Volume 10, Number 1 (January 2013)
Author: Muzaffar Karim
V.S. Naipaul’s remark that women have a “narrow world-view” (2011) are emblematic of patriarchal thinking and at the same time they represent both, success and failure of the whole feminist endeavor in literature as well as in theory. His remark shows the concrete presence of patriarchal ideals still prevailing in the world, while his remark that women writers are “quite different” signals the success that female writing has achieved in being different and distinguishable from dominant, patriarch, masculine writing.
Is this not what feminism(s) wanted to achieve: a writing that will authentically represent the feminine experiences and subjectivity? If not, does it not then hint towards a major flaw in the feminine strategy of developing an écriture or theorizing such a form of writing? The problem does not lie in theorizing, but the locale in which it orders the things. The feminist discourse of écriture is firmly rooted in the dichotomy of male/female. Jeanette Winterson in her novel Written on the Body does not go beyond, rather transforms this dichotomous relation, this binary, and this is achieved by the genderless and nameless narrator. By making the narrator genderless, the novel challenges the cultural stereotypes and also evokes the cultural construction of gender which the narrator successfully avoids.
The narrator has relations with both men and women, and being genderless, it evokes playfulness, a deception, a disturbing of binaries of male/female. The narration (narrator) is seductive, in the way Jean Baudrillard conceptualizes ‘seduction’. For Baudrillard, Seduction has to be understood in its Latin etymology, “se-ducere: to take aside, to divert from one’s path” (Baudrillard  1990:22). Seduction is what challenges this structure. It does not question male/female binary, rather the bar that separates the two and creates this binary structure. It is “a challenge, a form which tends always to unsettle someone in their identity and the meaning they have for themselves” (Baudrillard, 2003:22). The narration of Written on the Body does exactly this. It narrates without revealing or ‘producing’ the identity. The identity of the narrator is never revealed to the reader through an écriture which is seductive – being genderless the narration (narrator) is able to place itself radically against the sex/gender dichotomies and by having relations with both male and female, it ‘plays’ with gender.
Seduction, for Baudrillard, belongs to Symbolic order, and “stands out radically against the universe of production” (ibid.:21). The order of production posits an object which has a value inherent in it. The logic of economic exchange, for Baudrillard, prevails because of a code that separates the exchange value from use value and presupposes value in the object. The structure of economic exchange and axiology as well as the structure of signification is same. The way economic exchange creates exchange value/use value, in the same way the process of signification creates subject/object. What enables the formation of this structure is the assigning of value. Seduction does not manufacture things, nor produces them for a world of value, but seduces them – “that is to say, of diverting them from that value, and hence from their identity, their reality, to destine them for the play of appearances, for their symbolic exchange” (ibid.).
This is exactly what happens in the novel. The difference between self/other, subject/object blurs down when the narrator says, “I thought difference was rated to be the largest part of sexual attraction but there are so many things about us that are the same. Bone of my bone. Flesh of my flesh. To remember you it’s my own body I touch.” Later on, when it evokes the cancerous body of beloved it becomes the subject as well as object of desire and narrator itself becomes beloved’s object of desire (Makinen, 2005:116). By this, it transforms and challenges the subject/object dichotomy as well as plays with desire. This is what seduction does, it “is not so much a play on desire as a playing with desire. It does not deny it, nor is it its opposite, but it sets it in play” (Baudrillard, 2003:23).
According to Baudrillard, neither Marxism nor Structuralist or Poststructuralist view of language will ever be able to develop a radical critique to the order of production, which excludes all forms of ‘symbolic ambivalences’. “Baudrillard argues that Saussurian linguistics created a semiology with an ideological force of the same magnitude as that of political economy. . . [and] insists that the critique of the system of political economy has also to be a critique of the political economy of the sign” (Grace, 2000:10. Marxism, for Baudrillard, falls prey to the productivist logic. For Marxism, production is the raison d’etre and without this category it cannot work. Expanding the Lacanian analogy at societal level, Baudrillard argues that “through this scheme of production, this mirror of production, the human species comes to consciousness in the imaginary” (Baudrillard  1975:19). In the same way, Structuralist view of language produces the Sd/Sr, Subject/Object difference that extends to identity/difference as well as male/female difference and the whole endeavor is to develop logic of equivalence that tries to balance it out. Poststructuralist view of language postulates the ever deferment of the Sd associated with a Sr. Like Marxism, Poststructuralism offers no radical critique to this codified Sd/Sr structure. Rather, the logic of “equivalence has simply transmuted into polyvalence” (Baudrillard  1981:149-50), identity/difference into identities/differences (Grace, 2000:9-10). This order of production (or the field of value, as Baudrillard calls it) continuously tries to exclude Symbolic Exchange: EcEv/Uv = Sr/Sd / SbE*. This Symbolic exchange offers a radical critique to this universe of production that continuously separates Subject/Object on the basis of values. Symbolic exchange becomes that “Strategic site where all the modalities of value flow together towards . . . a blind zone, in which everything is called into question again (Baudrillard, 2003:15).
In the same way, Feminism for Baudrillard, offers no radical critique to patriarchy. “What does the women’s movement oppose to the phallocratic structure? Autonomy, difference, a specificity of desire and pleasure, a different relation to the female body, a speech, a writing – but never seduction (Baudrillard  1990:8). Feminism is firmly rooted into the dichotomous separation of male/female, masculine/feminine, an order that belongs to the universe of production. And this masculine and feminine opposition is itself a masculine one (ibid.:7). Thus, the nature of production is masculine and this masculine order like the order of production tries to exclude seduction, which forms a part of symbolic. The narration of the novel does not ‘produce’ the identity, gender, age of the narrator. In narrating, it seduces each of these categories.
Talking about Freud’s claim, Anatomy is destiny, Baudrillard says that the feminist movement rejects this claim as being phallic and “sealed with the stamp of anatomy ( 1990:90.” But, he says that the feminist alternative to this is still anatomical and biological in nature. He refers to the writing of Luce Irigaray:
Indeed, woman’s pleasure does not have to choose between clitoral activity and vaginal passivity, for example. The pleasure of the vaginal caress does not have to be substituted for that of the clitoral caress . They each contribute, irreplaceably, to woman’s pleasure. Among other caresses . . .Fondling the breasts, touching the vulva, spreading the lips, stroking the posterior wall of the vagina, brushing against the mouth of the uterus, and so on. To evoke only a few of the most specifically female pleasures (ibid.).
In the same way, when the narrator remembers/writes the cancerous body of the beloved, it does so by first citing from the medical/anatomical book and then narrates the body in its own way, i.e., poetically and erotically. The medical/anatomical language here represents the language of Louise’s (narrator’s beloved) husband Elgin (who is professionally a Doctor working on cancer), and also a patriarch language. The narrator says, “In doctor-think the body is a series of bits to be isolated and treated as necessary, that the body in its very disease may act as a whole is an upsetting concept” (Winterson, 2001:175). This is emblematic of patriarch and male narration, which sees everything in a logical and isolated way. But, in remembering Louise’s dying body, it subverts the very language of medical and male discourse. The narration becomes the cancer, which is “the body turning upon itself” (ibid.:105). The narration turns upon the writing body of medical and masculine and subverts the relation. It does not remember the body in its physiology, but in its entirety. The four sections that describe various parts of body are: 1) The Cells, tissues, systems and cavities of the Body; 2) the skin; 3) the Skelton; and 4) the special senses.
Thus, the body is remembered on a level which is not anatomical or physiological and not in a way various Feminist language theories imply. The body is remembered poetically and erotically (done successfully by Monique Wittig in The Lesbian Body). This poetic rendition of body stands in radical opposition to various Feminist language theories which are rooted in body. For those language theories, body and its desires are important. They speak of a body which is able, healthy, sexual and capable of producing desires. “Nowadays, one no longer says:
‘You’ve got a soul and you must save it’, but: ‘You’ve got a sexual nature, and you must find out how to use it well’” ‘You’ve got an unconscious, and you must learn how to liberate it’. ‘You’ve got a body, and you must know how to enjoy it’. ‘You’ve got a libido, and you must know how to spend it’ (Baudrillard ( 2007:39).
Narrating the body in Written on the Body, the narration becomes seduction, diverting things “from that value, and hence from their identity, their reality” (Baudrillard, 2003:21). The body that is narrated here is not able; it is unhealthy, diseased and dying. It is not capable of sexuality or of producing desires. We do not come to know of this body directly, but through the narrator. Despite that, the narrator is aware of this and says, “The Leukaemic body hurts easily. I could not be rough with you now, making you cry out with pleasure close to pain. We’ve bruised each other, broken the capillaries shot with blood. Tubes hair-thin intervening between arteries and veins, those ramified blood vessels that write body’s longing” (Winterson, 2001:124).
And when it comes to the production of desire, the narrator says, “You used to flush with desire. That was when we were in control, our bodies conspirators in our pleasure” (ibid.). Thus, the narration of body in Written on the Body is radically different. It remembers/writes body, which is not sexual and yet remembers/writes it erotically and poetically. This narration of body actually annuls and cancels the very body that it tries to produce. It then offers a symbolic exchange “within the field of language”. Baudrillard would call it ‘Poetic’. Poetic for Baudrillard is “a site of the extermination of value” (ibid.). The narration in Written on the body does not produce any value, body, identity or gender. It is a language ‘turning upon itself’ or a language which “is not ‘centered’ on itself”, rather “it decentres itself” (ibid.:126). The poetic narration of Written on the Body is what Baudrillard would call “a good poem . . . where nothing is left over” (ibid.:200). Whereas Scheherazade’s narration tries to keep death away and makes a clear opposition between life and death, Written on the Body mixes and exchanges life and death, a feature central to Baudrillard’s seduction. The narration of beloved’s dying body is in itself a reversibility of life and death.
So, the problem with Feminism per se and écriture(s) associated with it is that it seeks to overthrow the patriarch structure of male/female while remaining caught in the very structure. “Any movement that believes it can subvert a system by its infra-structure is naïve” (Baudrillard  1990:10). For Baudrillard, this attempt of feminine to “pass through to the other side, or to cross terms” (ibid,:6) is of no avail. This attempt will do nothing, as it is enclosed within this structure. “Either the structure remains the same, with the female being entirely absorbed by the male”, that is to say masculine belongs to the order of production and will try to produce “woman as female” (ibid.:15), sexual in nature and with sex as value. The other thing that can happen in this attempt to overthrow masculine is that “there is no longer either female or male – the degree zero of the structure” (ibid.:6) which is evident in the rise of Transsexuality. “The danger of the sexual revolution for the female is that she will be enclosed within a structure that condemns her to either discrimination when the structure is strong, or a derisory triumph within a weakened structure” (ibid.). Thus, for Baudrillard, “feminine [should] not [be] what opposes the masculine, but what seduces the masculine” (ibid.:7).
In Writing as Seduction, writing takes up the most clichéd norms (e.g., Gender in this novel) and tries not to go beyond them, but rather to transform the relation between them, playing with mere appearances. This writing is always ambivalent calling “into question the legitimacy of value.” The form of writing as Seduction is not to break the linear form, but to seduce it; it is not to go beyond the binary structure or produce multiple structures, but to put reversibility into these binaries without getting exchanged. It does not write to make things appear but to set the “‘play’ of appearances and disappearances, since this play is itself a form of seduction” (Doel, 2010:188) – “it is a circular and reversible process of challenge, one-upmanship, and death” (Baudrillard  2007:55).
About the Author
Muzaffar Karim completed his M.A. in English at the University of Kashmir. His Doctoral Thesis (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) is: “Knowledge-Power Nexus: A Study of Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard”. The present paper as presented at a National Seminar: “Women`s Writing: Language, Literature and Theory”, University of Kashmir, March 20, 2012.
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Jean Baudrillard (2003). Passwords. London: Verso.
Marcus A. Doel (2010). ‘Seduction’ in The Baudrillard Dictionary (Richard G. Smith, Editor). Edinburgh University Press.
Victoria Grace (2000). Baudrillard’s Challenge: A Feminist Reading. New York: Routledge.
Merja Makinen (2005). The Novels of Jeanette Winterson. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
V. S. Naipaul (2011). Interview with the Royal Geographic Society (May). For a discussion of his remarks see The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/02/vs-naipaul-jane-austen-women-writers
Jeanette Winterson (2001). Written on the Body. London: Verso).