Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

What's in a Name? the Case of Jeanettewinterson.Com

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

What's in a Name? the Case of Jeanettewinterson.Com

Article excerpt

If, as Michel Foucault maintains, the function of an author is "tied to the legal and institutional systems that circumscribe, determine, and articulate the realm of discourses" (130), then any dispute over the legal rights to an author's name will constitute a struggle over how that function should be defined and articulated. The issue becomes especially contentious when the site of the struggle is the World Wide Web and the author is someone like Jeanette Winterson, who in much of her work celebrates the fluid, decentered subject. I would like to juxtapose Winterson's representation of a postmodern subjectivity in her fiction with the dispute over the domain name Jeanette Winterson on the World Wide Web, hoping to raise some questions about the subject's ontological status and its representation.

Winterson is commonly read and understood as a postmodern author. As Doan has argued, Winterson's work is imbued with many of the conventions associated with postmodernism: intertextuality, parody, pastiche, self-reflexivity, fragmentation, the questioning of master narratives, the problematizing of closure, the valorization of instability, and the suspicion of coherence (138). It clearly aims to challenge patriarchal and heterosexist discursive practices by facilitating a potentially productive oppositional stance and critique. Broadly speaking, Winterson's concerns in her fiction, the categories she interrogates, may be said to be history and the subject. Both of these she assumes largely to have been inscribed in the past by male-centered, male-privileged narratives. Her strategy is to reconfigure such narratives so as to construct other cultural spaces within which it may be possible to enact alternative performances. Often, though not always, she is concerned particularly with creating new spaces capable of articulating and celebrating lesbian identities and desires (Roesner 105).

In Winterson's repudiation of master narratives and in her attempts to give voice to alternative ones, one of her most consistent targets, not surprisingly, has been the Enlightenment subject: the fixed, unitary, coherent individual. As Meyer suggests, any "unitary approach" to Winterson or her work "forecloses on the multiplicity that she herself seeks to engender"; instead, "we must allow the novels to display the author's developing theory of contradiction in identity" (210). Winterson repeatedly celebrates the decentering of the fixed subject in her fiction, largely through what is for her the deeply political act of making stories. As Marvel observes, Winterson is "hoping all the time that [the making of stories] will challenge people, both into looking more closely at these things they thought were cut and dried and also, perhaps, into inventing their own stories" (168).

Winterson's third novel, The Passion (1987), includes the oft-repeated refrain "I'm telling you stories. Trust me" (5 and passim), reminding us that the invention of stories is inextricably tied in Winterson's work with the creation of narrative voice, a voice that often enacts a highly ambivalent and ambiguous relationship to the name that purportedly acts as its cultural and ontological signifier. Her 1989 novel Sexing the Cherry can be seen as perhaps the most successful instance of her desire to interrogate any assumption of an unmediated connection between subject, name, and narrative voice. Early in the story, Jordan, one of the novel's narrators, resolves to

   set a watch on myself like a jealous father, trying to catch myself
   disappearing through a door just noticed in the wall. I knew I was
   being adulterous; that what I loved was not going on at home. I was
   giving myself the slip and walking through this world like a shadow.

Later, another of the novel's narrative voices asserts that "[t]he inward life tells us we are multiple, not single, and that our existence is really countless existences holding hands like those cut-out paper dolls, but unlike the dolls never coming to an end" (90). …

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