English 738T, Spring 2015
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Scar Tissue and the New Self

Posted by Maura-Kate Costello on Friday, March 13th, 2015 at 11:54 am

Our class discussion on Patchwork Girl and the supplemental readings for that week got me thinking a great deal about scar tissue, ugliness, the self, monstrosity, desire, and beauty. It is clear from both the structure of the hypertext and Jackson’s lecture on it that unity, linearity and wholeness partake of a tyrannical lie that she wants to reveal as such and to overturn. And this is ideal for her because unity necessarily means uniformity, which in turn necessarily excises those parts of the self or existence that do not or cannot conform to whatever image of unity is upheld as the ideal, and it also overlooks the scars (marks of joining) that make any kind of conglomeration possible; for Jackson, this excision and denial are the monstrous acts rather than deviations from wholeness more traditionally ascribed to the monstrous. But what do we make of the fact that “it was her scars that seemed to pain her the most”? Her scars, the signs on her body that both testify to the accomplishment of some kind of unity of parts and to the fact that the “wholeness” of her body is, in reality, a patchwork. We have been shown the lie of unity, but the scars that mark our bodies still leave us longing for beauty; they are painful because they force us to recognize our patchwork monstrosity, which seems to trap us in an eternal horror at oneself. At worst, we are like Victor who violently rejects this, and at best, we can accept this condition as Mary does (though even she remains uncomfortable with it, even as she comes to terms with it). Another scene that speaks to this dynamic is that in which patchwork girl is falling apart in the tub, and Elsie joins her there amidst her disintegrating parts. The juxtaposition of this grotesque image with the tenderness of Elsie’s gesture is supremely interesting to me. It seems here that Elsie, even more than Mary Shelley, is able to truly love and embrace patchwork girl in all of her fragmented monstrosity, but this love is not able to make any of that monstrosity whole or beautiful… Elsie enters the grotesque and the ugly, stays there and truly loves it, but beauty is not generated from this. PWG, who is so ashamed of her scars is never able to see herself as beautiful, no matter how much Mary or Elsie embrace and accept her patchwork nature. It leaves me wondering… is it possible to truly love oneself or to love an other if one adopts the view of the fragmented self that Jackson (and all contemporary theory) proposes? What does that look like? It seems to me that the position that regards the self as, in its essence, a fragmented entity (because, in any case, this is still, at bottom, an essentialist argument; albeit one that is organized around the principle of fragmentation and diversity rather than unity and sameness), has still to answer: what beauty does this generate? What does this build? What does it mean to love such an entity? I do not mean to suggest a return to a completely Arnoldian view of the self, literature, world, etc. As we know, this is rife with deep problems that many scholars have explicated at length. However, I would be interested to see where the pendulum will settle between these two extremes, because they both, to me, seem to lack a great deal. I’m unwilling to give up the possibility of a unified self, just as much as I am unwilling to deny its fragmentation.

I think Jackson gets close to responding to this dilemma in her article “Stitch Bitch,” when she explains, “I don’t want to lose the self, only to strip it of its claim to naturalness, its compulsion to protect its boundaries, its obsession with wholeness and its fear of infection. I would like to invent a new kind of self which […] changes directions easily, sheds parts and assimilates new ones. Desire rather than identity is its compositional principle. […] The banished body [or we could say “the self” just as easily] is permeable, it is entered by the world via the senses and can only roughly define its boundaries.” What’s interesting here, is that even though they are roughly defined, in any case, boundaries do exist, and boundaries suggest a wholeness. But Jackson’s notion of permeable borders is an interesting one because it allows for some level of coherence (even if the most basic) while at the same time openness to “change,” “infection,” and assimilation of new parts that can generate something new… It’s a notion of the self that is trying to get away from the sterility of monolithic notions of identity and is motivated instead by “desire” for novelty, for what is other-than the self.

There are still many ideas and questions to sort through for me here, and I think I still need to articulate the ones I’ve written here more clearly, but it’s my first stab, and I’d be interested to know what you all think of these issues!

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  • Kyle Bickoff says:

    Maura Kate–thanks much for this really thought-provoking read. I also feel that your blog post is a continuation, in a way, of some of your discussion from class, which was really interesting. I believe that in class you also integrated the notion of the uncanny into your thoughts on ‘scars,’ ‘ugliness,’ ‘monstrosity,’ and other topics. I really feel that you’ve made some powerful connections, and I’d like to poke around a bit and ask a little about our ‘uncanny’ notions in relation to scars and marks, some of which might be read as ‘ugly,’ or perhaps ugly.

    I’ve been following some of the discussion that’s come out of the TED 2015 conference in Vancouver, and have seen some really interesting articles today and yesterday. These articles direct my thoughts towards our changing considerations of what technological marks are considered appropriate and what are considered inappropriate, or abject, or uncanny. I’m visiting the the University of Colorado’s Media Archaeology Lab this week, and in light of your post, want to pay special attention to those markers of technology that we might see as uncanny. In Blade Runner, the red-eye effect visible in the replicants eyes mark them as ‘other,’ at least to the viewer. Similarly, the voight-kampff test looks into one’s eyes to sense a physiological difference between humans and cyborgs.

    Perhaps these instances in Blade Runner function as modes to create uncanny senses–they mark the replicants as non-humans, as different, as atypical, and as creatures that are meant to imitate humans, but can never be humans. Again, I consider the ways in which Olympia in “The Sand-Man,” Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, and Victor’s Creature are all physically marked.

    It makes me curious to observe our technology: if our android and iOS devices are considered ‘current’ do the technological markings of the car phone (do you remember those?) or the early cell phone mark them as other? Do these devices become monstrous to us? Or do they embrace the vintage aesthetic? On the other hand–the vinyl movement in the contemporary music scene is strong–what is so attractive about the contemporary phonographs, or even the early cylindrical phonographs? In the past few years, cassettes have even become an unsurprising part of the DIY music scene. When is the technology that is marked as ‘other’ become embraced, and when is it rejected? How are the visual marks of a robotic car and different from the our phones and music players of the present? Should cyborgs/androids be considered any differently? In the distant future, should the old T-1000 ‘terminator’ robotic companions will be retired in a lab, finding a nice cozy space in between an Apple IIe and an Edison Phonograph–or will be bury them alongside ourselves? Do these ‘marks’ of technology really mean anything, in the end?

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