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Jeanette Winterson

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from: Gut Symmetries, 1997

Now that physics is proving the intelligence of the universe what are we to do about the stupidity of mankind? I include myself. I know that the earth is not flat but my feet are. I know that space is curved but my brain has been condoned by habit to grow in a straight line. What I call light is my own blend of darkness. What I call a view is my hand-peinted trompe - l’oeil. I run after knowledge like a ferret down a ferret hole. My limitations, I call the boundaries of what can be known. I interpret the world by confusing other people’s psychology with my own. I say I am open-minded but what I think is. (p. 11-12)


I did not believe in fate, but it can be a useful excuse. (p. 16)


When children learn to count they naturally add and multiply. Subtraction and devision are harder to teach them, perhaps because reducing the world is an adult skill. (p. 20)


The probability of separate worlds meeting is very small. The lure of it is immense. We send starships. We fall in love. (p. 25)


When we killed what we were to become what we are, what did we do with the bodies? We did what most people do; buried them under the floorboards and got used to the smell. (p. 49)


Unlike my father she could not speak what she felt. Unlike him she knew this and sat many hours with her head in her hands, I thought then, to make the words fall out. But the words did not fall out and her feelings hung inside her, preserved. (p. 64)


The wind up at dusk and the leaves in squalls and the birds flying into the wind-backed leaves so that in the lost light I could not say where the leaves stopped and the birds began. I try to distinguish but at crucial moments the space between carefully separated objects collapses and I too am whirled up against my will into the dervish of matter. The difficultly is that every firm step I win out of chaos is a firm step towards...more chaos. I throw a rope bridge, haul myself across the gap, and huddled on the little outcrop, safe for now, observe the view. What is the view? Another gap, another stretch of water. (p. 102)


If time is a river then we shall all meet death by water. (p. 105)


Whatever it is that pulls the pin, that hurls you past the boundaries of your own life into a brief and total beauty, even for a moment, it is enough. (p. 219)



from: "Art & Life", in: Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, 1995

What will happen when there are no more Public Libraries and the World is on CD-Rom?
Where will we go, we exiles from actuality?
What will happen to vets who read Miss Steen
and young girls looking for visions beyond their allotted lens?
In the homogeneity of screen and disc who will find the disruptiveness of the page?
And will we invent fabulous stories of lost libraries where rooked urchins gather books from mile high branches of crazy shelves? (p. 155)


from: Art and Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd, 1994

Why is it that the Church of Rome had burned her poems and excommunicated her? Galileo has had his pardon but not Sappho. Galileo is no longer a heretic but Sappho is still a Sapphist.
"Know thyself", said Socrates.
"Know thyself", said Sappho, "and make sure that the Church never finds out". (p. 54)


After loss of Identity, the most potent modern terror, is loss of sexuality, or, as Descartes didn’t say, "I fuck therefore I am". (p. 69)


Shame. Unusual for a Catholic to feel shame. Guilt is our ticket. Guilt to confess, guilt to expiate, guilt, good riddance and gone. The priest understands that. Shame comes from an older and different moral sense, where the wrong-doer does not fear punishment, either in this world or the next, but fears that shrinking up of self, the loss that any small, mean, dirty or stupid act, charges to the soul.
If I cheat another, I cheat myself out of the person that I could be. If I wound another, I will eventually find the cut recalled to my own heart. There is no appropriate confession, only the will not to fail again so readily, perhaps because while failure can be forgiven it cannot be excused.(p. 124)


Two things significantly distinguish human beings from the other animals; an interest in the past and the possibility of language. Brought together they make a third: Art. (p. 137)


There’s no such thing as autobiography, there’s only art and lies. (p. 141)


Popular culture, that’s art isn’t it? Subjective, romantic, democratic, approachable, good notices in the quality press. If they don’t like it there must be something wrong with it. Does is smell fishy? What’s it about anyway? Where shall I put it?
Fit it all in. Fit it all in, as they say in the back alleys for a Saturday night fiver. So little time. Fit it all in.
Clock culture. Stuff me until I burst and make an installation out o the purée. Art? Don’t be silly. The contemplative life? I have a lunch appointment. How long will it take?
Lunch? Forever. Be forever lunching. Chomping bovinely through the day, wondering why all flesh is grass. (p. 141)



from: "The Poetics of Sex." 1993.

I am proud to be Picasso's lover in spite of queer looks we get when holding hands on busy streets. "Mummy, why is that man staring at us?" I said when only one month old. "Don't worry, dear, he can't help it, he's got something wrong with his eyes".
We need more Labradors. The world is full of blind people. They don’t see Picasso and me dignified in our love. They see perverts, inverts, tribades, homosexuals. They see circus freaks and Satan worshippers, girl-catchers and porno turn-ons. Picasso says they don't know how to look at pictures either. (p. 416)

I like to be a hero, like to come back to my island full of girls carrying a net of words forbidden them. Poor girls, they are locked outside their words just as the words are locked into meaning. Such a lot of locking up goes on on the Mainland but here on Lesbos our doors are always open.
Stay inside, don’t walk the streets, bar the windows, keep your mouth shut, keep your legs together, strap your purse around your neck, don’t wear valuables, don’t look up, don’t talk to strangers, don’t risk it, don’t try it. He means she but not when He means Men. Mainland is a Private Club.
That’s all right boys, so is this. This delicious unacknowledged island where we are naked with each other. The boat that brings us here will crack beneath your weight. This is territory you cannot invade. (p. 418)



from: Written On the Body, 1992

I used to think of marriage as a plate-glass window just begging for a brick. The self-exhibition, the self-satisfaction, smarmimess, tightness, tight-arsedness. The way married couples go out in fours like a pantomime horse, the men walking together at the front, the women trailing a little way behind. The men fetching the gin and tonics from the bar while the women take their handbags to the toilet. I doesn’t have to be like that but mostly it is. (p. 13)


When I say "I will be true to you" I must mean it in spite of the formalities, instead of the formalities. If I commit adultery in my heart then I have lost you a little. The bright vision of your face will blur. I may not notice this once or twice, I may pride myself on having enjoyed those fleshy excursions in the most cerebral way. Yet I wil have blunted that sharp flint that sparks between us, our desire for another above all else. (p. 79)


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. (p. 89)


If you like, you may live in a computer created world all day and all night. You will be able to try out a Virtual life with a Virtual lover. You can go into your Virtual house and do Virtual housework, add a baby or two, even find out if you’d rather be gay. Or single. Or straight. Why hesitate when you could simulate.
And sex? Certainly. Teledildonics is the word. (p. 97)



from: Sexing the Cherry, 1989

All times can be inhabited, all places be visited. In a single day the mind can make a millpond of the oceans. Some people who never have crossed the land they were born on have travelled all over the world. The journey is not linear, it is always back and forth, denying the calendar, the wrinkles and lines of the body. The self is not contained in any moment or any place, but it is only in the intersection of moment and place that the self might, for a moment, be seen vanishing through a door, which disappears at once. (p. 80)


Lies 1: There is only the present and nothing to remember.
Lies 2: Time is a straight line.
Lies 3: The difference between the past and the future is that one has happened while the other has not.
Lies 4: We can only be in one place at a time.
Lies 5: Any proposition that contains the word "finite" (the world, the universe, experience, ourseleves...)
Lies 6: Reality as something which can be agreed upon.
Lies 7: Reality as truth. (p. 83)


Thinking about time is to acknowledge two contradictory certainties: that our outward lives are governed by the seasons and the clock; that our inward lives are governed by something much less regular - an imaginative impulse cutting through the dictates of daily time, and leaving us free to ignore the boundaries of here and now and pass like lightning along the coil of pure time, that is, the circle of the universe and whatever it does or does not contain. (p. 89-90)


The Buddhists say there are 149 ways to God. I'm not looking for God, only for myself, and that is far more complicated. God has had a great deal written about Him; nothing has been written about me. God is bigger, like my mother, easier to find, even in the dark. I could be anywhere, and since I can't describe myself I can't ask for help. (p. 115)

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. Mostly they enjoy the company of other men, although attractive women are part of their reward. (p. 117-18)



from: The Passion. London, 1987.

You play, you win, you play, you lose. You play. It’s the playing that’s irresistible. Dicing from one year to the next with the things you love, what you risk reveals what you value. (p. 43)


To kiss well one must kiss solely. No groping hands or stammering hearts. The lips and the lips alone are the pleasure. Passion is sweeter split strand by strand. Divided and re-divided like mercury then gathered up only at the last moment. (p. 59)


I say I’m in love with her. What does that mean?
It means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as though I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read. Wordlessly, she explains me to myself. Like genius, she is ignorant of what she does. (p.122)



from: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. London, 1985.

I went into the living room, looking for something to do. In the kitchen I heard my mother switch on the radio.
"And now", said a voice, "a programme about the family life of snails."
My mother shrieked.
"Did you hear that?" she demanded, and poked her head round the kitchen door. "The family life of snails, it’s an Abomination, it’s like saying we come from monkeys."
I thought about it. Mr and Mrs Snail at home on a wet Wednesday night; Mr Snail dozing quietly, Mrs Snail reading a book about difficult children. "I’m so worried doctor. He’s so quiet, won’t come out of his shell."
"No mum," I replied, "it’s not like that at all."
But she wasn’t listening. (p. 21)

History should be a hammock for swinging and a game for playing, the way cats play. Claw it, chew it, rearrange it and at bedtime it’s still a ball of string full of knots. Nobody should mind. Some people make a lot of money out of it. Publishers do well, children, when bright, can come top. It’s an all-purpose rainy day pursuit, this reducing of stories called history. (p. 93)


And when I look at a history book and think of the imaginative effort it has taken to squeeze this oozing world between two boards and typeset, I am astonished. Perhaps the event has an unassailable truth. God saw it. God knows. But I am not God. And so when someone tells me what they heard or saw, I believe them, and I believe their friend who also saw, but not in the same way, and I can put these accounts together and I will not have a seamless wonder but a sandwich laced with mustard of my own. (...)
Here is some advice. If you want to keep your own teeth, make your own sandwiches... (p. 95)


There are many forms of love and affection, some people can spend their whole lives together without knowing each other’s names. Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power. But on wild nights who can call you home? Only the one who knows your name. Romantic love has been diluted into paperback form and has sold thousands and millions of copies. Somewhere it is still in the original, written on tablets of stone. I would cross seas and suffer sunstroke and give away all I have, but not for a man, because they want to be the destroyer and never be destroyed. That is why they are unfit for romantic love. There are exceptions and I hope they are happy. (p. 165)




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