Dissolving the Reader/Author Binary

Dissolving the Reader/Author Binary:
Sylvia Molloy's Certificate of Absence,
Helena Parente Cunha's Woman Between Mirrors,
and Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body

Michael Hardin, Bloomsburg University

In Western culture, we have been trained in binary thought: good or evil, white or black, logical or emotional, male or female. One of the consequences of such thought processes is associative, wherein the individual equates all of the terms on one side of the equation: good, white, logical, male or evil, black, emotional, female. Such conclusions have created serious problems for women and people of color, namely the association of evil with being female or with being a person of color. One response to binary constructions is to redefine the associations of terms, such that female is good or black is good. This, however, does not change the inherent bias of the binary construction. A more radical approach is to challenge binary logic itself, to argue, for example, that such definition is not absolute or even particularly valid. Sylvia Molloy (1938-), Helena Parente Cunha (1929-), and Jeanette Winterson (1959-)-three contemporary writers, from Argentina, Brazil, and Great Britain respectively-all write against a male tradition that is validated by its insistence on distinctions between self and other, subject and object, reader and author. Molloy, in Certificate of Absence (En breve cárcel, 1981), Parente Cunha, in Woman Between Mirrors (Mulher no espelho, 1985), and Winterson, in Written on the Body (1992), use the metafictional tropes of narrator-writers and readers to challenge binary thought. First, each eliminates the role of the male reader or author; second, a female reader is presented who is an adept reader of both texts and bodies; third, reading is shown to be a physical as well as an intellectual pursuit; and finally, the distinctions between self and other, reader and author are blurred, frequently through the metaphor of the mirror.

By creating metafictional texts, Molloy, Parente Cunha, and Winterson engage a Western literary subgenre that has been especially complicit in the construction of women as passive and nonintellectual readers. The trope of the "woman reader" appears during the eighteenth century in the development of the English novel; much of the literary tradition of the passive "woman reader" can be traced to Laurence Sterne's novel Tristram Shandy (1760-67) and its negative construction of the "Madam reader." Sterne's "Madam reader" is not as adept as his "Gentleman reader" and even on second readings "misses the point." [1] The "woman reader" is carried over into twentieth-century Western literature as well, most notably as the "female reader" in Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch (1963). In Hopscotch, Cortázar proposes two ways to read, one of which is the "female-reading," which involves reading the novel from chapter one through fifty-six, and then stopping, omitting the final ninety-nine chapters; the "female-reader" "will not get beyond the first few pages, rudely lost and scandalized." [2] Following Cortázar, Italo Calvino, in If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (1979), introduces his Reader (who is constructed as a heterosexual male) to a second reader, the Lady Reader: "To understand [the position books occupy in your life], our Reader knows that the first step is to visit the kitchen." [3] Calvino is constructing his Lady Reader as inherently domestic; like Sterne and Cortázar, Calvino is curtailing the female reader's intellectual possibilities. As we find out nine pages later, the interest of the narrative lies not in the Lady Reader's ability to read, but in her ability to provide sex for the (male) Reader. Milorad Pavic's novel Dictionary of the Khazars (1988) repeats the same biases; the female edition of Dictionary of the Khazars emphasizes not reading but emotion: "And so, when I began to read the proffered pages, I at one moment lost the train of thought in the text and drowned it in my own feelings." [4] With such a tradition as this, it becomes imperative for women writers to change the dynamic of the woman reader.

As a response, I believe, to the reductive definition of women readers, women writers consciously disqualify or exclude male readers and/or writers from their texts. Sylvia Molloy's unnamed protagonist-writer removes men from the games that she and her sister, Clara, play: "In the games she played with her sister ... there were never fathers or husbands ... there were now no men." [5] This idea is highlighted in the narrator's dreams, in which her father appears with a missing hand, one that she tries to eat (CA 85); effectively, the male/father is denied the position of writer by the daughter. Parente Cunha's unnamed narrator first discounts the male readers of texts: her sons, their friends, and her husband all read her notebooks (which the reader is also reading) and laugh at her, only to become offended later on (CA 56). Later it is the male reader of the body that is disqualified; the narrator refers to her husband's caresses as "the fat sweaty hands of one man" (CA 81).

Just as novels by men inevitably disqualify or dismiss the female readers of the text in order to create a greater rapport with the "intellectual" male readers, Woman Between Mirrors dismisses the male readers of the female body in order to create a more intimate relationship with the female readers of the body-text. Furthermore, when the narrator is "standing before the solitude of my mirrors, I look for him but nowhere can I see the man who would make me fall in love." [6] In the mirror, the space of desire, there is no space for the male. In a carefully constructed move, the male reader is dismissed from the novel before the erotics of the novel are most fully and sensuously expressed. In Written on the Body, Louise tells the unnamed narrator that her husband would not come to see her because he was watching television; [7] the male reader chooses not to engage the text/body. There is also a reference to Henry Miller's remarks about writing with his prick: "When he died they found nothing between his legs but a ball-point pen" (WB 60). Male sexuality and authority are reduced to the penis, which itself is severed and replaced with a pen. Instead of body becoming text, the male author is ultimately separated from his work; he and his pen end up in the grave together.

Near the end of Parente Cunha's novel, her protagonist is reading a novel by a man about her, and comes to the conclusion that the character is no longer her: "In your novel, I won't be me any longer" (WB 103). In a similar manner, Winterson's protagonist also reads a text by a man and cannot engage it: "I was sitting in the library writing this to Louise, looking at a facsimile of an illuminated manuscript, the first letter a huge L. The L woven into shapes of birds and angels that slid between the pen lines. The letter was a maze.... I tried to fathom the path for a long time but I was caught at dead ends by beaming serpents. I gave up and shut the book, forgetting that the first word had been Love" (WB 88). What the game reveals is that by playing one loses (the paths end in dead ends), and one is distracted from the matter at hand, which is that this was the first letter of Love (and Louise). The narratives between female narrators and female readers are not ludic, like the novels between male narrators and male readers, where one wins and the other loses. These narratives between women are much more about coming together. The illuminated manuscript also represents the space between male author and reader by paralleling it with the space between the pilgrim and God: "On the outside, at the top of the L, stood a pilgrim in hat and habit. At the heart of the letter, which had been formed to make a rectangle out of the double of itself, was the Lamb of God. How would the pilgrim try through the maze, the maze so simple to angels and birds?" (WB 88). The pilgrim (a male reader) will always be separate from his God (a male author), but Winterson wants to blur the line between author and reader. Winterson's narrator describes what she would like in a relationship: "I wouldn't mind washing up beside you, dusting beside you, reading the back half of the paper while you read the front" (WB 38). This relationship is about working together, but more importantly, it is also about reading together. The text is the medium that divides author and reader and brings them together; it is the same as the page between author and reader. The ideal relationship between sexual partners is the same as that between author and reader.

In This Sex Which Is Not One (Ce Sexe qui n'en pas un, 1977), a text that has been very influential for women writers, the French psychoanalytic critic Luce Irigaray addresses her reader and genders her as female as well, and yet in her address to the reader, she does not separate self from other. She bridges the space between reader and author via the text, which becomes both mirror and window, space and nonspace: "When you say I love you-staying right here, close to you, close to me-you're saying I love myself. You don't need to wait for it to be given back; neither do I.... I love you: body shared, undivided. Neither you nor I severed." [8] The relationship between narrator and reader is eroticized at the same time as it is blurred. No longer is there a clear distinction between self and other, author and reader. Unlike the earlier manifestations of the female reader by men, Irigaray's reader is both narrator and reader simultaneously. She is not a passive reader who does not understand, but neither is she the "male" reader who plays games with the narrator and is kept at a distance.

Molloy's narrator also creates her narrative specifically for women readers, namely her two lovers, Vera and Renata. The narrator writes, "She saves her stories, in all their detail, for other ears, women's ears used to listening. She will tell them everything" (CA 61). The narrator uses her two readers as texts in which to find herself: "she has spent weeks, months, trying to put together her own lost face, writing of herself in Vera, writing of herself in Renata, writing of herself in her dreams and her childhood. Always recording" (CA 102). Her readers become/are her texts, and they in turn write her into their narratives: "Renata is making up-must be making up-a new fiction, and she herself now occupies a place in that fiction similar to the one held by Vera in the fiction that she and Renata created" (CA 104). Readers become authors, and the narrator becomes her own reader: "She looks at herself in what she writes, in what she just wrote. That is how she used to read" (CA 17). The distinctions between author and reader do not hold here, and, as we will see later, these are not the only binaries that will be conflated.

Parente Cunha's Woman Between Mirrors confronts us with a narrative that is divided between the female narrator and the woman who writes her. Given the way that the narrative is presented, this makes the narrator the woman who reads the woman who writes her. It also places the reader of the novel in the place of the woman who writes her. A complex dynamic, these roles illustrate the blurring of subject/object, self/other, author/reader.

One element of Winterson's Written on the Body that is initially difficult to discern is the sex of the narrator, but with a close reading it is evident that the narrator is also female. [9] By having the narrator herself be a reader and a writer-she spends her time in the British Library translating Russian texts-the novel allows for its reader and author to be read into this construction. The reader of the narrator's text, Louise, first sees and meets her in the British Library as well. Louise is an art historian, a reader of images instead of words (WB 99). The reader of the novel, the "you," is Louise, the narrator's lover, who has left her. Very early in the novel, the reader is addressed and gendered: "You laughed and waved, your body bright beneath the clear green water.... You turned on your back and your nipples grazed the surface of the river.... You are creamy but for your red hair that flanks you on either side" (WB 11). Later, the narrator states: "When I try to read it's you I'm reading" (WB 15). Again, the narrator is reading the reader. The traditional narrator/reader roles have been reversed: instead of the reader watching, it is the narrator who watches/reads the reader now. Subject/object and author/reader are blurred. Shortly after the meeting at the pool, the narrator states: "I didn't think, I waded in and kissed you" (WB 11). The distance between reader and narrator has been removed: the reader now interacts with the narrator and has an affair with her.

In novels by men, the male narrators and readers write and read literary texts; however, in novels by women, the female narrators and readers write and read the body as well. The physical and sexual are not independent of the rational. In The Newly Born Woman, Catherine Clément and Hélène Cixous argue that "Woman must write her body, must make up the unimpeded tongue that bursts partitions, classes, and rhetorics, orders and codes, must inundate, run through, go beyond the discourse with its last reserves." [10] The body must be text because it has been the site of contest, where pleasure has been prohibited; thus it is the site that can disrupt patriarchal structures. Clément and Cixous insist that writing the body is the only way for women to have an unmediated relationship with their sexuality: "to write-the act that will 'realize' the un-censored relationship of woman to her sexuality, to her woman-being giving her back access to her own forces; that will return her goods, her pleasure, her organs, her vast bodily territories kept under seal.... Write yourself: your body must make itself heard." [11] Irigaray defines female desire in language, effectively joining body and text as the site of social subversion: "Feminine pleasure has to remain inarticulate in language, in its own language, if it is not to threaten the underpinnings of logical operations. And so what is most strictly forbidden to women is that they should attempt to express their own pleasure." [12] A contemporary American writer, Kathy Acker, is most explicit in her bringing together of bodily desire and writing: "I'm looking for what might be called a body language. One thing I do is stick a vibrator up my cunt and start writing-writing from the point of orgasm and losing control of the language and seeing what that's like." [13] The language of female desire is what must be silenced in patriarchal structure, and thus what must be liberated to end such hegemonies.

Molloy constructs a narrator who metaphorically places herself in the text. When the narrator's writing is described, it is described as the flesh becoming word: "she will write herself down, time and time again, without a steady course, without a stable self" (CA 9). If we follow this line of reasoning, that the narrator becomes the text, then the act of reading, of running one's fingers and eyes over the pages, is a physical, sensual, and sexual act. The lack of a stable self contributes to the blurring of the self/other and subject/object distinctions. Later, the narrator makes a similar point: "Today she writes again. She would like to write and read herself in a body. She is alone now with her own body, but also with an image of herself as she writes, as she reads" (CA 82). Becoming text, the narrator frequently associates voice with skin: "she cannot imagine herself with a voice, just as she cannot imagine herself without a skin" (CA 21).

This passage limits the narrator while it frees her: the voice is that which can create communication and textuality, but at the same time it is responsible for misunderstanding and misreading. Skin creates boundaries between humans and yet is the site of sensuality; the coming together of skins is the basis of the erotic and the sexual. The narrator reinforces the association of skin and voice in a later statement: "Skins and voices: so much alike, so vulnerable, perishable" (CA 24). The word and the body are vulnerable, but by being vulnerable, they create a dependence on the reader/other. The narrator recognizes the limitations of narration and calls upon the reader to engage the text; her vulnerabilities match the vulnerabilities of the reader and thus an equal and balanced relationship can be explored. She is clearly incorporating the linguistic into the erotic: "She is thankful for those undulating words that hold her again, caressing her body and recognizing her scars" (CA 48). The words "undulate" and "hold" her; she has a sensual relationship to her language. Furthermore, her language has a sensual relationship to her; it reads her body's text/ scars. This reciprocal relationship allows the reader to find herself/himself in the space of the text, reading the narrator just as the narrator reads the reader. Certificate of Absence is a text whose narrator cannot differentiate between sex and writing: "If only she would separate what she seeks when she writes from what she seeks when she dreams from what she seeks when she makes love" (CA 51). The other possible reading for this quotation is that there is no essential difference between sex and language. Writing and reading herself in a body makes literature sexual; the text itself is the body of the reader for the writer and the body of the writer for the reader. As one reads, one experiences the other; at one point, the writer states that "she put words together so as not to go to bed alone" (CA 50).

In order to create a clear parallel between the narrator of Woman Between Mirrors and the woman who writes her and between the narrator and the reader, it is necessary to show the connection between body and text/page within the novel. The narrative begins with the narrator stating, "I exist only in my imagination and in the imagination of my reader. And of course I exist for the woman who is putting me on paper" (WBM 1). Given this, narrative relationships can exist only between the narrator and the reader (who can ultimately only be female) and the "woman who writes me" (who is also female). Stating that she is "put on paper" transforms the narrator into text, and thus into a tactile, sensuous entity with whom the reader can have actual contact. Later, the narrator states: "I was a paper doll" (WBM 30). As paper, she becomes the page, the text with which we can interact. Making the text animate/human is not unwarranted within the novel. The narrator names her diary Franky (and her pillow Johnny [14]): "I love to give myself to you, my darling Franky.... You're the nectar for me, I'm the little bee that can't get enough, eager to feed in the garden of life.... Every night I give Johnny my rosebud that opens for him ... I also give myself to you, my darling Franky ... I feel loved by you both and only by you both" (WBM 54). Although she genders the book and the pillow as male, there is nothing phallic about either a book or a pillow. What seems more relevant is that she addresses both as "you," which allows the reader to read this passage as addressed to her. By the end of the novel, the narrator's book has been published: "On top of the small table on the fur rug are some copies of my book, which has just come out.... A part of me is in there, part of my blood, part of my nerves, part of me saying yes, part saying no" (WBM 120). The author/narrator is in her book; body becomes text to interact with the reader, who has been meticulously constructed as female.

Much of Written on the Body is devoted to the metaphor of the body/text. For Winterson, this metaphor can be traced not only to écriture feminine, but also to Christ as "Word became Flesh." Winterson, in a Promethean move, takes the ability of the gods to move between text and body and gives it to women, a group not afforded much authority in biblical mythology. The narrator, after the relationship is over, writes, "I wanted my letters back. My copyright she said but her property. She said the same thing about my body. Perhaps it was wrong to climb into her lumber-room and take back the last of myself" (WB 17). Here, the reader, Louise, makes the same claims on the letters as on the narrator's body, and the letters are defined as "the last of myself" when they are liberated. As readers, are we then receiving the narrator's/author's body? According to this passage, yes. At another point, the narrator asks: "are there any legends about trees turning into women? Is it odd to say that your lover reminds you of a tree?" (WB 29). Winterson brings together legends (stories) with women (lover/reader) and trees (the source of paper/books); as text, her lover/reader could also remind her of a tree.

In Written on the Body, the distinctions between body and text and relationship are blurred. Sex and the relationship are frequently written as signifiers, written and read: "Your hand prints are all over my body. Your flesh is my flesh. You deciphered me and now I am plain to read. The message is a simple one; my love for you" (WB 106). Louise has written and has read the narrator. The narrator states that each is the other. Author/reader, self/other, object/subject all become interchangeable. As readers ourselves, though, we can now insert ourselves into the relationship since the boundaries have been removed.

At the midpoint of the novel, after she has constructed her reader, Winterson explains her title: "Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille.... I didn't know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book" (WB 89). The narrator has become the text and Louise is her reader; this pairing sets up an inevitable analogy between the author and the reader. What the narrator learns here is that she has been read and translated into Louise's book just as she translates Louise into her book. As readers ourselves, we too must realize that we are being read/translated. We read/write each other; in this novel, it is through the body that we read others. Contact is how we communicate. However, this contact goes beyond the light caress of finger on skin or page to include power dynamics: "Articulacy of fingers ... signing on the body body longing. Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your morse code interferes with my heart beat.... How you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut" (WB 89). Louise's hands leave a mark, creating text at the same time as reading text. In a sense, Louise's reading represents the dual nature of contemporary reading theories, where the reader is coparticipant in the creation of the text. Winterson presents an intriguing reading space in Louise, since she "interferes with" and "alters" her text, the narrator. Unlike the male writers who often pose as separate from their texts-it is also men who theorize the death of the author-Winterson condemns the reader who does not engage and continue the text, and thus does not interact with the narrator/author: "It seems that due to the peculiarities of the event horizon [of a black hole] we could watch history pass and never become history ourselves. We would be trapped eternally observing with no-one to tell. Perhaps that's where God is" (WB 72). Being readers without being writers/tellers is a damnation or isolation. Winterson's concept of God is not interactive and does not at all seem to be a desired space. God is alone and must create people so that she or he can pass on a narrative.

One of the motifs that is used by all three writers to emphasize the blurring of positions-subject and object, self and other, author and reader-is the mirror. Problematizing these binaries, according to Irigaray, ruptures phallogocentrism and allows female pleasure and desire space in language: "That 'elsewhere' of feminine pleasure can be found only at the price of crossing back through the mirror that subtends all speculation ... it refers all these categories and ruptures back to the necessities of the self-representation of phallic desire in discourse." [15] Crossing through the mirror, the Alice motif, is central. Irigaray begins This Sex Which Is Not One with a revision of Through the Looking Glass and describes Alice as having "[e]yes always expecting appearances to alter, expecting that one will turn into the other, is already the other." [16] Parente Cunha's narrator, although not citing Alice by name, asks: "What's on the other side of the mirror?" (WBM 66). And Winterson's narrator states: "I shall call myself Alice and play croquet with the flamingoes. In Wonderland everyone cheats and love is Wonderland isn't it?" (WB 10). The mirror allows Irigaray, Parente Cunha, Winterson, and Molloy to illustrate the blurring of self/other and author/reader in a way that is not oppositional. Unlike conventional opposites, male/female, black/white, on/off, mirror opposites are "opposite" only in handedness-when one looks in a mirror and raises one's right hand, the mirror-self raises its left hand. As such, phallic binaries do not enter into the equation: there is no female/male function. A woman can see herself and her other in the mirror at the same time; it is both her and not her.

In Certificate of Absence, Molloy's narrator uses the mirror to find both herself and someone else. Early in the novel, we are told, "she also sought herself out in those mirrors" (CA 10); however, later, in "the oval mirror in her bathroom, she wanted to discover some face other than her own" (CA 70). These examples clearly show that Molloy is using the mirror to question the integrity of the categories of self and other. If her narrator can look for both in the mirror, then the distinctions cannot be clearly delineated. The mirror is also involved in the erotics of the novel, and given the ambiguity of self and other, the erotics are blurred between narcissism, autoeroticism, and homoeroticism: "When she first touched herself, shortly thereafter, she did not fully understand what was happening to her: she did not know whether the hands that caressed her were hers or someone else's.... In memory she sees her hand on herself directly or reflected in the mirror" (CA 83). All distinctions are blurred in the mirror.

Parente Cunha's Woman Between Mirrors is most explicit in its use of the mirror motif. Early in the novel, while the husband is away, the narrator has her first encounter with the mirror woman: "I like to put on my forbidden dresses ... I plunge the neckline down low.... Who is that sultry provocative woman in the mirror? It's not me. She looks like her, the woman who writes me. I keep on dancing, in my red dress, clinging, plunging, slit up the side, I hardly recognize the image that jumps out at me from the mirror" (WBM 25). The statement "it's not me" parallels Molloy's narrator, who does not know whose hand is in the mirror; it allows the erotics of the passage to be read in a much more complex manner than narcissism. Parente Cunha ends this passage by stating that the image "jumps out" at her, giving depth to the "woman" in the mirror. By jumping out-through the looking glass-the woman who writes her and the narrator exist in the same space. In the same way that the mirror normally separates one from another and that the page separates the author from the reader, the mirror is breached, and, in a parallel manner, so too is the page breached.

Although Winterson does not make the mirror as central an image as does Parente Cunha, midway through Written on the Body, the narrator addresses Louise/the reader: "You are still the colour of my blood. You are my blood. When I look in the mirror it's not my face I see. Your body is twice. Once you once me. Can I be sure which is which?" (WB 99). This echoes both Irigaray, Molloy, and Parente Cunha. The reader is drawn not only into the narrative, but also into the narrator. Similarly, the narrator later states, "Your face, mirror-smooth and mirror-clear. Your face under the moon, silvered with cool reflection, your face in its mystery, revealing me" (WB 132). Gone is the Lacanian mirror stage; this mirror is both self and other. Too often, the mirror marks the space of the other, but in the writings of these three women, the mirror and the page mark the collapse and blurring of such binaries.

In Speculum of the Other Woman, Irigaray writes, "For the/a woman, two does not divide into ones. Relationships defy being cut into units." [17] The effect of this idea is to remove not just binary identifications, but to blur, if not dissolve, the boundaries. In Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari describe desire as the lack of a subject: "Desire does not lack anything; it does not lack its object. It is, rather, the subject that is missing in desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject; there is no fixed subject unless there is a repression." [18] In desire, then, it is not so much the space between self and other that dissolves, but the space of self, of subject that dissolves. Therefore, by joining the "female" with "desire," women writers can undermine patriarchal structures of identity on two fronts, by challenging the distinctions between subject and object positions, and by challenging the very nature of the subject itself.

Early in Certificate of Absence, Molloy writes that her narrator "will write herself down ... without a stable self" (CA 9). Instead of this novel being a search for integrity or wholeness, it is a recognition of the fragmentary, unstable nature of identity posited by postmodern thought. Like Parente Cunha's narrator, Molloy's narrator is not always distinct from her characters/writer: "Was the woman who waited for her here writing as she waited?" (CA 4). In a passage reminiscent of her mirror confusion, Molloy's narrator describes her body as not-self, as other: "The body-her body-belongs to someone else. Unfamiliarity with the body, contact with the body, pleasure or violence, all that does not matter: the body belongs to someone else" (CA 18). This can be read as a critique of the role of women in patriarchal society, but we should not disregard it as a removal of the space of self and subject. Although Molloy undermines binary distinctions, there are moments when her characters recognize the tensions caused by such disruption. The narrator states that "she and Renata accept-or at least used to accept-that division [night and day] without any particular difficulty" (CA 41). The phrase "used to accept" suggests that the narrator and Renata are moving beyond the day/night binary. The narrator adds, "She holds on to those halves because divisions are not always so pure and clear as she would like them" (CA 41). The divisions are blurry.

From the beginning, Woman Between Mirrors presents itself as an attempt to bring multiple identities together as well as a recognition that certain identities cannot easily be blurred within language: "when my faces come into alignment, one over another, and the dates come together" (WBM 1); and "I'm not the woman who is writing this very page ... let's keep things separate. She is she. I am I" (WBM 2). How do we, within language, bring "she" and "I" together? We can understand the mirror metaphor, but how do we put it into personal pronouns? The separation of the two persons, the first and the third, allows for eroticization of the relationship, and, by association, it allows us to view the relationship between the narrator and the reader in much the same way. However, by placing the dialogue within a(n) (apparently) single person-the narrator and "the woman who writes me" share many biological and historical characteristics-Parente Cunha creates a text in which subject/object identification becomes extremely tenuous and problematic. Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen writes that the relationship between ego and other produces an interaction that is based upon a mirroring, in which the self recognizes and loves its self in the other: "the positions of 'man' and 'woman' are perfectly symmetrical, precisely by virtue of their narcissism: since each loves him/herself in the other, and since each is speculating on a mirrored love, the other is in each case an other self, a likeness. Love does not adapt itself to the two sexes; on the contrary, it neutralizes the sexual opposition on the basis of a fundamental homosexuality." [19] Although Borch-Jacobsen designates this relationship as "homosexual," it is important to realize that this has nothing to do with the persons' biological sex, but is instead a love of the self's "same"-ness in the other, regardless of biology. If we read Woman Between Mirrors with the idea of Borch-Jacobsen's "homosexual" in mind, then the positions of narrator and author or of narrator and reader can be distinct, allowing the relationship to be read as homoerotic as well as masturbatory and narcissistic.

Woman Between Mirrors is also about sexual repression and expression. The other, "the woman who writes me," is originally eroticized through the desexualization of the self, the narrator. The narrator states: "Only in the mirror does my sexual desire, which is bound to silence and to absence, speak out" (WBM 26). The mirror is the image that the narrator uses to describe her other: "If some of my experiences went the same way for the woman who writes me and seem also to have gone just the opposite way, it's because we love to cancel each other out. Reverse images face-to-face in the mirror. The other side" (WBM 6). Sexuality is central to the character of "the woman who writes me"; in fact, it is she who seemingly initiates or seduces the narrator/mirror-self: "I take my blouse off. I'm naked. Solidly at ease with myself, naked in front of myself. In front of my exposed mirrors, opening up the orientation of my body. I feel the cool thrill in my sex with a shiver running clear up to my quivering nostrils" (WBM 80). The opening of sexuality with/in front of the mirror becomes tactile and sensuous, more than masturbatory: "To bring my body completely against my body, I turn my head to one side and press against the mirror ... I touch my breasts, I touch my sex. Alive with desire ... I realize it's me. No, it's the woman who writes me.... My hands stroke my body, from top to bottom.... My hands, circling around my breast, gently reach the erect tips ... I can feel the pleasure awaiting in my lonely breasts. My hands run on down to my waist, to my buttocks, sink into my sex, ripe humid flesh cradled away from soarings and divings" (WBM 81). This passage is the most erotically written, the most sensuous of the novel. It is also the passage that most specifically obscures where pleasure/desire is located since the speaker does not know if it is "me" or "the woman who writes me"; the subject/object split does not exist here.

With the recent emphasis in feminist theory on the body, having a text inscribed on the body and writing the body into the text become the ideal images for the female writer. Judith Butler states that the problem of the past generation has been how to bring the feminine body into writing: "a generation of feminist writing ... tried, with varying degrees of success, to bring the feminine body into writing, to write the feminine proximately or directly, sometimes without even a hint of a preposition or marker of linguistic distance between the writing and the written." [20] Molloy, Parente Cunha, and Winterson have approached this task by redefining the positions writer and reader, subject and object. When these dualities are collapsed, subject, self, and author privileges are denied. Far from the simpleminded "Madam readers" of earlier texts by men, the women readers of these texts defy such categorization and limitation; the reader cannot be separated from the narrator or author. The duality has been exposed as a patriarchal fiction.


[1] "-How could you, Madam, be so inattentive in reading the last chapter? ... Madam, I beg leave to repeat it over again." Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. Howard Anderson (New York: Norton, 1980) 41.
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[2] Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch, trans. Gregory Rabassa (New York: Pantheon, 1966) 396.
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[3] Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, trans. William Weaver (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981) 142.
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[4] Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel: The Female Edition, trans. Christina Pribicevic-Zoric (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988) 293; original emphasis.
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[5] Sylvia Molloy, Certificate of Absence, trans. Daniel Balderston and Sylvia Molloy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989) 56. Subsequent references are to this edition and are cited in the text in parentheses following the abbreviation CA.
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[6] Helena Parente Cunha, Woman Between Mirrors, trans. Fred P. Ellison and Naomi Lindstrom (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989) 27. Subsequent references are to this edition and are cited in the text in parentheses following the abbreviation WBM.
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[7] Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body (New York: Knopf, 1993) 11. Subsequent references are to this edition and are cited in the text in parentheses following the abbreviation WB.
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[8] Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985) 206.
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[9] Other than the number of references to the narrator's relationship with Louise, the reader, as being defined socially as "perverted" instead of "adulterous," the most obvious example is when the narrator has to enter a men's restroom wearing a mask to plant a bomb. While inside, she seems surprised at men's actions in bathrooms, suggesting that she does not routinely see them.
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[10] Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, The Newly Born Woman, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986) 94-95.
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[11] Cixous and Clément 97.
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[12] Irigaray, This Sex 77.
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[13] Kathy Acker, "Kathy Acker: Where Does She Get Off: An Interview with R.U. Sirius," The Alt-X Online Publishing Network (16 April 1998)www.altx.com/io/acker.html.
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[14] Winterson's narrator also substitutes "pillow" for "person" after Louise leaves (WB 110).
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[15] Irigaray, This Sex 77; original emphasis.
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[16] Irigaray, This Sex 10.
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[17] Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985) 236.
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[18] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983) 26.
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[19] Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, The Freudian Subject, trans. Catherine Porter (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988) 112.
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[20] Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (London: Routledge, 1993) ix.
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