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On Shelley Jackson’s Lecture March 4, 2009

Posted by yakshi in cyborgs.
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I am intrigued by the idea of death and monsters in Shelley Jackson’s work and writing process. During her lecture, Jackson explained that a dictionary is a cemetery of words. The image is haunting, dead and extinct words that writers must exhume. After Jackson described her technique to break the habitual use of the same words and phrases to describe certain emotions, I have a visual of her returning to the word cemetery to unearth new words. Every writer does it in every piece of work, she explained, Patchwork Girl just makes the stitches between these words more obvious. For Jackson, fiction is friction. In Patchwork Girl she borrows not only words but entire excerpts from other works. She also re-imagines the lives of actual people, taking on Mary Shelley as Patchwork Girl’s creator.
Because Jackson came across as enamored with the writing process, I wonder if Patchwork Girl is intended to be Mary’s physical creation or just a hallucination. In the journal portion, it came across to me that Patchwork Girl is a character that Mary is working on, even falling in love with. The scene where they are lying in bed together, for instance, is written like a figment of Mary’s imagination. It is not clear whether she is challenging Patchwork Girl’s physical boundaries by lying next to her and touching her skin, or if she is attempting to better know her invented character in her head. Either way, Mary’s maternal responsibility and ownership over Patchwork Girl is evident. Mary is acquainting herself with the monstrous other as a writer.
With Jackson’s other project Skin, she embraces the direct correlation between language and the body. By imprinting one word on each participant, 2,095 in total, she is allowing human beings to literally embody her work. The photographs of each tattoo, most of them taken in the tattoo parlor while still bleeding, immortalize her work for as long as the participants live. The fact that Jackson recognizes and addresses the eventual death of her participants demonstrates the impermanence of both the body and language.

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