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

Laura Santini


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).


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

Full Text:



Albertson Fineman, Martha. “The Vulnerable Subject: Anchoring Equality in the Human Condition.” Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 20.1 (2008).

Bonheim, Helmut. The Narrative Modes: Techniques of the Short Story. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1982.

Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2010.

Brown, Roger and Albert Gilman. “The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity.” Style in Language. Edited by Thomas Albert Sebeok. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960. 253-276.

Butler, Judith. Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.

---. Precarious Life. The Power of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004.

Butor, Michel. La modification. Paris: Les éditions de Minuit, 1957.

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Cavarero, Adriana. Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood. London: Routledge, 2000.

Darwall, Stephen. The Second-Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

DelConte, Matt. “Why You Can’t Speak: Second Person Narration, Voice, and a New Model for Understanding Narrative.” Style 37.2 (2003): 204-219.

Egan, Jennifer. Black Box. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, Kindle edition, 2012.

Fludernik, Monika. “Second-Person Narrative As a Test Case for Narratology: The Limits of Realism.” Style 28.3 (1994): 445-479.

Ganteau, Jean-Michel. The Ethics and Aesthetics of Vulnerability in Contemporary British Fiction. London: Routledge, 2015.

Grusin, Richard, edited by. The Nonhuman Turn. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Herman, David. “Textual 'You' and Double Deixis in Edna O'Brien's A Pagan Place.” Style 28.3 (1994): 378-411. Last visited 15/05/2020.

Hopkins, Mary Frances and Leon Perkins. “Second Person Point of View in Narrative.” Critical Survey of Short Fiction. Edited by Frank N. Magill. New Jersey: Salem Press, 1981. 119-132.

Kacandes, Irene. “Are You in the Text?: The ‘Literary Performative’ in Postmodernist Fiction.” Text and Performance Quarterly 13.2 (1993): 139-153.

LeCain, Timothy J. “Against the Anthropocene: A Neo-Materialist Perspective.” International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity 3.1 (2015): 1-28

Lévy, Pierre. “The Creative Conversation of Collective Intelligence.” The Participatory Cultures Handbook. Edited by Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson. Trans. Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott. New York: Routledge, 2013. 99-108.

Manhire, Bill. The Brain of Katherine Mansfield. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1988.

Margolin, Uri. “Individuals in Narrative Worlds: An Ontological Perspective.” Poetics Today 11.4 (1990): 843-871.

Maturana, Humberto R. and Francisco J. Varela. Autopoiesis: The Organization of the Living, London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1973.

Moore, Lorrie. Self Help. London: Faber & Faber, 1985.

Morrissette, Bruce. “Narrative "You" in Contemporary Literature.” Comparative Literature Studies 2.1 (1965): 1-24.

O’Brien, Edna. A Pagan Place. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970.

Richardson, Brian. “I Etcetera: On the Poetics and Ideology of Multipersoned Narratives.” Style 28.3 (1994): 312–328.

---. Unnatural Voices: Extreme Narration in Modern and Contemporary Fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006.

Scheibman, Joanne. “Inclusive and Exclusive Patterning of the English First Person Plural: Evidence from Conversation.” Language, Culture, and Mind. Edited by Michel Achard and Suzanne Kemmer. Stanford: CSLI Publications, 2004. 377-396.

Schofield, Dennis. “Beyond the Brain of Katherine Mansfield: The Radical Potentials and Recuperations of Second-Person Narrative.” Style 31.1 (1997): 96-117.

Winterson, Jeanette. Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery. London: Vintage, 1996.

---. The PowerBook. New York: Vintage edition, 2000.



  • There are currently no refbacks.