Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"It's Not Power, It's Sex:" Jeanette Winterson's Power Book and and Nicole Brossard's Baroque D'aube

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"It's Not Power, It's Sex:" Jeanette Winterson's Power Book and and Nicole Brossard's Baroque D'aube

Article excerpt

BOTH JEANETTE WINTERSON AND NICOLE BROSSARD play seriously with reading and sex in their texts. Querying arbitrary distinctions like those between reality and fiction, theory and narrative, the authentic and the artificial, texts by Winterson and Brossard interrogate distinctions between writing and reading as well. In particular, Winterson's Power-Book (2000) and Brossard's (2000) and Brossard's Baroque d'aube (1995; trans. 1997) reverse the conventional relationship between writer and reader. Where sex and seduction are invoked as analogies for the writer-text-reader relationship, especially within metafiction, the writer is often constructed as a seducer who exercises her skills and wiles to bring her target, the reader, to the point of willing surrender. But by re-casting their model-reader figures as figures as their seducers--not their writer-protagonists--Winterson and Brossard invert the relationship and privilege the reader's role in the production of texts. Both The PowerBook and and Baroque d'aube are constructed as texts-in-process that are shaped and moulded by the desires of seducing model-readers. Winterson's writing "I" composes romantic stories online for her lover, a married woman; one of Brossard's two writer-protagonists tries to replenish the ocean's literary significance at the request of her fan. In each case it is the interests of a seducing reader that directs the parameters of the embedded fictions. This reader is no longer a somewhat gullible person whose submission to a stronger will brings her to relinquish arbitrary notions of "virtue" or value, of fact, reality and credibility. She is already predisposed towards suspending her disbelief and willing to embrace fiction as fact in what she recognizes as a necessary precondition of the narrative process. In Winterson and Brossard it is the reader figure, not the writer, who takes the initiative in the process of constructing a text. Her engagement in this process helps produce an ontologically disparate narrative whose intersecting realities swell and pulsate, promising to burst the bounds of the fictional and flood the terrain of the actual.

To identify reader as seducer and writer as seducee inverts conventional constructions of agency and passivity, production and consumption, femininity and masculinity, and of the sexual experience that is the ubiquitous analogy for all of these and more. As such, Winterson and Brossard engage in a project with which feminists have been perhaps especially engaged: the questioning of a thought-process that erects arbitrary binaries and dichotomies. On one side, both the seducer and the seduced are women; on the other, the relative aggressiveness of the writer and reader figures is reversed. This revisitation of well-trodden territory also revisits the feminist project of theorizing sexuality. In the 1970s and '80s, theorists including Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous distinguished female sexuality from male sexuality, constructing women's erogenous zones as multitudinous and shifting and women's orgasm as relating to a uniquely female economy of inexhaustible giving. Both of these positions pit "feminine" multiplicity and excess against what they see as a more restrictive phallocentric pattern of arousal, tumescence, friction and release or a rigid masculine "debit versus credit" economy. (1) While this provides an alternative to the phallocentric equivalence between the pattern of male genital climax and plot resolution by making room for alternative points of bliss, it remains an essentializing alternative because it reinforces distinctions between the genders while sidestepping what is held in common.

Jean Baudrillard's Seduction (1979; trans. 1990) reinstates these problems by distinguishing the seducer's practices and pleasures from the seductress's and the male's resistances and vulnerabilities from the female's. Yet it also establishes common ground between male and female pleasure. He cites a passage by Vincent Descombes:

   What seduces is not some feminine wile, but the fact that it is
   directed at you. … 
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