Jeanette Winterson, in her novel Written on the Body, recycles the narrator’s conversation with two different partners.
With Inge, the anarcha-feminist who hates to blow up beautiful things:
She said, ‘Don’t you know that Renoir claimed he painted with his penis?’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘He did. When he died they found nothing between his balls but an old brush.’
‘You’re making it up.’
Am I? (22)
And again with Catherine, the writer, who feels that writers don’t make great companions:
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Do you know why Henry Miller said “I write with my prick?”‘
‘Because he did. When he died they found nothing between his legs but a ball point pen.’
‘You’re making that up,’ she said.
Am I? (60)
Why does Winterson do this? I think there are several things going on here.
The repetition moves beyond reinforcing the narrator’s serial monogamy. It seems to say that the interactions within each relationship are as worn out as the dating pattern itself.
To repeat the reference to male genitalia in regard to both art and literature speaks to the inequality of masculine and feminine influence in the canonical world. Women are often the subjects of art, but not equally and respectfully acknowledged as creators of that same art. (According to this article, “of the approximately 25,000 artists working between 1880-1930, probably forty percent were women, but fewer than five percent were shown in museums.”)
In addition to Winterson’s reference to cliche, quotes and previously designed literary styles, she incorporates this device to demonstrate that people are not original from day to day within their own consciousness, let alone in the scheme of humanity – whether from person to person or age to age.
The question of reality comes up here too. The conversation, in single quotes, shows each partner questioning the veracity of the narrator’s story. ‘You’re making that up.’ The reply from the narrator is never spoken aloud. The words Am I? are asked as if to say, “Its been said before. Does that make it true? What is real anyway?”