Saturday, January 31, 2009

Grafting the soul

I thought I might become someone else in time, grafted on to something better and stronger.

The inward life tells us that we are multiple not single, and that our one existence is really countless existences holding hands like those cut-out paper dolls, but unlike the dolls never coming to an end. When we say, 'I have been here before,' perhaps we mean, 'I am here now,' but in another life, another time, doing something else. Our lives could be stacked together like plates on a waiter's hand. Only the top one is showing, but the rest are there and by mistake we discover them.

Escape from what? The present? Yes, from this foreground that blinds me to whatever may be happening in the distance. If I have a spirit, a soul, any name will do, then it won't be single, it will be multiple. Its dimension will not be one of confinement but one of space. It may inhabit numerous changing decaying bodies in the future and in the past.

Poisoned or not, the mercury has made me think like this. Drop it and it shivers in clones of itself all over the floor, but you can scoop it up again and there won't be any seams or shatter marks. It's one life or countless lives depending on what you want.

The future and the present and the past exist only in our minds, and from a distance the borders of each shrink and fade like the borders of hostile countries seen from a floating city in the sky. The river runs from one country to another without stopping. And even the most solid of things and the most real, the best-loved and the well-known, are only hand-shadows on the wall. Empty space and points of light.

--Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry

As you can gather from the quotes above, in a novel brimming with mythology, fairy tale, history, and metaphysics, (in a year that I want to spend quite a bit of time on mythology), I was most taken by the metaphysics. The earthy giantess Dog Woman, who raised dogs for fighting in 17th century London and did not hesitate to kill hypocritical Puritans who crossed her path, often appalled me; her dreamy foundling son Jordan, a fantasist who sailed the world, did not.

But are the Dog Woman and Jordan of the 17th century the same characters as the ones who show up in present day London at the end of the book, the pretty young chemist camped in protest by the side of a poisoned river and the Nicolas Jordan who joins her there? Have souls transmigrated across the centuries or has one of the characters merely engaged in "rich imaginings"?

I'd prefer the transmigration. Unfortunately, there was something about Sexing the Cherry that made me feel like Eustace Scrubb who'd read the wrong books for the adventure at hand. How can I sprinkle the coal-dust over the milky invisible ink in Winterson if I've never read Orlando, or Angela Carter? I wondered early on if the entire book was supposed to be a celebration of the transportive powers of the imagination, but too often I found the commingling of the different genres more off-putting than engaging. For a short book, I checked to see how many pages remained way too often.

I'm looking forward to discussing this one much more than attempting to write about it.


Anonymous said...

I found Dog Woman's behavior appalling in many respects too. She killed people so easily and felt no guilt about. But she wasn't amoral, she definitely had a personal sense of right and wrong, it just didn't include murder. I'll be interested to hear more about what you didn't like in the book!

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