An Abrasive Form—“My Body & a Wunderkammer”

An Abrasive Form—“My Body & a Wunderkammer”

Why are these cybertexts so abrasive? “My Body & a Wunderkammer” is a wonderful example of form, materially, spatially, and temporally, operating or playing with a strand of narrative in order to further articulate a meaning. After the title page, Shelly Jackson presents us with the image of a female body with various, private body parts highlighted, magnified, and protruding from a black background. The image is both startling and oddly intimate. There is something voyeuristic about it. Private physical “parts” normally hidden and clothed are singled out and highlighted here, such as a breast, a vagina, and a belly button and there are also less private ones featured like a neck, shoulder, and elbow. What is the connection between the highlighted parts? What does the woman’s writing/drawing hand suggest?

We navigate away from this page by choosing one of the parts and we come upon these similarly voyeuristic and revealing anecdotes; each of which describing a part while revealing the insecurities of a woman struggling with her body, feminine identity, and her own agency as an individual in a world defined by gender polarities. Like the photo placed spatially on the page, we are presented with only one snapshot of this woman’s thoughts and memories about a part and each page of parts work to advance the theme of gender insecurity. The thematic form of her stories makes us feel uncomfortable. It is unsettling, especially to men, to hear a woman speak candidly and personally about the female body in this anecdotal way. Again, the anecdotal form of the stories makes them uniquely personalized. They are humiliating and private and I am routinely compelled to click a link on the page before I have finished reading it just because these scenes and memories are such uncomfortably private places to be. At play with this level of theme and signification decoding is the materiality of the cyber text, which adds another layer of thinking about the text as a whole. This interaction between material form and thematic form enhances and elevates the work. Each hyperlinked page depicts a part of the woman, as well as “My Body…” as a work. Instead of some linear story that creates a fully formed narrative about the woman, we are presented with narrow snapshots of the woman’s parts. We never meet or get to know her as a whole. We are only shown her character through these narrow glimpses of her various female parts, constantly struggling with gender.

Who is the woman? She is not a whole. She is only parts, and the deeper and more involved we get into her anecdotes, the more and more frightening, threatening, and odd she becomes (Why is she threatening? Who is she threatening to?). Obviously, there has been some attention paid to “the tail,” both in the sourcing blog and class, because it is a very interesting passage. I don’t want to tread on some of the work that Elisa Hawthorne has done with the symbolism of the tail, but it is worth noting that this page, probably the most difficult to navigate to, is also probably the strangest page of “My Body & a Wunderkammer.” Even compared to the other parts which are odd an uncomfortable, this one is really weird and disturbing. As Hobodreams elaborates on in their sourcing post, is there a reason why the material form of these cybertexts are so abrasive? In this case, the abrasiveness is an intentional, stylistic choice that serves “My Body…” thematically. The woman seems contained by her parts, not liberated by them. They are not freeing but are instead restrictive. “My Body…” as a text does not present us with endless opportunity and infinite paths. It presents us with limited options, and each limited option leads us to a limited, narrow view of the woman as a being acutely aware and in struggle with gender constraints. Form is effectively advancing meaning in this piece, and just what that meaning is specifically will hopefully be a topic of debate in class tonight. One thing is for sure—gender polarities as well as linear text are popular because they are comfortable and non-threatening, two things that “My Body & a Wunderkammer” is not.

Philip Petrunak


~ by philippetrunak on February 15, 2010.

2 Responses to “An Abrasive Form—“My Body & a Wunderkammer””

  1. I suppose you’re right about the limitations imposed in the text–which would possibly explain her sarcastic offers to sell her bodily fluids: a method of dealing with the system by profiting off of its assumptions, classifications and invasions of privacy (which struck me as a precursor to what Dave Eggers does in the last pages of his Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). Although I would say that any ‘discomfort’ that I experienced as a product of the voyeurism was a catalyst for further reading and that the real displacement that I felt in the text was her refusal to present a coherent whole–of, as you point at, defining something large through tiny specifics. Like racial (sexual) profiling or something like that, but self-imposed… right? Weird.

  2. […] enables a forced immersion into someone else’s intimate world that is often highly personal. One poster on this blog described a visceral, uncomfortable reaction to not just the content, but also the […]

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