Shelley Jackson’s “my body – a Wunderkammer” and Posthumanism

I know that pkeily already posted on this work (because it’s just that awesome), so I’m going to add to it in the form of an analysis.  As the previous poster explained, Shelley Jackson’s “my body – a Wunderkammer” is a hypertext work that essentially tells a coming-of-age short story, specifically about the development of the female body.  The work is semi-autobiographical and I highly recommend it. I found the experience of reading it less destabilizing than that of reading Kendall’s poems.  The links turn a different color once you’ve clicked on them and if you run into a dead end, you can always go back to the picture of the whole body and click on the parts you missed.  I also recommend this particular work because it’s interesting and innovative.  The drawings are all Jackson’s, and the stories of the individual body parts, which are very like vignettes, are striking (and sometimes graphic, so body-squeamish people may not enjoy all of them).

But onto the analysis!

I studied this work last semester for my major paper in Dr. Whalen’s seminar class (which I highly recommend).  My thesis focused on the ways that postmodern works of literature (a genre which necessarily includes electronic literature) respond to posthumanism. N. Katherine Hayles explains in How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics that “[i]n the posthuman, there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals” (7). In a posthuman world, minds detach from bodies and become the most important entity, while personal identity fades in favor of a collective intelligence (8).  It’s an exciting and terrifying idea of the direction in which humanity, technology, and, of course, literature, are heading.

I see Jackson’s work as a glorification of the human body, and therefore a defense against the detachment of it from the mind.  While much of what goes on in the world of computers seems to leave behind the idea that the body matters, Jackson’s work reminds us of its beauty, complexity, and individuality in ways that act to preserve it.  Her other major work is called Patchwork Girl, a hypertext novel that retells the Frankenstein story with a female monster.  She is also currently working a project entitled “Skin,” a short story that will be told via tattoos on the bodies of volunteers.  Jackson focuses on bodies throughout her work, and such a widespread subject cannot and should not be overlooked.  For readers who have so far found hypertext inaccessible or hard to follow, or those who feel detached from e-lit because its medium feels less physical than traditional books, “my body” restores humanity to the genre with its frank anecdotes about the very basic and non-digital naked human form.

Works Cited

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

Jackson, Shelley. “my body – a Wunderkammer.” 25 Jan. 2012. <http://www.altx.com/thebody/body.html>.

 

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