (Pritchard) and "debased by self-worship" (Kemp) and suggest that she gives off "a vapour of self-promotion" (Wood). Having taken her risks, Winterson is now purportedly "writing for a fall" (Kemp). There is, however, a certain gender-encoded chastisement (where is that decorous tone expected of the progeny of self-abased Virginia Woolf?), strengthened by the occasional antifeminist, or even antilesbian, sideswipe. William Pritchard claims that in all of Winterson's books "there is a general contempt for hearth and home, the family, for `our broken society' and especially for men," while Peter Kemp accuses her of a "propensity for scrawling the graffiti of gender-spite across her pages." James Wood, however, resists making such gestures, turning instead to consider Winterson's language experiments. Winterson's verbal refrains operate much like her Romantic use of fantasy, so that repeated phrases work like musical motifs, associatively accruing different levels of meaning across the text. Thus gambling is not merely a card game in The Passion, but also a metaphor for how one deals with the chanciness of love and desire. In Art and Lies, likewise, love is discussed in a parallel to language and cultural forms of relating. Wood, however, interprets this accretive process as a dulling return to sameness, finding only "identical mounds" of meaning and complaining that her language "appears to want to please itself--`not words for things, but words that are living things.'" Indeed. Winterson's sensate and erotic words are both pleasurably self-directed but always and only at the moment of being spoken (or read). For Sappho, speaking another's words is sex, and the pleasure is always wrought in and through the exchange. It is through an emphasis on pleasure that Winterson revitalizes postmodern language, so that words are living things--it is only a link Wood fails to observe, much as Winterson's other critics lose sight of her broader interest in the relations between literature and society.

Long before Winterson published Art and Lies, her extraordinary interest in revitalizing "dead" postmodern language and refurbishing an exhausted culture's imagination stood out as characteristic of her prose. Those punchy short sentences, those flights of fancy taken off from characters speaking in the most practical of tones, received high praise from a number of critics.(1) Winterson garnered international attention for her pithy wit and punctuated style in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, winning the 1985 Whitbread Award for best first novel and being invited to write a script for the BBC production. During the intervening ten years, Winterson has brought out five other short novels: Boating for Beginners, The Passion, Sexing the Cherry, Written on the Body, and Art and Lies.(2) The first three of these novels playfully invert social expectations for women, linking the present to some fantastically reconstructed moment in the past (the time of Noah and the ark, Napoleonic France, seventeenth-century England). With Written on the Body, however, Winterson's humor, which initially charmed many of her more mainstream readers, was transmuted into eroticism. It is through this eroticism (language that "appears to want to please itself") that Winterson works to revitalize postmodern language. In Written on the Body, she heightens her readers' awareness of the "body" of the word--its sensate properties--through repetition of sounds and an elaborate incorporation of rhythm. Winterson heightens language's tonally metonymic effects (puns, rhythm, lyricism) while shifting desire away from the referential form of metonymic displacement encouraged in advertising and the media. She has likewise moved more directly into discourses on love and passion and their relation to art. With the publication of Art and Lies, however, Winterson makes an explicit turn toward more direct reflection on the use of art for social reconstruction. This directness has been misunderstood as Winterson's self-celebration, whereas in fact it is her attempt to reclaim the importance of literature--and so celebrate that art--as a source of cultural connection In order to counteract postmodern displacements of desire, Winterson has used a liturgical form of a "villanelle" that repeats phrases in a variety of contexts in The Passion, just as she mimics a "waltz" that accelerates its pace and rhythm in Art and Lies. With these gestures, she presses repetition toward an accretion of memory and provides a series of focal points for the vocation of desire. Winterson thus seems to be responding to the purported schism that social critics like Jean Baudrillard have remarked between the social imaginary and the reality of late capitalism, and she couches this address through an elaborate development of the relations between fantasy, language, and desire. I would like to here examine the links between Winterson's more generally accepted experiments with fantasy and her recent, more e radical fusion of fantasy with language. I will be suggesting that Art and Lies weeds to be read in light of Winterson's turn toward the difficult task of reviving the social imaginary, which has been disrupted by postmodern media and consumerism.

In Art and Lies, literature becomes a force of social mediation, counteracting the thinning of passions, the flattening of words, and the various forms of alienation that critics find in postmodern society. Set in the London of 2000, the novel is an alternating exploration of the thoughts of three characters, loosely associated with their historical namesakes-Handel, Sappho and Picasso. Soon after the novel begins, Handel, a middle-aged doctor, describes the saturation of cliched emotions and violent interventions that has provoked his own withdrawal from passion:

in the dreary Hobbes world, where religion is superstition and the only

possible actions are actions of self-interest, love is dead....

Of course we have romance. Everyone can see how useful romance is.

Even the newspapers like romance. They should; they have helped to create it,

it is their daily doses of world malaise that poison the heart and mind to

such a degree that a strong antidote is required to save what humanness is

left in us. I am not a machine, there is only so much and no more that I can

absorb of the misery of my kind, when my tears are exhausted a dullness takes

their place, and out of that dullness a terrible callousness, so that I look

on suffering and feel it not.


Handel's world is that of a disconnected, media-absorbed populace that, confronted as it is by a doubled and divided field of representation, ceases to respond thoughtfully and only scatters itself along a chain of unrelentingly trivial displacements. While advertising facilitates this fragmentation, the media in his world alternately assaults the public with images of suffering and deprivation, then offers up sitcom cliches as the only model of sentimental response. Leery of becoming automatic kitsch, Handel's contemporaries are caught between maudlin reaction and emotional withdrawal. Thus Handel falls into dispassionate disinterest and desensitized self absorption. He disparages the way in which so many are passionately engaged by the international disasters broadcast on the evening news but then "step over and push aside" the underclasses of their own city:

"Terrible" you said at Somalia, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Russia, China, the Indian

earthquake, the American floods, and then you watched a quiz show or a film

because there's nothing you can do, nothing you can do, and the fear and unease

that such powerlessness brings, trails in its wash, a dead arrogance for the

beggar on the triage that you pass every day. Hasn't he get legs and a cardboard

box to sleep in?

And still we long to feel.


It is this renewal of feeling that Winterson has pursued since Oranges, and here she most explicitly takes up the project of revitalizing language and the imaginary in a disconnective society.

While Winterson invests her work in reconnecting these three characters who are adrift in the London of 2000, her chief concern in Art and Lies is with the impact of postmodern banality on language--the medium not only of her art but of social communication The crisis in representation and words, brought on by a passive response to media manipulation of desires, was an early concern of the Frankfurt school and most forcibly returns in Jean Baudrillard's critique of the simulacra, where he argues that signifiers have been severed from their referents and are now loosely moving forward by virtue of metonymy. According to Baudrillard, images are now "infinitely multiplying themselves according to an irresistible epidemic process" until society arrives at "the paradox that these images describe the equal impossibility of the real and of the imaginary" (Evil Demon 28). This "waning of affect" results in a loss of depth in feeling and rapid displacements of the focuses of desire, and, as Celeste Olalquiaga has noted, technology and advertising facilitate this depthlessness: "Characterized by proliferation and consumptiveness, these ready-made images are easily interchangeable. Like all commodities, they are discardable identities. Mobile and perishable, their traits wane after a few uses" (4).(3)

Displacement is arguably the crucial problem for postmodern art, burdened as it is with the task of mediating its audience's desires and keeping them from repeated distraction. As defined by Jacques Lacan in his reading of Freud, displacement is a "veering off of signification" that allows illicit desire to change face, substitute focuses, and pass over toward some other means of satisfaction. Displacement effects this exchange by virtue of its metonymic association, which is linked to desire since desire arises always in response to some lack or gap in meaning, a gap that can be bridged by the metonymic association. Metonymy provokes a leap across two arbitrarily juxtaposed objects, thereby allowing desire to shift laterally from one object to its associative kin in order to find an attainable focus and achieve at least temporary satiation.(4) While metonymy can provide brief assuagement of blocked desires, however, it can also intensify the very desire it serves, propelling displaced desires forward at an increasingly rapid rate. This occurs when representations of extremes--such as moralism, violent/passive scenarios, abrupt shifts between wealth and poverty or public and personal scenes--are used to call forth an intensity of desires, brought on by the broadening gap between points of a binary system.(5) Advertising's rhetoric of extremes can therefore take displaced desires, focus them, and enhance their drive through binarisms, pressing the subject forever forward in the need to assimilate opposites and bridge the gap, which reflects as well a rift within one's own consciousness. Winterson's counteractive strategy is a complex critique of extremes accompanied by a use of oppositional reversals in her humor.

In Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Winterson's use of extremes sets the terms for both her comedy and her critique of the severe moralisms under which she was raised. A narrator, suggestively named Jeanette, describes her upbringing in a strict Pentecostal family, her struggle to break from her mother's harsh strictures, and her move into lesbian sexuality. Lodge has identified this as "comic realism" (25), it is in effect a kind of fantastic autobiography that compresses all the details of daily life into caricature. This positing of extremes is first wrought through the protagonist's mother, who herself views the world through stark moral oppositions.(6) The novels thus opens ironically:

Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My

father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn't

matter what. She was in the white corner and that was that.

She hung out the largest sheets on the windiest days. She wanted the

Mormons to knock on the door. At election time in a Labour mill town she

put a picture of the Conservative candidate in the window.

She had never heard of mixed feelings. There were friends and there were enemies.

Enemies were: The Devil (in his many forms)

Next Door

Sex (in its many forms)


Friends were: God

Our dog

Auntie Madge

The Novels of Charlotte Bronte

Slug pellets

and me, at first.


As the narrator lists who were the enemies and who the friends, it becomes apparent that the process of polarization must in some portion be broken down for Jeanette to form an acceptable self-identification. Polarization will of course survive to some extent, but as an inversion that translates into the tone of the novel itself. In this manner, Winterson's writing often takes up this tone of comic melodrama, and such humor seems to be one of her ways of challenging and complicating the harsh moral distinctions that are a given in her world. Fantasy likewise emerges as Winterson's preferred form of mediation between extremes. Toward the end of Oranges, the narrator comments, "Families, real ones, are chairs and tables and the right number of cups, but I had no means of joining one, and no means of dismissing my own" (176). In the novels that follow, Winterson in fact chooses to use fantasy, allowing her characters just such an alternative vision.

Sexing the Cherry takes fantasy and spins it toward an ontologically constructive end, as a young woman finds strength through her fantasy of an alter ego, a fearless, gigantic woman who lives oblivious to social conformism in the seventeenth century. The contemporary woman arrives only at the story's end, after we have made a long and humorous acquaintance with the alter ego. The young woman imagines she is "huge, raw, a giant" (138) and that she can change world affairs by the force of her strength. In "real" life she overeats and is heavy, until she leaves her family to fight for environmental justice. She then recalls the past self as a constructive fantasy:

When the weight had gone I found out something strange: that the weight

persisted in my mind. I had an alter ego who was huge and powerful, a woman

whose only morality was her own and whose loyalties were fierce and few. She

was my patron saint, the one I called on when I felt myself dwindling away

through cracks in the floor or slowly fading in the street. Whenever I called

on her I felt my muscles swell and laughter fill up my throat. Of course it

was only a fantasy, at least at the beginning.


Fantasy is not a dilettante's pastime for Winterson; it is the source of belief and often the bread of survival. In Boating for Beginners, Winterson writes that "when the heart revolts it wants outrageous things that cannot possibly be factual" (66). Those who ask for outrageous things in Boating certainly get them, but the two main sources of mythmaking--Noah and Bunny Mix--are far from celebrated, enmeshed in deceit and comical vanity as they are. Three independent-minded women participate in a counternarrative, a fantasy of social resistance that threatens to disrupt Noah's mock-biblical story of the flood. In such a manner, Winterson often encodes an interruption of dominant cultural fantasy within her own fantastic fiction, providing a treatment of fantasy as a social imaginary that does not offer a singular metadiscourse.

One of the problems implicit in fantasy writing is its potential tilt away from the real and into escapism, a result Baudrillard invokes when he identifies a schism between the real and the social imaginary. It was Lacan who earlier argued against any reliance on the imaginary (dreams or fantasies), fearing that excessive indulgence might dissociate the subject from reality. 7 In the current critical work on fantasy, theoreticians split their positions between those favoring its subjective use and those leery of its more dangerously seductive effects. Ihab Hassan has argued that the use of the imagination allows us to form ourselves through the teleological effects of fantasy (52), a point that seems to support Winterson's move toward fantasy as a source of social strength. Peter Burger, however, criticizes the use of fantasy as a social ameliorative, since that form of art, when it approaches autonomy, siphons off the need to take action:

In bourgeois society, art has a contradictory role: it projects the image of

a better order and that that extent protests against the bad order that

prevails. But by realizing the image of a better order in fiction which is

semblance (Schein) only, it relieves the existing society of the pressure of

those forces that make for change. They are assigned to confinement in an

ideal sphere.


Burger's comments mark the tension between art's cathartic and teleological potentials, a tension that Winterson mediates by alternating seductive prose and metafictive interruptions. Moreover, Winterson's fantasy is not simple escapism--the passive play of imaginary engagements that leave characters like Benna Carpenter at the close of Lorrie Moore's Anagrams isolated within self-dialogue. Rather, fantasy is never so easily fixed. It can help subalterns form a positive identity in the face of negative or constrictive social stereotypes, and yet it can also lead one away from any socially (or individually) constructive use as it begins to muffle reality too extremely, removing the subject to a dreamy and passive state. One might distinguish between utopian fantasies that can devolve into passive escapism and active fantasies of resistance against social normalization; there is, however, no simple binarism that defines fantasy, and it is only a dangerous slide from one position to the other. Winterson's frequent preference for magical realism, as a form of fantasy that is inscripted into a realistic narrative, works to bind her source of the imaginary into the real.(8) Moreover, Winterson is careful to critique excesses of the imaginary, setting it often between the poles of social or personal integration and its elision of control.

Winterson's third novel most explicitly plays on the tension within fantasy, casting it in terms of controlling desire and one's relation to the world. In The Passion, elements of magical realism proliferate. A priest sports a left eye that can pursue the sight of a woman at incredible distances; one character is born with webbed feet and the ability to walk on water; hearts are stolen, eaten, and woven into tapestries. The novel is narrated alternately by two characters: Henri, who leaves his home to follow his first passion, Napoleon; and Villanelle, an androgynous woman who cross-dresses and attracts the passions of both sexes. Originally a card dealer in a casino, Villanelle reflects often on chance and risk, and the novel as a whole weaves together concerns about control, chanciness, the thin line between passion and obsession as it plays on our ability to accept fantastic reality while resisting the fall into madness. Winterson addresses herself to the fear of finding oneself powerless in the torn position between reality and fantasy, as the narrator Villanelle overcomes a momentary pause in an instant of suspended disbelief. Villanelle uncovers her mysteriously webbed feet, an attribute commonly rumored to allow male boatmen to walk the Venetian waterways, and she hesitates before trying her own luck on the waters of the canal:

Could I walk on the water?

Could I?

I faltered on the slippery steps leading into the dark. It was November,

after all. I might die if I fell in. I tried balancing my foot on the surface

and it dropped beneath into the cold nothingness.

Could a woman love a woman for more than a night?

I stepped out and in the morning they say a beggar was running round

the Rialto talking about a young man who'd walked across the canal like it

was solid.

I'm telling you stories. Trust me.


In this passage, Winterson presses the risks of believing in cultural myths while she also implies that a faltering in such forms of belief must lead to "drowning" as well.(9) Desire seems to lead Villanelle forward into belief here, and Winterson's metafictive turn to the reader likewise suggests that suspending disbelief or trusting the "lies" in her story will have a powerful effect on the reader. At another point in the novel, however, Winterson is precautionary about overattachment to highly personalized beliefs; if reading or engaging in fantasies can empower, self-written and enclosed fantasy is offered up as a potential lure into madness by the novel's end.

Out of love for Villanelle, Henri has murdered her husband and cut out his heart. Collapsed in shock, he refuses to defend himself in the legal battle; nor will he permit Villanelle to see him in his prison, once it is clear that she will never consent to be his wife. Her refusal of social conventions, coupled with his realization of her more tempered affections, exceeds his own tightly drawn response to social norms and need for returned affection. Henri falls into obsession when Villanelle refuses to conform to his control. His obsession with her ironically includes his refusal to see her or read her letters, a repressive resistance to any disruptive reality in his fantastic world. Commenting on his repeated rebuffs of her attempts to visit him in the madhouse at San Servelo, Villanelle reflects that "from my letters that are returned I know I have lost him. Perhaps he has lost himself" (150). Whether one finds oneself through fantasy or loses oneself in madness becomes the closing question of The Passion. Madness seems less defined as the alternative world to reality, rather, it seems to be the desire to withdraw from interaction with others. Now Henri only plays with the memory of others that he keeps inside himself. He remarks:

I keep getting letters from Villanelle. I send them back to her unopened

and I never reply. Not because I don't think about her, not because I don't

look for her from my window every day. I have to send her away because

she hurts me too much.

There was a time, some years ago I think, when she tried to make me

leave this place, though not to be with her. She was asking me to be alone

again, just when I felt safe. I don't ever want to be alone again and I don't

want to see any more of the world.

The cities of the interior are vast and do not lie on any map.


By choosing the "cities of the interior," Henri chooses the mind and echoes the "pleasures of the mind" that readers might well praise. His isolation is alleviated by fantasy's twin--the process of writing and reading his own novel. Henri writes so that he "will always have something to read" (159). This kind of self-enclosed writing is ambivalently taken up, as the novel plays repeatedly on the necessity of controlling one's encounter with desire, a rather paradoxical problem since desire is necessarily that which exceeds rationalization and consciousness which bring control. The end of The Passion splinters into two possible readings: either the loss of control leads to madness and obsession and Henri is imprisoned within his own desires, or he has taken control of his fantasy and so saved himself from worse events. His counterpoint, Villanelle, resists obsession by turning away from a noncommittal lover--the woman who nearly weaves her heart into a tapestry--so that she remains free in the outside world. Henri makes a forceful turn toward his obsession and is isolated--by choice--on a rock that only ironically represents reality.

To complicate matters further, Henri defines his love for Villanelle in distinct opposition to fantasy:

I am still in love with her. Not a day breaks but that I think of her, and

when the dogwood turns red in winter I stretch out my hands and imagine

her hair.

I am in love with her; not a fantasy or a myth or a creature of my own


Her. A person who is not me. I invented Bonaparte as much as he

invented himself.

My passion for her, even though she could never return it, showed me

the difference between inventing a lover and falling in love.

The one is about you, the other about someone else.


This encounter with the other heightens the necessity that fantasy will run up against reality often or that reading will break against its immediate contexts, suggesting that Winterson is suspicious of full isolation within the fantastic world If fantasy is for Winterson a necessary part of the process of stepping out over the water--a form of agency posited on belief--it also requires an encounter with the real, a point of interaction between the real and the imaginary such that signification, fiction, and art are not cut off from the contexts they address In her earlier work, Winterson defines fantasy in opposition to literalism or harsh realism. In Boating for Beginners, she ardently defends the poetry of myth:

Myths 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. The Bible writers didn't care that they were bunching

together sequences some of which were historical, some preposterous,

and some downright manipulative. Faithful recording was not their business;

faith was. They set it out in order to create a certain effect, and did it

so well that we're still arguing about it. Every believer is an anarchist at



Winterson goes on to criticize believers who are too literal in their claims, but here she focuses on the "faith" derived from the more fantastic elements of literature, which "binds" the mind without limiting it to only the purest facts. If Winterson, then, cautions against obsessive self-enclosure in fantasy, she also warns against taking too tight a hold on the real Like many British postmodern authors, Winterson is dissatisfied with mere realism, and she, like Angela Carter, would graft new possibilities onto the received social order.(10)

If, then, Winterson's most fantastic novels--Boating for Beginners, Sexing the Cherry, and The Passion--have led her toward a critical reconsideration of the indulgence of fantasy, rather than abandoning fantasy, she incorporates it more completely into her critique of contemporary desensitization and alienation, directing attention toward its application to the reader's own "real" political and social context. Winterson achieves this by disrupting the reader's escape from reality, persistently haunting her characters' voices with references to reading, writing, and the impact of art. Metafictive motifs like "I'm telling you stories, trust me" (from The Passion) run through many of Winterson's works, and Art and Lies engages even more explicitly in finis form of direct address that disrupts suspended disbelief.

Winterson may well hope to reclaim art from the harsh ironies that had seemed the only avenue left to American postmoderns like Don DeLillo and Kathy Acker.(11) In White Noise--a novel centrally canonized as postmodern commentary--DeLillo details the disjunction of relations in contemporary society, portraying the troubled consumer culture in a humorous and hyperreal narrative about catastrophe and death anxiety. The frustration of meaning, both in terms of beliefs and language, blocks DeLillo's postmoderns, just as his work "hyperrealistically" portrays--but never actively resists--such social dissolution. DeLillo and other "harsh" or hyperrealist parodists, like J. G. Ballard, Kathy Acker, and Tama Janowitz, create the postmodern novel as a humorously provocative picture of the faults and failings of contemporary culture. Moving away from the modernists' nostalgia for the past, these postmoderns are explicitly invested in the present, with little address given to the future in any changeable form.

In Art and Lies, Sappho invokes imaginary as a "truth," implying that harsh realism insists on a lie. "I do not ask for comforts. I do not pretend. I do not ask for comforts but do not tell me lies. Why should I live with the new brutalism of the universe if it is not true? Why should I accept that there is either what is material or nothing?" (144). "Brutal" realism is a lie, for Winterson, since it represses the need for fantastic imaginings and passion. Art, and for Winterson especially literature, provides the link between both the real and the imaginary through its medium: the Word.

After The Passion and Sexing the Cherry, Winterson focuses on language and desire as she begins to work on expanding the impact of "the Word" in postmodernism. For Winterson reminds her readers that words are not simple windows into thoughts but are themselves embodied through the alphabetic visual effects, through sound and rhythm, and through the sensate experiences of speaking and hearing. These embodied effects have a subtle but powerful impact on the significations we give to words. Winterson comments explicitly on this aspect of textuality in Art and Lies whenever Sappho's voice takes over the story. For Sappho, the word and sex are one in their mutual linkage of imagination to embodiment. Thus she writes:

The word and the kiss are one.

Is language sex? Say my name and you say sex.

Say my name and you say white sand under a white sky white trammel

of my thighs.


Language and sex are brought together through an eroticization of speaking, synecdochically focusing on the mouth of the speaker and playing on the sensate properties of language--the rhythm, sound, and effect of mouthing such wards linked together by overlapping consonants. Winterson uses that which exceeds rational meaning--sensation--as she also uses fantasy and the imagination to mediate the rupture between a given and often harsh reality. She presses toward an erotic use of language that moves her writing away from cold and rational sense, taking it toward sensate meanings that mix reference with desire and seduce readers toward change rather than commanding or instructing them. Winterson effects this "union of language and lust" with an allegory of transubstantiation (74).(12) Sappho writes of sex with Sophia as if she were penetrated and impregnated by words ripening (74). This eroticism rises in response to a despair of "dead language" in the postmodern world:

That which is only living can only die.

The spirit has gone out of the world. I fear the dead bodies settling

around me, the corpses of humanity, fly-blown and ragged. I fear the

executive zombies, the shop zombies, the Church zombies, the writerly

zombies, all mouthing platitudes, the language of the dead, all mistaking

hobbies for passions, the folly of the dead.


Winterson tries to reclaim both the flattened word and the desensitized body, and she effects this through erotic revival. "Mouth to mouth resuscitation between the poet and the word" is Sappho's apparent goal. "Kiss me with the hollow of your mouth, the excavation where the words are dug, the words sanded under time. Kiss me with the hollow of your mouth and I shall speak in tongues (65).

Winterson's revival of the dead begins one book before Art and Lies, with her fantastic reconstruction of the body of a dead (or dying) lover whom the narrator has lost. In Written on the Body, Winterson develops the relationship between the body and language most extensively, as a nameless narrator attempts to recover Louise, her/his lover, by calling up parts of her body in clinical form, suffusing them and reconfiguring them with erotic language and imaginings. The novel's biggest claim on audiences has been the mystery surrounding the narrator's sex. Nameless and carefully degendered, she/he tells the story of finding, loving, and then losing Louise.(13) The story of the narrator's frantic attempts to find Louise is interrupted, midway through the novel, by a series of prose pieces that seem to be the narrator's attempt to reclaim Louise's body against the thought of its physical absence and inevitable decay.(14) This midsection is split up into four parts: "The Cells, Tissues, Systems and Cavities of the Body"; "The Skin"; "The Skeleton"; and "The Special Senses." Each part contains one or more passages that opens with a quotation from a medical textbook and is followed by the narrator's own resistance to the callousness of that language and her/his attempt to fantasize Louise's presence into being.

Winterson's invocation of Louise's body is playful and erotic and seems to answer to the narrator's desire to reconstruct a memory of the lost lover. She/he begins with the cells that are rebelling within Louise's system, remarking how "the white T-cells have turned bandit" as they "are swarming into the bloodstream, overturning the quiet order of spleen and intestine" (115). After describing the body's war upon itself, she/he turns to an erotic scrutiny of Louise's mouth, seen through eye and felt through tongue: "The lining of your mouth I know through tongue and spit. Its ridges, valleys, the corrugated roof, the fortress of teeth" (117). Louise is now the body to be invaded not with disease but with desire. The narrator builds an erotics of intimacy, claiming to "embalm you in my memory" (119) and so keep Louise from death; Louise is, at one point, a "necrophiliac obsession" (123). What begins as an attempt to recall the body, however, threatens to be death to literature, for as the narrator soon comments:

I'm living on my memories like a cheap has-been. I've been sitting in

this chair by the fire, my hand on the cat, talking aloud, fool-ramblings.

There's a doctor's text-book fallen open on the floor. To me it's a book of

spells. Skin, it says. Skin.

You were milk-white and fresh to drink.


The fantasy is broken briefly, and we get a picture of the narrator alone and obsessed, hauntingly like Henri on his rock, a model of literary fantasy as only a fragile and temporary source of relief. Still, the scene tells more. Just as she/he once engaged competitively with Louise's husband--a doctor who studies bodies through a scientific lens--the narrator now battles with the language of science in an attempt to reclaim the body, and language, for romance and memory.

The word "skin" invokes an array of fantasies for the narrator, in contrast to the pure technical description offered in Winterson's headings: THE SKIN IS COMPOSED OF TWO MAIN PARTS: THE DERMIS AND THE EPIDERMIS (123). Winterson's narrator remembers instead the context of their earlier sexual experiences, the feel of the skin and its smell. Words evoke meaning but remain ultimately unsatisfying. Trying to recapture Louise's face, the narrator thinks of death tearing it down:

Your face gores me. I am run through. Into the holes I pack splinters of

hope but hope does not heal me. Should I pad my eyes with forgetfulness,

eyes grown thin through looking? Frontal bone, palatine bones, nasal

bones, lacrimal bones, cheek bones, maxilla, vomer, inferior conchae,


Those are my shields, those are my blankets, those words don't remind

me of your face.


To invoke the face's presence is simultaneously to call up its absence, and so the hard distance of scientific words may shield the narrator and give comfort but then leave the image incomplete. In response to this, the last part of the middle section calls up the "special senses" of the smell, taste, and sight of Louise, overlapping metaphors of such senses and eroticizing the memory. Louise's scent is yeast and partridge, then sandalwood and hops; her taste is that of an olive playfully turned over in her lover's mouth. The passage ends with the image of the narrator running toward a sunset "thinking I can jump off the side of the world into the fiery furnace and be burned up in you. I would like to wrap my body in the blazing streaks of bloodshot sky" (138). She/he calls on Louise to return and "restore my sight" (139) or hand her/him the visual reality that she/he lacks--the actual sight of her/his lover.

As Winterson presses on the limits of language, she hits upon its necessary mediation, the recognition that words call up visions distinctly different from those they actually present, letter-by-letter, on the page. From the ways in which words can be sensuous and metaphors pungent, eroticism develops. The body is not a literal, scientific object in the middle section; it is only real through imagination, as it is metaphorically recalled and erotically invoked. In this section also, Winterson pays tribute to Monique Wittig's erotic work Le Corps Lesbien, where one lover explores the inner places of her lover's body in a prose marked by split pronouns (j/e, translated as I) that signify the narrator's torn desire for and identification with her love. The book reads like an extended and intensive version of Winterson's own prose section, as it presses on the link between the body and language.(15) In the book's introduction, Wittig describes her work as a merging of passion and the word:

The body of the text subsumes all the words of the female body. Le Corps

Lesbien attempts to achieve the affirmation of its reality.... To recite

one's own body, to recite the body of the other, is to recite the words of

which the book is made up. The fascination for writing the never previously

written and the fascination for the unattained body proceed from

the same desire. The desire to bring the real body violently to life in the

words of the book (everything that is written exists), the desire to do

violence by writing to the language which I [j/e] can enter only by force.


While Winterson employs some mention of violence, Wittig's is more pronouncedly an erotics of violation, an earthy encounter with every detail of the lover's body, more violent and intense than Winterson's playful and affectionate exploration. Note the vehemence and explicitness of Wittig's prose:

If some woman should speak your name I feel as if m/y ears were about to

fall heavily to the ground, I feel m/y blood warming in m/y arteries, I

perceive at a glance the networks it irrigates, a cry fit to make m/e burst

issues from the depth of m/y lungs.... I invoke your help m/y incomparable

Sappho, give m/e by thousands the fingers that allay the wounds,

give m/e the lips the tongue the saliva which draw one into the slow sweet

poisoned country from which one cannot return.


I discover that your skin can be lifted layer by layer, I pull, it lifts off, it

coils above your knees, I pull starting at the labia, it slides the length of

the belly, fine to extreme transparency, I pull starting at the loins, the skin

uncovers the round muscles and trapezii of the back, it peels off up to the

nape of the neck, I arrive under your hair, m/y fingers traverse its thickness,

I touch your skull, I grasp it with all m/y fingers, I press it, I gather

the skin over the whole of the cranial vault, I tear off the skin brutally

beneath the hair, I reveal the beauty of the shining bone traversed by



I feel your hairs touching m/y buttocks at the height of your clitoris, you

climb on m/e, you rip off m/y skin with the claws of your four paws, a

great sweat comes over m/e hot then soon cold, a white foam spreads the

length of your black chops, I turn around, I clutch at your coat, I take your

head between m/y hands.

(22) Wittig's grasp on the reality of her lover's body is far more vehement and violent than Winterson's, and in this she stays closer to the earthiness of matter and goes less into the realm of the Romantic-fantastic, which is the "fiery furnace" in Winterson's writing. Wittig dives under the skin and grasps the skull; she seizes on the carnality of the body in eager consumption. Like Winterson, however, she is striving to reclaim language about the body from medical science; Wittig's work is in fact translated by "an eminent practicing anatomist and surgeon" so as to accommodate her integration of technical and poetic words.

Wittig's writing, like Winterson's, works to inspire desire by use of pace, parallel structure, and associative series. Both writers drive at their topics with short, wrenching phrases, and both map language over the body. Yet Wittig seems more inclined to return to the body as body, whereas Winterson would mix it carefully with a larger Romantic vision. This effects a kind of transubstantiation of body into word that Winterson comments on in Art and Lies: "The Word terrifies. The seducing word, the insinuating word.... I cannot eat my words but I do. I eat the substance, bread, and I take it into me, word and substance, substance and v word, daily communion, blessed" (54-55). Repeatedly Sappho invokes the power of the word as transubstantiation--it even lifts up Sappho's body as she jumps off the cliff (73). Here, it is likened to ingestion, invoking the model of transubstantiation, resonating most often as a metaphor for reading. Winterson sees her medium as alternately threatening and seductive; rather than opposing language and comprehension, however, she weds them. Words fill one up with substance and give "the spirit" or imaginary back to the world. While Handel lies slumped unconscious on the train, Picasso picks up his book, looks at it and at him. She pictures him as Louise was pictured in Written on the Body, as a medically precise and still fantastic body. "His body . . . was more of bone than of flesh. He was anatomical, an object lesson on the rough bench of the human frame. She thought of him at the autopsy; the neat fibrous squares being cut away from the simple skeleton. The teeming symbiosis of muscle and nerve, tissue and fluid, hung in complex on that obvious rack" (81). After such a distancing observation, however, Picasso is moved by Handel's appearance, his vulnerability, and she pictures herself offering him fruit, the fruit of desire but also of knowledge. She fantasizes that they stand in a garden looking at the tree, and she says "Eat it and you eat the light it gives, a lantern in the gut of Man to read himself thereby" (81). What one ingests in reading gives back vision, and it also gives back, as it alternately derives from, desire. Sappho, reflecting on the power of words and kisses to burn, scald, and transform, writes, "My mouth on yours forms words I do not know.... When you kissed me, my heart was in my mouth, you tore it out to read it, haruspex you" (66). As a haruspex, Sappho's lover can read the future by her "entrails" or passions. Winterson here works the metaphor of reading as a highly interactive and self-revealing process. Books do not simply inform or delight; they tear out our innards and hand us a mirror to the future.

If in Written on the Body Winterson infuses desire into her language, she also comes up against the limits of fantasy and art. What she achieves is the inspiration of desire but not its satisfaction. The book ends in a crisis of the irreconcilable desire that calls up the real--as body--but attains only pure and isolate fantasy. After giving up the search for Louise, the narrator returns to a small town where she/he had been living, only to have a vision of Louise's return. The story then closes on the unstable invocation of fantasy, ending with a full, if futile, denial of the import of reality:

From the kitchen door Louise's face. Paler, thinner, but her hair still

mane-wide and the colour of blood. I put out my hand and felt her fingers,

she took my fingers and put them to her mouth. The scar under the lip burned

me. Am I stark mad? She's warm.


The story twists back to imply that fiction might be as satisfying as reality, and it seems to conclude this way in part as a response to the narrator's comment, to a friend, that "It's as if Louise never existed, like a character in a book. Did I invent her?" (189). Like Henri, the narrator gets the response, "No, but you tried to.... She wasn't yours for the making." The book finally ends, however, with Louise's fantastic appearance at the kitchen door, followed by a reflection on the power of fantasy:

This is where the story starts, in this threadbare room. The walls are

exploding. The windows have turned into telescopes. Moon and stars are

magnified in this room. The sun hangs over the mantlepiece. I stretch out my

hand and reach the corners of the world. The world is bundled up in this room.

Beyond the door, where the river is, where the roads are, we shall be. We can

take the world with us when we go and sling the sun under your arm. Hurry

now, it's getting late. I don't know if this is a happy ending but here we

are let loose in open fields.


It is as if Winterson pushes fantasy to the extreme implications of its use and here refuses to turn back from the madness it invokes, "madness" defined by Lacan as the total release of the Real. One is shocked to remember that fiction is no more than fantasy, however, be it historical or more radically imagined, and it functions only as a focal point of our desires, being perhaps useful but not ultimately able to call up the object of desire.

In Art and Lies, fantasy is more drastically altered, and the question of what "the real" is emerges. Gone is the ironic resistance to immersion in fantasy, for fantasy now is art, and other possibilities for fantasy are swept aside. The book bears a frontispiece that Winterson takes from A. C. Bradley's Oxford lectures in 1901: "The nature of a work of art is to be not part, nor yet a copy of the real world (as we commonly understand that phrase), but a world in itself, independent, complete, autonomous; and to possess it fully you must enter that world, conform to its laws, and ignore for the time the beliefs, aims, and particular conditions which belong to you in the other world of reality." To open with this quotation is strangely ironic in one sense, since Winterson persistently disrupts her story's autonomy with metafictive references that break the reader out of the story's spell. Moreover, Art and Lies is more metafictive than story, the traditional narrative line having been so far erased. And yet to read it is to be immersed in Winterson's world, which is not the real world "as we commonly understand that phrase," as a collection of concrete objects and institutions that resist our will. Rather, Winterson's fantasy attaches to the "real" of emotions or passions that need be drawn back into focus through motif, lyrical address, and fantastic disruptions of the static, deadening acceptance of "reality" as status quo. Certainly, these staler fantasies are resisted, as when Picasso, in Art and Lies, criticizes her mother's excessive sentimentality about her childhood, identifying her as "the stoked-up conspiracy to lie. The fantasy furnace, where truth was chopped into little pieces, and burned and burned and burned" (43). Surviving the sexual abuse of her brother, Picasso abandons this "lying" form of fantasy--a negative version of the furnace now--and finds renewed focus in the letters of Sappho, where fantasy becomes not lies but forward-looking passion. Winterson's desire to invoke alternate worlds is therefore caught up in her need for application and an argument for "real" efficacy of writing.

At the book's close, Sappho, Picasso, and Handel--as contemporary Londoners--are drawn together by an experience that both reaches back historically and connects them contemporaneously through the act of reading a small book. The book is a multiplicity of effects as well as a conglomerate of literature, philosophy, and theology. It contains the remnants of the Great Library of Alexandria dating from 642, including some bits of the Odyssey, Greek philosophy, the Gospel of St. John, and eighteenth-century pornography (the bawdy tale of Doll Sneerpiece's love for the indifferent Ruggierio), and the erotic works of Sappho (which Doll reads). Art's fantasies in the book are defined not as some "other world" in a totalizing sense; rather, they are implicitly connected to the reality of our desires. Desire is what is real, in Winterson, more so than historical events or material objects. In this, she counters Lacan's suspicion of the imaginary, when he senses that one might get lost in rapturous attachment to the fictions one paints for oneself. Fantasy, in Winterson's works, is not an experience that leaves a reader content, but one that fuels desire, denies catharsis, and propels readers back out into their contexts. If Lacan posits desire as that which arises in response to the absence of its object, then one must always have an incommensurate relation between the imaginary and the real to some degree. Winterson's apparent priority is to reinvigorate passion, and she seems to value this above the artist's traditionally mimetic project. Her fantasy connects to our context without necessarily reproducing "the real" in its material sense. What is "real" for Winterson and most salient to context and art is desire as emotion, that which must always face the gap between fantasy and reality and so forever throw itself into the place of possibility. A literature of such futuricity is not to be found, for Winterson, in a literature of realism. If in Lacan the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other, in Winterson's political writing, the desire of fantasy is to be realized in the real--the real of passion, politics, and societal interrelations. Sappho asks, "What are the unreal things but the passions that once burned one like a fire? What are the incredible things but the things that one has faithfully believed? What are the improbable things but the things that one has done oneself?" (205). The book gives back these fantasies and hope, according to its conclusion, suffused with light and music, as the three characters get off the train, both literally leaving their conveyance and symbolically moving away from a "tracked" sensibility of desensitization and displaced desires.

As David Lodge warned, Romantic authors gamble high, work intuitively, and tend either to be extremely successful or to painfully miss le mot juste. Certainly Winterson takes stylistic and imaginative risks, but in the context of the split between harsh or hyperreal fiction and radical fantasy (cyberpunk and utopian feminism), she is able to offer an alternative use of fantasy and eroticism that both addresses the postmodern crisis of narrative and offers a new turn in seductive and socially conscious art. While it would hardly be within reason to suggest that Winterson solves the larger problem of metonymic displacement, I think one can readily see that her critical reconsideration of the imagination and fantasy in her earlier works puts her in a position to rework that form of imaginary in her later attempts to reattach language to sexual desire and love in a far-ranging interpretation of art's effects. In this, she begins what might be a movement of remobilization in the face of Jameson's "waning of affect." Marshaling a series of short, punchy phrases, her writing takes up old cliches and reinvigorates them through juxtaposition, humor, and lyrical repetition. Like advertisements, small phrases repeatedly resurface but then turn us back to deeper desires rather than pressing on toward yet one more facile displacement. Association binds, in Winterson's writing, rather than splitting desires apart, and repeated phrases like "I'm telling you stories, trust me" produce a kind of accretive, associative weight. Her use of pithy, short statements, variously repeated through the course of a novel, thus takes hold of an advertising-consciousness and presses it back toward the dangerously sentimental focuses of desire eschewed in much of contemporary literature.

Fantasy is at best an unstable term in Winterson's writing, but she often uses it (and art) to bridge the gap between harsh reality and a more hopeful construction of the social imaginary. This social imaginary includes the constant possibility of resistance and alternative realizations of identity, in that fantasy can offer far more potentialities than reality. If the fixity of reality is the hallmark of a static status quo, Winterson's use of fantasy and eroticism pulls away from such fixations to open up a space for alternative life styles (alternatives to family, to heterosexuality, to society, to postmodern media). And the point where concrete reality meets fiction-as-fantasy occurs precisely at the moment of reading. In The Passion, Henri allegorizes his love for Villanelle as an act of reading through her mediative responses, saying that his love "means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as though I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read" (159). Books become the mediation of subjectivity and inspiration, functioning as some "other" that both provides the fantasy and invokes the need for dialectic in the instability of its own words. In Art and Lies, Winterson writes of the Book, as any book:

The Book; fabulous, unlikely, beyond wealth, a talisman against time, an

inventing and a remembrance.

The Book. The handwritten word. The printed word. The word illuminated.

The beacon word. The word carved in stone and set above the sea. The warning

word in flashes that appeared and vanished and vanished and appeared, cutting

the air with a bright sword. The word that divided nation against nation. The

word that knits up the soul. The word spinning a thread through time. The

word in red and gold. The Word in human form, Divine.


(1.) Lodge's is certainly the most in-depth review of Winterson's work within the mainstream press. Gore Vidal cited by Lodge and on Winterson's dust jackets, has identified her as "the most interesting young writer I have read in twenty years." Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit received praise both within the press and in academic journals (see, for example, Hilary Hinds's article) Muriel Spark gave The Passion a favorable review in Vanity Fair. Ellen Pall praised that novel in the New York Times Book Review. In the Village Voice, Carol Anshaw admired Winterson's outlandishness and her imagination in Written on the Body and other works. And finally, Elizabeth Hand wrote a highly positive review of Art and Lies in Book World. (2.) The Passion and Sexing the Cherry also won distinguished awards. The Passion won the 1987 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and Sexing the Cherry brought Winterson the 1989 E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. (3.) "Waning of affect" is Fredric Jameson's term, in "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism." (4.) Lacan, "Agency of the Letter," Ecrits 160. Lacan describes this as "incessant sliding of the signified under the signifier" (154). It is this infinitely reconfigured form of displacement that Jean Baudrillard views with suspicion, when he analyzes hyperreal representations and events that "function as a set of signs dedicated exclusively to their recurrence as signs, and no longer to their `real' goal at all." These images go on indefinitely, "no longer having any particular contents or aims, but indefinitely refracted by each other" (Simulations 41). (5.) I am claiming that aggressivity and intensity emerge from binarisms as a result of the repression inherent in moralisms, which must insist on an extreme split and so deny any mediation between extremes or degrees of difference in between. See Lacan's essay "Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis," Ecrits 8--29. (6.) Likewise, in Winterson's next novel, Boating for Beginners, the protagonist's mother is an amalgam of will and ideals, so strong she can hold up her house by belief alone. She is both admirable and overwhelming, and Winterson takes and continues her critical reworking of strong women, transforming the binarism into a positive source of fantasy in Sexing the Cherry. (7.) If the subject fails to account for reality, according to Lacan, aggressivity will leap forth as a result of the force of repressing such interruption In Lacan's work, the imaginary is roughly equivalent to fantasy, as the subject's creative endeavor to collect itself in an image (imago) called forth by the Other. Lacan disparages this state as that which gives rise to aggressivity, since it relies on the repression of the multiple forces in consciousness. It occurs in the early part of infancy that Lacan calls the mirror stage, where the imago helps it "establish a relation between the organism and its reality-or, as they say, between the Innenwelt and the Umwelt" (Ecrits 4). In this stage, the subject is caught up in "the lure of spatial identification" which takes it from dreams of the fragmented body to a fantasy of its totality and, finally, "to the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure the subject's entire mental development" (4). As the mirror stage comes to an end, the subject identifies with theimago image and experiences "primordial jealousy," and so begins a "dialectic that will henceforth link the I to socially elaborated situations" (5).

Lacan criticizes philosophies of radical individualism, like Sartre's, since they freeze the I prior to the social dialectic, isolating the subject within a fantasy narrative that fails to interact with the Other. This can give rise to a neurosis that has a characteristic intertia. See "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I," in Ecrits. (8.) Amaryll Chanady gives a good resume of the history of fantasy's various definitions and its relation to magical realism. She points out that magical realism has undergone a range of uses, beginning with German art and pictorial application and concluding with this interaction between the real and the fantastic. (9.) Religious myths, particularly those from Winterson's own Pentecostal background, proliferate in these novels, as here Villanelle's step parallels that of Christ. Biblical references and Winterson's treatment of religion have been the focus of some of the sparse criticism on her work. Laurel Bollinger, for example, reads Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit as a parodic reworking of the story of Ruth. On a very different note, Vanity Fair published an article on Winterson in February 1995, lambasting the confidence of her style as egocentric and tracing her "vision of herself as one of the chosen" back to her religion (Rocco). (10.) Richard Todd argues that British postmodern fiction is distinctive in its intense drive to stage confrontations between realism and historiography or realism and the literary tradition. Winterson's writing most often sets up the former opposition as in Boating for Beginners, Sexing the Cherry, and The Passion. And although Todd wrote before Winterson gained the attention of postmodern critics she fits his scheme in her rampant use of metafictive asides to the reader. See Todd 118 and passim. (11.) See Acker's fiction which has been characterized as "punk writing." Acker writes in clear prose, using simple terms to drive home her points. But there any slight similarity with Winterson ends. Acker's works tear away any veil of Romantic reconstruction insisting on a brutal realism. In her essay "Realism for the Cause of Future Revolution," Acker describes and interprets the realism of Goya and Caravaggio. Her prose echoes the harsh humor of her fiction Looking at Caravaggio's "The Gypsy Fortuneteller," for example, she writes: "Gypsies're the scum of the earth. No one in her right mind would have anything to do with them. They're (were?) just lower sexual animals of course they're all women and all women being sexual animals're witches. How can these beautiful young aristocratic boy's eyes, his very intellect, his soul, and her scum-being be one total world? Because the intellectual sphere mirrors and connects to the animal sphere: sexuality is this totality: the looks of these two people, which is my look as I look at them, is a certain definition of sexual desire" (38-39). Acker interprets realism not as mere mirror or as judgmental presentation; rather, she focuses on the way in which these paintings communicate to the reader, affect her, seducing or excluding her by virtue of their gaze. And so, for Acker, realism connects the audience to the work in a sexual (and that is also a political) realm. (12.) This is a long-standing motif, taken from St. Augustine's writings invoked by writers like James Joyce in the "Scylla and Charybdis" episode of Ulysses and in Finnegans Wake and also by Jacques Lacan in his writing on the Word in the Discours de Rome (see Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis). For a powerful analysis of the overlap of desires in transubstantiation, see Werner Hamacher's work on Hegel's "Der Geist des Christentums," a portion of which is translated and published in "The Reader's Supper: A Piece of Hegel." (13.) Winterson wrote the novel from the perspective of a lover who remains mysteriously unsexed. Lucretia Stewart reports that many readers, who seemed to have preferred a more "realistic" form of reference, were exasperated by their inability to identify the sex of the narrator. Winterson is fond of playing on androgyny, and in Art and Lies she comments on Handel as pleasantly androgynous (he is arguably the castrato to whom the small book is addressed). (14.) When Louise's husband issues an ultimatum, the two lovers are drawn apart. Suffering from leukemia, Louise wishes to leave her husband despite his insistence that he, as a well-established cancer specialist, would be best able to cure or at least delay her illness. If Louise does not bend to this plea, however, the narrator does. The husband contacts the narrator and offers to expend all his resources for Louise only if she and the narrator cease to pursue their liaison. Against Louise's wishes, the narrator leaves, an action she/he later regrets. The narrator returns to find Louise gone, the husband in a new affair, and all trace of her/his lover lost. (15.) Lacan comments on the embodiment of words and their power in a similar vein: "The Word is in fact a gift of Language, and Language is not immaterial. It is a subtle body, but body it is. Words are trapped in all the corporeal images which captivate the subject; they can make the hysteric pregnant, be identified with the object of penis-neid, represent the flood of urine of urethral ambition, or the retained faeces of avaricious jouissance" (Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis 64).


Acker, Kathy. "Realism for the Cause of Future Revolution." Art after Modernism: Rethinking [Representation. Ed. Brian Wallis. New York and Boston: New Museum of Contemporary Art-Godine, 1984. 31-42.

Anshaw, Carol. "Into the Mystic: Jeanette Winterson's Fable Manners." Village Voice 12 June 1990: S16, S17.

Baudrillard, Jean. "After the Orgy." The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena. Trans. James Benedict. London: New Left, 1993. 3-13.

--. The Evil Demon of Images. Sydney, Austral.: Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1987.

--. Simulations. Trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983.

Bollinger, Laurel. "Models of Female Loyality: The Biblical Ruth in Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. " Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 13 (1994): 363-80.

Burger, Peter. Theory of the Avant-Garde. Trans. Michael Shawl Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984.

Chanady, Amaryll Beatrice. Magical Realism and the Fantastic: Resolved versus Unresolved Antinomy. New York: Garland, 1985.

DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Penguin, 1984.

Hamacher, Werner. "The Reader's Supper: A Piece of Hegel." Diacritics 11.2 (1981): 52-67.

Hand, Elizabeth. Review of Art and Lies. Book World 19 Mar. 1995: 2.

Hassan, Ihab. Paracriticisms: Seven Speculations of the Times. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1975.

Hinds, Hilary. "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Reaching Audiences Other Lesbian Texts Cannot Read." New Lesbian Criticism: Literary and Cultural Reachings. Ed. Sally Munt. New York: Columbia UP, 1992. 153-72.

Jameson, Fredric. "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism." New Left Review 146 (1984): 53-92.

Kemp, Peter. "Writing for a Fall." Rev. of Art and Lies. Sunday Times Books [London] 26 June 1994: 71a.

Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1977.

--. Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis. Trans. Anthony Wilden. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1968.

Lodge, David. "Outrageous Things: The Passion by Jeanette Winterson." New York Review of Books 29 Sept. 1988: 25-26.

Moore, Lorrie. Anagrams. New York: Viking-Penguin, 1987.

Olalquiaga, Celeste. Megalopolis: Contemporary Cultural Sensibilities. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1992.

Pall, Ellen. Rev. of The Passion. New York Times Book Review 7 Aug. 1988: 20.

Pritchard, William H. Rev. of Art and Lies. New York Times Book Review 26 Mar. 1995: 14-15.

Rocco, Fiametta. "Winterson's Discontent." Vanity Fair Feb. 1995: 112-15, 148-49.

Spark, Muriel. "A Winterson Tale." Rev. of The Passion. Vanity Fair May 1988: 54-58.

Stewart, Lucretia. "No, No Jeanette." Harper's Bazaar Feb. 1993: 74-76.

Todd, Richard. "Confrontation within Convention: On the Character of British

Postmodernist Fiction." Postmodern Fiction in Europe and the Americas. Ed. Theo D'Haen and Hans Bertens. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988. 115-26.

Winterson, Jeanette. Art and Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd. London: Jonathan Cape-Random, 1994.

--. Boating for Beginners. London: Methuen, 1985.

--. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. 1985. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 1987.

--. The Passion. New York: Random, 1987.

--. Sexing the Cherry. New York: Random, 1989.

--. Written on the Body. New York: Random, 1992.

Wittig, Monique. The Lesbian Body. Trans. David Le Vay. Boston: Beacon, 1975.

Wood, James. "Beware of Shallowness." Rev. of Art and Lies. London Review of Books July 1994: 9.

Special thanks to Lesley Amano, who made a gift of my first Winterson novel to me several years ago. This work has been helped along by the thoughtful suggestions of Caroline Webb, Colleen Kennedy, and Debrah Raschke, and by the chance to have an extended discussion of Winterson's writing with William and Mary students in my classes. Tara Kelly, who did an independent study with me on Winterson's female communities, was especially inspiring in her interest in Winterson and her generosity in sharing a copy of Art and Lies with me months before that book was available in this country.
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Author:Burns, Christy L.
Publication:Contemporary Literature
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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