In Jeanette Winterson’s story of existential meditation, “A Green Square,” the narrator ponders the significance of a recurring memory of sailing in a small boat on the gleaming Irish Sea and experiencing a happiness as clear, deep, and glimmering as the sea itself. Why does this image return again and again, the narrator wonders, and what could it signify?:

The vulnerability of it. The insolence. Isn’t that the winning human combination? Isn’t that us, tumbling through the years? To suffer. To dare. Now, the sufferers don’t dare and the darers don’t suffer. Perhaps that’s what’s wrong with us all. Wrong with now, sharded people that we are. (2000, 201)

Although in this short passage Winterson’s narrator pairs vulnerability with suffering and insolence with daring, and so at first glance seems to conceive vulnerability in the same reductively negative way as the accounts described in the previous chapter, there is more to this literary invocation of vulnerability. The error of the present—“what’s wrong with us all” and “wrong with now”—is the separation of suffering and daring, of vulnerability and insolence. In the lines that follow—“The boat in the water. At every turn the waves threaten. At every turn I want to push a little further, to find the hidden cove, the little bay of delight, that fear would prevent” (ibid)—it is apparent that the joy and clarity that accompanies this image arise only from the unique combination of vulnerability and insolence. The vulnerability of being at sea surrounded by waves that might overcome one’s small craft is what impels the narrator onward. It is only in being vulnerable that one can truly dare. Without the accompaniment of vulnerability, daring fails to be a way to risk oneself and becomes mere self-assertion or even domination. Without the accompaniment of a certain temerity, vulnerability can be mere suffering. The challenge, the joy comes from being vulnerable in one’s daring.