BIROn - Birkbeck Institutional Research Online

    Trauma as site of identity: the case of Jeanette Winterson and Frida Kahlo

    Van der Wiel, Reina (2009) Trauma as site of identity: the case of Jeanette Winterson and Frida Kahlo. Women: A Cultural Review 20 (2), pp. 135-156. ISSN 0957-4042.

    Full text not available from this repository.


    Taking as a starting point Dominick LaCapra and Roger Luckhurst's respective critiques of the traumatic foundations of identity and traumaculture, this article explores the intersection between trauma, identity and art in the work of Jeanette Winterson. In 2005 Winterson wrote two art reviews on the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907–1954). Van der Wiel argues that the combination of topics that emerge here—celebrity status, autobiography and the body in pain—reflect Winterson's outlook on being a female artist in the twenty-first century. For Winterson, the patriarchal label of autobiography is closely related to the cult of celebrity, focusing on personal, preferably traumatic, facts rather than on women's artistic achievements. Van der Wiel problematises Winterson's substitute term ‘authenticity’, however, arguing that in its narrow referentiality it cancels out the important work done by feminist autobiography criticism in the 1980s and 1990s regarding the liberating potential of blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction in women's autobiographies. She subsequently turns to Winterson's fictional work to see how this compares with the critical notions located in her non-fictional writing. Through a close reading of Winterson's autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and the more recent novels The.PowerBook (2000) and Weight (2005), van der Wiel posits that trauma has become an integral part of Winterson's identity, fostered by recurrent self-narration. Rather than simply reading her work as symptomatic of personal trauma, however, she argues that Winterson has embraced the prevailing identity narrative engendered by traumaculture—an identity rooted in a conception of trauma entailing an abortive process of working through and acting out. She thus proposes to read Winterson's work, and in particular the recent (re)turn to an ‘authentic’ account of her traumatic childhood within her fiction, as symptomatic of traumaculture.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): authenticity, autobiography, celebrity, identity, Kahlo, trauma, traumaculture, Winterson
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Research Centres and Institutes: Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics (MAMSIE)
    Depositing User: Sarah Hall
    Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2015 17:47
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:15


    Activity Overview
    6 month trend
    6 month trend

    Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.

    Archive Staff Only (login required)

    Edit/View Item Edit/View Item