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I was reading Art and Lies (2013) by Jeanette Winterson and came across this sentence (bolded):

Look up. A hundred billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. Unconcerned with me, that confidence of stars, light offerings, two thousand years old. If they are anything to me they are jewels for my shroud. I cannot know them. Icannot even know myself. Pascal's terror is mine: ‘Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’ effraie.’ What can balance the inequity of that huge space, which nevre ends, and my bounded life? Perhaps this: The beatland of my body is not my kingdom’s scope. I have within, spaces as vast, if I could claim them.

I couldn't find the meaning of the word beatland anywhere. What does the word mean?

  • Could you quote the preceding and following sentences also? That one sentence alone does not make much sense out of context (at least not to me). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 23 '16 at 6:33
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    I doubt the context will help. – deadrat Aug 23 '16 at 7:27
  • @deadrat i think it does help. The immediately preceding phrase includes 'my bounded life', which I think is generally, though admittedly not explicitly, supportive to my view that it is reference to 'beating the bounds'. and the following phrase is about claiming spaces within, which also fits well with bound beating being laying claim to the land and preventing encroachment by neighbouring parishes. – Spagirl Aug 23 '16 at 14:50
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The context is this: "What can balance the inequity of that huge space, which never ends, and my bounded life? Perhaps this: The beatland of my body is not my kingdom's scope, I have within, spaces as vast, if I could claim them."

Before saying this the writer talks about how vast and unknowable the stars are, how death and infinity can't be known. So, I agree that beatland means borders, and the writer is saying that finite (bounded) life of the body contains space as vast as the milky way. I think the boundaries refer to physical boundaries and the limits of time -- length of life. Which nevertheless can contain infinity.

  • That works nicely with @TrentBartlem's idea about the 'beat' part invoking heartbeat. Life is bounded by the duration of one's heart beating. Also, well done on being the third accepted answer for this question, wonder if that's a record! – Spagirl Aug 25 '16 at 9:38
  • @Spagirl Pardon my ignorance. I'm new to this forum and I've never been on any other forums so I don't exactly know how things work. Also, it didn't strike me at first that the tick was just meant for one answer. I thought the tick meant that the answer is helpful. All your answers helped, but J.B. Scott's answer helped me to understand the passage better. I didn't mean to offend you or anyone else by approving and disapproving answers. Sorry if I offended you. – Charutha Aug 25 '16 at 20:05
  • @Charutha I wasn't offended at all and I'm glad to know all the answers helped. I was only being amused and didn't mean to cause you any worry. It was an interesting question and I think all of the answers and comments contribute something of value. – Spagirl Aug 26 '16 at 7:30
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Since she also uses 'Kingdom', we can tell that she is using a term about the extent of land in a metaphorical sense to discuss herself and her body. Given that, it is likely that 'beatland' is also a term to do with the extent of territory and we can make the leap to the custom of 'Beating the Bounds'

Beating the bounds is an ancient custom still observed in some English and Welsh parishes. Under the name of the Gangdays the custom of going a-ganging was kept before the Norman Conquest.1 A group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, to share the knowledge of where they lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands.

While the word 'beatland' doesn't seem to appear much in this context online, a closely related usage is attested in this example from Dorset. Beatland Corner Socket Stone

Waymarker on the ancient route taken by the monks between the Augustinian Priory at Plympton and Tavistock Abbey

A likely definition of 'beatland' would then be 'the land within the Parish Bounds'. Winterston would in that case be making some comparison between a parish and a kingdom, but without more context I would not hazard quite what the comparison might be.

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From what I understand, that book is more like a collection of prose than a novel. The surrounding text suggests she is spinning phrases into imagery without necessarily being grammatically correct.

This leads me to believe that this is a word fabricated by the author to convey the sense of a metaphorical geographic area where the narrator's heart beats, as opposed to "my kingdom's scope", which is the domain encompassing her consciousness.

  • I think you may well be onto something with the narrator's heartbeat, but (as in my answer below) that there may be another meaning to beatland. perhaps the author is actually aiming to conjour both images. – Spagirl Aug 23 '16 at 9:27
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Perhaps the beatland of my body is my inner self -- my instincts, my drives, the sources of my inclinations -- which are as incomprehensible and unknowable to me as the rest of the universe, and therefore not within my kingdom's scope. I agree that it seems like a made-up word based on the human heartbeat.

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