Comments on Patchwork Girl

David Goldberg '98 (English 112, 1996)

It is difficult to dicuss Patchwork Girl without invoking Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The hypertext is riddled with allusions to Frankenstein and Shelley herself appears as a character in the work.

Hypertext represents the fulfillment of the fantasy that Shelley proposes and Jackson revitalizes. A prevailing theme throughout the history of modern science and technology has been the simulation of life by artificial means. Frankenstein and his real-life predecessors, however, sought not to simulate life, but rather to create new life, a copy without an original--Baudrillard's simulacrum.

In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard states, "Of all the prostheses that mark the history of the body, the double is doubtless the oldest." He has discussed in-depth science's desire to create life artificially in the context of post-structuralist critical theory. While searching for the answer to the question of the "phantasm of auto-genesis", Baudrillard states:

Cloning radically abolishes the Mother, but also the Father, the intertwining of their genes, the imbrication of their differences, but above all, the joint act that is procreation. The cloner does not beget himself: he sprouts from each of his segments. One can speculate on the wealth of each of these vegetal branchings that in effect resolve all oedipal sexuality in the service of "nonhuman" sex, of sex through immediate contiguity and reduction--it is still the case that it is no longer a question of the fantasy of auto-genesis. The Father and the Mother have disappeared, not in the service of an aleatory liberty of the subject, but in the service of a matrix called code. No more mother, no more father: a matrix. And it is the matrix, that of the genetic code, that now infinitely "gives birth" based on a functional mode purged of all aleatory sexuality."

This has many implications for both hypertext and critical theory. It is statement on the relationship between the author and her work. The author does not beget herself: she sprouts from each of her segments. What is the Patchwork Girl, if not a continuum of segments, inextricably connected by scars and seams, each representing a part of Jackson's persona. As Jackson writes:

I am buried here. You can resurrect me, but only piecemeal. If you want to see the whole, you will have to sew me together yourself. (In time you may find appended a pattern and instructions--for now, you will have to put it together any which way, as the scientist Frankenstein was forced to do.) Like him, you will make use of a machine of mysterious complexity to animate these parts.

The act of reading Patchwork Girl is the opportunity to create a unique conformation fo the text, of creating a copy without an orginal.

What are the ramifications of the phantasm of auto-genesis? Of birth without sex? Perhaps Jackson is responding to Baudrillard in disagreement. Patchwork Girl is not devoid of the sexual, although the view of sexuality is cracked and twisted like the scars that line the body of the Patchwork Girl.

What is the relationship between sex and science, eroticism and technology? More and more it seems like they are intertwined. What is our place in this mosiac of the rational and the emotional. Perhaps Jackson says it best:

Identities seem contradictory, partial, and strategic. There is not even such a state as 'being' female", or "being" monster, or "being" angel. We find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras.

David Goldberg /