Skeleton of an Essay: Unutterable Notes

I’m now feverishly (literally) in the library, using too many adverbs and finally writing. I’ve spent the past two months in a frenzy of research and annotation, and managed all the while to not write a thing. Of course, over the holiday when ideally I would write and revise all of my drafts, I decided to change topics multiple times. I’m finally at the writing stage. If i write 11,000 words before Saturday evening, I’ll be right on track with a week left for revision. I like to cut things close. One of the PhD candidates observed, “You’re loving this, aren’t you!?” And I guess I am. I’ve always worked best under pressure, and wrote nearly every essay in my undergraduate career in a week. Though I’ve researched for months, I still couldn’t bring myself to break that deeply ingrained habit. Anyway, here’s a small section from the first draft of one of my three essays. Along with lots of pictures of me with books, of course.

Gabrielle Dane said that this hysterical discourse, this “rhetoric of contradiction, incomprehensible gibberish spoken through the body outside the coherence of traditional language” (233) presents woman with a strategy for speaking beyond the borders of the traditional phallocentric language which “[denies] her body” (Wilson, cited in Dane, 231). In Dane’s essay, “Hysteria as Feminist Protest: Dora, Cixous, Acker,” she introduces this idea of hysterical discourse as a protest rather than sheer madness. In this essay, I will take a closer look at hysterical discourse in one of her case studies, Kathy Acker’s novel, Blood and Guts in High School, in order to delve deeper into the ramifications of the relationship between language, trauma, and the body. Blood and Guts reaches for a way in which to communicate the unspeakable: the graphic and invasive acts that Janey experiences as well as her abjection and desire.

Photo on 2012-12-13 at 16.06

The working definition of hysteria I use is the physical manifestations of psychic trauma. When verbalizing this trauma that is now manifesting itself through a woman’s body, a new language must be created, for “if woman employs phallocentric language, then she employs the language of her subjugation because this is the language which can only represent her as other, as the complementary opposite of man. If woman speaks through this language, then she places herself in an irresolvable contradiction because the speech-act, which seems to evince her subjectivity, simultaneously denies it by denying her body” (Wilson 231). Kathy Acker writes Blood and Guts necessarily employing “feminine” language (I employ “feminine” here as Dane does). Not only does Kathy Acker employ feminine language, but the novel’s characters constantly return to the topic of language, either explicitly or implicitly. After Janey’s enslavement by the Slave Trader, she teaches herself Persian. We see her workbooks as she moves from simple nouns to verbs which act upon her as an object, more complicated phrases and, finally, poetry.

Photo on 2012-12-18 at 16.28 #2

Both language and the act of writing play major roles in the narrative structure. In the section titled, “A book report,” Jane takes on the story of The Scarlet Letter by Nathanael Hawthorne, and analyses/relives/re-enacts it, using her own body as a stand-in for Hester Prynne. At one point Janey (as Hester) addresses the Reverend (Dimwit): “I want to write myself between your lips and between your thighs” (95). This metanarrativity comes to play frequently in Blood and Guts. Janey, telling us she is writing ‘the story of [her] life’ writes a book report on The Scarlet Letter. Janey, writing a book report, writes herself into said book report. Janey gives herself dialogue, as Hester Prynne, in said book report. Janey co-opts the act of writing for the purpose of having sex. If only she could write herself in and out of such situations so easily. Her sexual fantasies are grammatically formulaic as she cries, “you’d marry me, you’d dump me, you’d fuck me, you were going again with your former girlfriend, you’d save me from blindness. You’d. Verb. Me” (95). Janey denies her own subjectivity time and time again. Everything in her fantasy happens to her but not because of her. Or does she underscore her subjectivity through prophetic statement?

If anyone wants to buy me vitamins and sparkling water for the next two weeks, I’ll love you forever.

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