Martin Amis's Money, Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body, and Will Self's How the Dead Live form a critique that reveals trepidation both about meta-narratives that provide a false sense of unified subjectivity, and about the postmodern alternative, a diffuse set of discourses that form a fragmented or de-centered subject that is often alienated from its body. I assert that the four novels diagnose and resist the implications of postmodern subjectivity and its often negative impact on embodiment.
I begin with Money, using Jean Baudrillard to analyze the subject/body relationship of the protagonist, John Self, who, as the result of his embrace of hyperconsumerism, expresses his subjectivity as simulation, simulation which denies the materiality of his own body and prevents him from interpreting other bodies as anything other than simulacra. Self's lifestyle nearly destroys him, yet the novel safely implants him within a narrative of domesticity, thereby rescuing his subjectivity from possible dissolution.
Chapter two asserts that traumatic events, such as the balloon incident in Enduring Love, rupture illusions of unified subjectivity as they test the cognitive abilities of the trauma witness. Witnesses are unable to interpret the event or bodies participating in that event both in the moment and in retrospect. The novel reveals the post-trauma vulnerability of the male subject which has an imperative to retrench within dominant discourse. Surprising for a novel that deconstructs masculinity, its ending valorizes both the male body and masculine agency.
In chapter three, I contend that the gaze of the gender-undeclared narrator exposes any subject's reliance on pre-inscribed discourse when interpreting another human body. I assert that Winterson's text inscribes the body in ways that stand in contrast to prescriptive and hegemonic discourses such as that of medicine. The narrator's choice to obscure his/her own body does not diminish its relevance; it actual highlights the body's importance to subjectivity.
Finally, in chapter four, I argue that How the Dead Live advances the concept of embodied subjectivity by claiming that all discourse is embodied. The deceased Lily Bloom's preoccupation with regaining embodiment reveals that much of our subjectivity is derived from our relationship to our bodies. The novel's conclusion, Lily's doomed reincarnation as her daughter's infant, asserts that subjectivity is inseparable from its one experience of embodiment.
Reasserting the body's ability to produce meaning and contribute to subjectivity, the novels reveal an increased advocacy for embodied subjectivity, an alternative to seeing the body as simply a site of discourse or according to Chris Schilling, a being “wholly constituted by discourse.”