TEXT review


review by Jessica Gildersleeve


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Quinn Eades
all the beginnings: a queer autobiography of the body
Tantanoola, North Melbourne VIC 2015
ISBN 9781925333299
Pb 274 pp AUD24.95


Stigmata, the wound, the trace, is, Hélène Cixous has said, something ‘I want… I do not want the stigmata to disappear. I am attached to my engravings, to the stings in my flesh and my mental parchment... [T]he literature in me wants to maintain and reanimate traces’ (Cixous 2005: 12-13). It is the ‘literature in me’ that Quinn Eades ‘traces’ in this first book, all the beginnings. Words, wounds, remains, and scars are gathered in this work which celebrates the fragmentary and the ordinary, the past and the present, but above all, the body, in all its forms: the body sick, in pain, tortured, strong, queered, working, labouring, recovering. Importantly, Eades writes, this is not a work about ‘every body. This is my body, written, not every woman’s, or every queer’s, or every mother’s: one body, attempting to answer and extend Cixous, to speak’ (2015: 37). all the beginnings, then,is autobiography in its purest sense: self-body-writing. Writing the body of this self, writing the self that is this body.

all the beginnings sets out to complicate Cixous’s concept of écriture feminine by proposing something new: écriture matière, ‘a vast root system … that spawns all bodies, writing’ (25). As such, it writes the beginning(s) of Eades’ body, Eades’ children’s bodies, and of the other bodies and lives with whom they come in contact. We might read all the beginnings, then, as the story of a body becoming mother, of performing an ‘incongruent’ motherhood, of ‘boy clothes and boots and breasts’ (165), of fertility ended: ‘I can’t have another baby. / I don’t want another baby’ (218); and of the body shared by infants, lovers, even doctors. But it is also a story of coming to writing, of training the body to labour, to (re)produce – of beginning each sentence, each page, each narrative fragment. The mother, then, is also the literary foremother, the ‘m(other)’ and the ‘double’: ‘We are looping, we are writers, we are text, we are linkages and tears’ (217). Like mother and child, the writers simultaneously bring one another into being in this reminder of the dialogic model of reading and writing.

In many ways, all the beginnings is structured by the principles of trauma – the ways in which trauma returns, unbidden, causing anachrony and fragmentation in the narrative, a series of beginnings. Each chapter explores a central theme or series of events (the birth of a child, finding the courage to write, recovering from surgery), but is divided into shorter subchapters which form individual vignettes or meditations, moving between past and present in a probing search for the body as coherent, settled self. But then again, as Cixous says, ‘[a]ll literature is scary’ (2005: 11). Perhaps for this reason, then, all the beginnings is a work which is as much poetry and literary theory as it is narrative. It stitches together the narrative prose of memoir, Eades’ own poetry, and the literary theory of Cixous, of course, but also other feminist and poststructuralist writers reflecting on motherhood, the body, and the law. In this sense, the work is a kind of contemporary feminist ‘Waste Land’, calling up and recalling and remembering the collective voices of those who came before, those who comment on and work through and about the body. Many of these citations are referenced, per Eliot, with commentary and bibliographic details contained at the back of the book, but many simply rely on a reader familiar with the words of those theorists, their triggers for thought. It is a ‘poetics of the abject’ (2015: 123), an abjection where it is difficult to tell where Eades stops and these works begin, where this body writing stops and those bodies writing begin, but that is the point. They are all beginning(s). And just as Eliot’s poem finishes with a call for peace – Shantih, Shantih, Shantih – so too Eades ultimately works through those corporeal and psychological traumas to find the peace of the ordinary in a ‘golden room’ of ‘Dirt. Tea. Banana. Sun. Toast’ (243).

One of Eades’ tattoos embellishes the cover of all the beginnings, and throughout the narrative tattoos become a way to literally write the self. ‘This tattoo that strikes down from shoulder to wrist’, Eades says, ‘that caresses the crease on the inside of my elbow, …this becoming-ink, is a doing; not a freeing, or even a meaning. This tattoo … is desire and jouissance… It is an insistence on alive-ness, on being, on love that is writing and reading; that is ink’ (13). Eades has many tattoos, and they each tell a story, together they tell the story of that body. I have one tattoo. It is a single word, delicate script on the inside of my right wrist (I am right-handed). It reads, it writes: jouissance, the bliss of reading, of écriture feminine, perhaps even écriture matière, the beginning of writing.

At the end of all the beginnings, Eades meets literary (m)other, Hélène Cixous, who inscribes Eades’ copy of Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing to ‘her wonderful “crew” of life’ (254). It is a pun, Eades eventually decides, on short hair, and love of family – the ‘crew’ who gather around Eades now, those who follow Eades’ ideas as Eades follows Cixous’s. I hold her (in)script(ion) in my own inscribed hand, she reads, she writes, I read, I write, and thus the jouissance circulates and builds in the matrilineage of women’s writing. In this way, all the beginnings is always beginning, always the beginning, in a jouissance without end.


Works cited


Jessica Gildersleeve is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Southern Queensland. Her research examines the relationships between trauma and ethics in writing since the early twentieth century. She is the author of Elizabeth Bowen and theWriting of Trauma: The Ethics of Survival (2014) and co-editor of the Queensland Review.


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Vol 20 No 1 April 2016
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Reviews Editor: Linda Weste