ABSTRACT

This article assesses how an interrogation of William Carlos Williams’s use of the female body as an imagistic image can reframe discussions of the role of the woman in his aesthetics. Through an analysis of four moments during a medical encounter with a female patient in his oeuvre—“Comedy Entombed: 1930,” “The Girl with a Pimply Face,” the “take off your clothes” moment in Paterson Book Three, and the character of Marie Curie in Book Four—it argues that the abstracted “Woman” muse of Williams’s work should be read together with the women who appear in mundane, vulnerable, and compromising positions in his fiction and poetry. It draws from disability theory, feminist body theory, and theories of object orientation in order to interrogate the “thingness” of the female body in Williams’s medical narratives. It argues that Williams makes clear that the women he observes in their homes and in his exam rooms are a part of his search for the “new order,” embodiments of the American ideal that are at the heart of his understanding of medicine, sex, and modernity. It argues that his focus on the female body becomes the point at which Williams asserts his place in modernism and in medicine—his vision of modernist aesthetics, medical authority, narrative authority, and sexual desire—on the backs of the women he treated.

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