Scenes of Vulnerability in You Narratives: Winterson’s PowerBook and Egan’s Black Box


  • Laura Santini



you narrative, nonhuman, vulnerability, computer-mediated communication, Anthropocene, narratology, markedness


Framed within the current knowledge age you-culture, textual you is first discussed as a philosophical and ethical address. A specific textual analysis follows to investigate a narrative mode that the existing narratological taxonomy finds it hard to accommodate, while authors, aiming at a new form of realism, have interestingly recontextualized to fit the 21st century hyper-communicative age. Based on exposure rather than closure, you narratives enact the structure of address through the Protean nature of the pronoun you (singular and plural, inclusive and exclusive) and they bring to the fore the susceptibility of the communicative process, through intersubjective ambiguity and failure as “others make moral claims upon us, address moral demands to us, […] ones that we are not free to refuse” (Butler 2004). Presented as yet-to-be shaped vulnerable art objects, these narratives are in form and content about the experience of being affected and constituted by the other’s address “first and foremost against our will or […] prior to the formation of our will” (Butler 2004) in ways that may blur the ontological borders between addresser and addressee. The very idea of interactivity as the way self and other (human or nonhuman) come into being and determine each other’s responsibility and ethical obligations are what this paper tackles, offering a close reading of you in the speculative novella by Jennifer Egan, Black Box (2012), and by confronting a quest for love, identity and freedom in a virtual computer-mediated communication in Jeanette Winterson’s novel The PowerBook (2000).

Author Biography

Laura Santini

Laura Santini (MA, PhD) is currently a tenure-track lecturer in English Language and Translation (EN<>IT) at the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at the University of Genoa. Her main research interests span a range of topics and disciplines, namely English Language and Linguistics (ESP, EAP, grammar and syntax), as well as contemporary British and North American Literature, and Translation Studies. In particular she has been working on manuscripts (Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett), on epistolary novels (Matt Beaumont) and on how the new technologies and media interact within narratives both in electronic (Liza Daly’s Interactive Fiction) and in book form (Douglas Coupland) and on Academic Discourse in TED Talks. Her most recent book is Traduzione e Intermedialità nella prosa breve di Samuel Beckett: Imagination morte imaginez e Assez, (prefazione di S. E. Gontarski, Roma: Aracne, 2020).


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