Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I recently read Jeanette Winterson described as "one of the most brilliant writers in the English language" on a blog I read and respect so I picked up a few of her books from the library. I actually had quite a few of her books on my "wishlist" so it's about time I read her.

The first I read was Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles, which is part of that "The Myths" series. (I love Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad from the series.) In The Myths, authors are invited to tell or re-tell ancient myths, and Winterson tells the tale of Atlas, who was punished with holding the world on his shoulders.

In an introduction, Winterson writes about telling stories and the issue of autobiography:
Weight has a personal story broken against the bigger story of the myth we know and the myth I have re-told. I have written this personal story in the First Person, indeed almost all of my work is written in the First Person, and this leads to questions of autobiography.

Autobiography is not important. Authenticity is important. The writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that welds together disparate elements. I believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. Simply, it is real.

Later she leaves the story of Atlas and Heracles and writes:
I know nothing of my biological parents. The live on a lost contenent of DNA. Like Atlantis, all record of them is sunk... Spin the globe. What landmasses are these, unmapped, unnamed? The world evolves, first liquid and alive, then forming burning plates that must cool and set. The experiment is haphazard, toxic at times. Earth is a brinkmanship of breathtaking beauty and a mutant inferno. My own primitive life forms take a long time to web intelligence. When they are intelligent they are still angry.


Ultimately, she brings the reader to the conclusion that the weight Atlas (and all of us) carry can simply be put down, if we choose. When she allows Atlas to unburden himself, the world doesn't come to an end, it hangs there without him. Winterson's re-telling of the story of Atlas undoes the story of an eternity of punishment and becomes a beautiful tale about letting go.

No comments: