The Nature of Time

“Time that withers you will wither me. We will fall like ripe fruit and roll down the grass together. Dear friend, let me lie beside you watching the clouds until the earth covers us and we are gone,” (Winterson 90).  

 

In her novel Written on the Body, Juliet Winterson consistently uses natural imagery to develop a sense of time within an otherwise non-linear text. In passages such as the one above, the narrator describes their relationship with Louise in terms of natural processes that represent the changing of time while also challenging the reader’s understanding of normative temporality.  

In this passage, the narrator characterizes themself and Louise as fruit at the mercy of nature’s whims. This comparison to objects incapable of autonomy creates a sense of passivity that is compounded by the verbs “wither,” “fall,” “roll,” “lie,” “watching,” and “covers” (Winterson 90). Each of these verbs represent an action that is happening to the fruit, rather than ones the fruit perform. In the narrator’s phrasing “let me lie beside you,” they reveal that they are content with this passive existence. Simply spending time with their lover until the natural end of their time on Earth is enough for them (Winterson 90). 

This idea of a nonproductive – and nonreproductive – relationship challenges what Jack Halberstam refers to as “a middle-class logic of reproductive temporality” (Halberstam 4). Halberstam argues that most people organize their lives around what are perceived to be “natural and desirable” schedules, which follow a logic based in reproductive timetables and societal expectations (Halberstam 5). It is considered natural that one marries, works, reproduces, and, eventually, dies. Written on the Body confronts these “paradigmatic markers of life experience” by representing the narrator’s relationship with Louise through passive natural imagery, which makes room for “queer time” (Halberstam 2, 1). Queer time, which opposes heterosexual understandings of family and reproduction, is present in this novel’s nature imagery, non-linear timeline, and non-gendered narrator, each which “open up new life narratives and alternative relations to time” (Halberstam 2). The narrator’s relationship with Louise directly undermines heteronormative teleology by diverting her from the expected path of marriage and reproduction, and Louise’s decision to choose the narrator over her husband subverts typical expectations for safety and health. These “alternative temporalities” all draw from natural imagery within the book, which positions them as equally natural – or possibly even more so – than structured and normative understandings of time.  

3 thoughts on “The Nature of Time”

  1. I absolutely love the connections you made between Written on the Body and Halberstam’s views on the concept of queer time and space. Even when an individual begins to express their identity clearer, heteronormative culture deems this exploration as a “phase.” They are expected to “settle down,” or “straighten out,” as if they are are deviants breaking imaginary rules. Louise demonstrates the opposite of this expectation by diverting from her previous path towards a married lifestyle. Additionally, the narrator themselves demonstrates a resentment towards heteronormativity, as they despised the lack of excitement within their laid-back relationship with Jacqueline. Together, the narrator and Louise wish to explore a more alternative way of living rather than a pre-programmed, scheduled cycle.

  2. The idea that Louise and the narrator’s relationship being nonproductive and nonreproductive I think more broadly can be understood as queer simply because it operates against capitalism. Your point about the nature of Louise and the narrator’s relationship occupies a “space of ‘undesirability’” that ratatouille but with a raccoon writes about in “Stones in My Pockets, Stones in My Heart: Challenging Constructs of Time” blog post. In this way, queer relationships look like “leisure” and “illegitmate” compared to the able-bodied heterosexuality that capitalism requires.

  3. This analysis of the nature imagery’s relationship with temporality is very interesting and the specific quote you chose really reminded me of the song “In A Week” by Hozier. That song too is about existing passively with a lover and frames this concept with nature imagery. The song goes, “We lay here for years or for hours / Thrown here or found / To freeze or to thaw / So long we become the flowers,” which is very similar to the narrator’s sentiments about falling like fruit and being consumed by the earth. This “passive existence,” as you called it, is eerily reminiscent of death, which is interesting especially because of Louise’s cancer. The connection you drew to queer time is very apt and I think Hozier’s song also illustrates this concept.

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