Sexing the Cherry: Winterson

“If you’re a hero you can be an idiot, behave badly, ruin your personal life, have any number of mistresses and talk about yourself all the time, and nobody minds. Heroes are immune. They have wide shoulders and plenty of hair and wherever they go a crowd gathers.”

Nicholas Jordan, p. 133

Jeanette Winterson’s novel, Sexing the Cherry, was published in Great Britain in the year of our lord, 1989 (not that it matters), and continues to baffle readers regarding its metaliterary meaning to this day (not that tomorrow nor a hundred years ago could record its reception any differently). Cherry exists along the vast plain of space and time, and through its high art artifice attempts to show us a picture of the artist’s world.

From the Story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses to the amblings of a young man yearning for sail on the verge of the 1990’s, space, light, and time are constructs the author uses to illicit a series of images (in any particular order could be seen as one unified body, illuminating the surrounding space with pictures of the past, present and future all scraped to the same canvas with depth and care). As a sociology student and someone who studies gender I can easily accept that most things we experience as humans are steeped in our understanding and interpretations of the society in which we live. As Winterson indicates with her epigraph in homage to the Hopi Indian tribe, a language void of time would mark a society at peace with the loss of a past, the future, and one that had no need for a present. Novels such as this one would either fit right in for their rejection of time or be shunned for its overt attention to the very concepts it rejects. I would not choose to read the book in regard to linear plot, nor would I get caught up on whom is who or whether the timeline determines whom is speaking to the reader. I would read Cherry as an abstract painting, the meaning far too layered for interpretation in a conventional sense. The Dog Woman, the activist for eco-health, the Jordan’s both navy man and the exotic fruit harbinger can all be read as the voices of the author, and the events of a linear past and present as the unfolding acts that led to a world in distress and in need of adequate heroes and villains to carve the path for cohesion across times and cultures. I see this piece as an examination of the world’s course as of current as being direct results from the acts of the past, the present, and the untold actions of the future they impress. The actions of various heroes and villains whom often cannot be told from one another, hence their ultimate danger. The dates and places mattered less than the meaning that could be extrapolated from them, and the pictures Winterson paints of the plague, of the water being poisoned with mercury, all cross space and time to meet in the timeless moment. Knowledge like beams of light forming the bodies of the heroes (or murderers) capable of telling the story.

“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.”

Jordan, p. 167

My question stems from the metafiction of time and space, for learning how one wants to “read” a book is not to say one understands its subtlety. As an early experiment in dissolving the concept to time, there is much consideration done to inform the reader that the concepts of time themselves are being rebelled against in the text. What would the Hopi version of this tale read like, and would the removal of all mention of time and place change the meaning? I read this book as a reflection of the similarities between all times, like the unfolding of an endless paper doll chain, the placement of each not fixed or only dependent upon how someone chooses to unfold and view it. If the novel had never mentioned time and place, for us the modern reader, would this message be less salient?

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