Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Part I Queering the Body
- 1 Hookups: Social Networking and Digital Bodies in Twenty-First-Century France
- 2 Lesbian Selves: The Figure of the (Body) Double in Marie Nimier’s Works
- 3 Children Out of Line: Gender (Dis)Orientations and Paths of Queer Resistance in the Heterotopia
- Part II Rethinking Gendered Bodily Norms
- 4 Motherhood Reconceived: The Posthuman Future Is Female in ‘Mon mari le clone’ by Marie Darrieussecq
- 5 The Female Body in the Plays of French Caribbean Women Writers
- 6 Male Bodily Poetics in André Téchiné Quand on a 17 ans (2016): Physical Violence and Teenage Passion
- Part III Hybrid and Dysfunctional Bodies
- 7 Dysfunctional Bodies, Dysfunctional Gazes: Artistic Creation and Death in Manger l’autre by Ananda Devi and Le Génie d’Abou by Isabelle Boni-Claverie
- 8 14 or the Missing Arm: Ontological Instability of the French Contemporary Novel in Jean Echenoz’s Work
- 9 The Cyborg’s Undecidable Body: A Game of ‘Who am I?’ in Gaston Leroux’s La Poupée sanglante
- Part IV Bodies in Flux
- 10 Mediating Eve: Female Protagonists and the Contingent Body in Hervé Guibert’s Late Narratives
- 11 Exploring Encounters in Passages by Emile Ollivier: The Role of Testimonial Responsibility to Othered Bodies
- 12 Dance as Encounter in the Films of Claire Denis
- Notes on Contributors
First and foremost, we would like to thank all of our contributors for their hard work in writing the incredible chapters of which this book comprises. Your work has produced an exciting and varied volume which we are so delighted to be able to share with the world. We are also particularly grateful to Sophie Lillywhite, who created the stunning image on our front cover. We would especially like to extend our thanks to Laurel Plapp at Peter Lang, who has supported and advised us throughout the whole process, and we thank the reviewers, too, for their helpful comments and feedback.
This edited volume arose from a conference that we organized in Birmingham in January 2018 entitled ‘Imagining the Body in France and the Francophone World’, along with a special issue of L’Esprit Créateur entitled ‘Challenging Normative Spaces and Gazes: The Body in 20th-and 21st-Century Francophone Culture’ (2020). The vast majority of our contributors are early career researchers and this book therefore celebrates the innovative research that our cohort is undertaking.
We would also like to extend our thanks to a variety of organizations which either subsidized our conference or have funded our own individual research projects which we were undertaking at the time of editing this book. These include The Leverhulme Trust, the Institute of Modern Languages Research, the Society for French Studies, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the University of Birmingham and the University of Leeds.
Of course, we would also like to thank our partners, family, friends and colleagues who have supported us during this process. You know who you are!←ix | x→
Finally, we would like to acknowledge our longstanding friendship as early career researchers. All three editors of this volume met around 2015 when we were at different stages of our PhDs. Since we started to organize the ‘Imagining the Body’ conference, we have stayed in close contact and our friendship has grown. Over the past few years, we have supported each other through the highs and lows of our careers. With the uncertainty and instability of academic careers, now compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that our friendship will be even more valuable than ever as we continue on our quest to one day find that elusive permanent academic position. We are also heartened by the fact that academic ‘bubbles’ appear to be growing increasingly supportive and inclusive, and long may it continue!
‘Le monde est si vaste et nous si petits, mais unis par l’amitié, nous sommes des géants’.
POLLY GALIS, MARIA TOMLINSON AND ANTONIA WIMBUSH
A Queer(y)ing Approach to the Body: Questioning
Normativity beyond LGBTQ+ Spaces
As this edited volume testifies, the meaning of the term ‘queer’ has evolved significantly during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The word ‘queer’ appeared in the English language in the sixteenth century to mean something that is different from the norm, and its etymology is rooted in the German word ‘quer’ which signifies something that is askew.1 In the early twentieth century ‘queer’ was pejoratively applied to homosexual men, until the 1990s when this term was reappropriated by the LGBTQ+ community in order to denounce homophobia and express pride.2 The term ‘queer’ has therefore had a history of challenging normative beliefs, identities and ideologies. In recent years, scholars have opened up the term ‘queer’ to question normative ideas that are not strictly related to LGBTQ+ identity. Building on queer scholarship, researchers in other fields have considered the potential of queer approaches, theories and ideas to aid our questioning of a variety of normative discourses. These fields range from disability studies, to research about menstrual experience, and to identity studies more broadly.←1 | 2→
A variety of academic works have already commented on how scholarly work is broadening the term ‘queer’. Jean Bessette demonstrates that, within queer studies itself, the term ‘queer’ has been expanded to describe a general ‘orientation against normativity’ which can incorporate socioeconomic status and ethnicity.3 Bessette argues that ‘someone, or something, is queer when s/he or it challenges the social processes that consolidate and normalize gendered, sexual, raced, and classed identities’.4 In Tendencies (1993), Eve Sedgwick also illustrates how a queer approach can shed light on other markers of identity. She explains, ‘a lot of the most exciting recent work around “queer” spins the term outward along dimensions that can’t be subsumed under gender and sexuality at all: the ways that race, ethnicity, postcolonial nationality criss-cross with these and other identity-constituting, identity fracturing discourses, for example.’5 Sedgwick, here, links the term ‘queer’ with other fractured and marginalized identities. She therefore highlights the value of viewing marginalized identities through a queer lens. She finds a parallel between the marginalized queer community and marginalized, or low brow, cultural production. She explains that during her childhood she enjoyed engaging with a variety of cultural texts that included both popular and highbrow materials, and that became necessary to her survival. She demonstrates an admiration for those of her generation and the new generation of queer youth who have found their identity in less formal works: ‘It’s impressed me deeply the way others of my generation and since seem to have invented for themselves, in the spontaneity of great need, the tools for a formalist apprehension of other less prestigious, more ubiquitous kinds of text: genre movies, advertising, comic strips.’6 Hence, we can infer from Sedgwick’s assertion that queer theories and ideas may help to unlock the meaning behind literature that is neither canonical, highbrow, traditional, nor highly regarded. This volume likewise draws on sources that vary considerably in terms of genre and social ‘ranking’.
Numerous academic studies have based their methodological approaches on the intersecting aspects of queer and postcolonial studies.7←2 | 3→
Both disciplines examine power dynamics, identity politics, institutions and knowledge creation. Studies which take a queer or postcolonial approach often question normative categories or binaries. Alberto Fernández Carbajal exemplifies this rejection of normativity in an article that offers a joint postcolonial and queer reading of Zadie Smith’s novel NW (2012). Carbajal argues that a resistance to normativity ‘is articulated at the crossroads between postcolonial and queer discourses, a joint battleground that dissolves a singular envisioning of national identity by favouring the mixing of cultural perspectives and sexualities’.8 Thus, a queer and post-colonial reading can offer a multiplicity of viewpoints that deconstruct essentialism and monolithism.←3 | 4→
Within feminist scholarly work, studies have drawn on a combination of queer and feminist approaches in order to examine a societal marginalization of women or women’s bodies. In an article on the intersections between radical feminism and queer theory, Debbie Cameron and Joan Scanlon argue that the notion of ‘queer’ brings together ‘whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant’.9 The authors build on this by arguing that ‘queer’ signifies a marginal status which is imposed from without and is often applied to a person who has ‘no buffer against social prejudice’.10 They give female sex workers as an example of this queerness. Even though they may be cisgender and heterosexual, they are marginalized for their sexual activity. We can find another pertinent example of a feminist queering of bodily norms in Iris Marion Young’s On Female Body Experience: ‘Throwing Like a Girl’ and Other Essays (2005). In her essay about menstrual experience and normative societal ideals about the body, Young argues that the menstruating body has a marginal status in society. She illustrates that societal discourses about menstruation position it as something dirty and shameful that must always remain hidden. She thus posits that society queers the menstruating body by placing it in a marginalized position:
The normal body, the default body, the body that everybody is assumed to be, is a body not bleeding from the vagina. Thus to be normal and to be taken as normal, the menstruating woman must not speak about her bleeding and must conceal evidence of it […] It seems apt, then, in this normatively masculine, supposedly gender-egalitarian society, to say that the menstruating woman is queer. As with other queers, the price of a woman’s acceptance as normal is that she stay in the closet as a menstruator.11
Although Young offers a fitting analogy for the experience of cisgender female menstruators, she does not consider the existence of non-binary, transgender or intersex menstruators who may define themselves as ‘queer’. We could argue then, perhaps, that their bodies are doubly queered both through being menstruators and for being a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Another field which has drawn on queer theories and approaches is disability studies. As Tim Dean explains, there is a common desire to reappropriate stigmatizing labels that exist in both disabled and/or LGBTQ+ spaces. Dean also draws on ideas of normativity to bring together queer and disabled identity:
In recent decades, sexual minorities have reclaimed ‘queer’ as a badge of pride and a mark of resistance to regimes of the normal, mirroring the embrace of terms like ‘crip’ and the capaciousness of the term ‘disability’ itself. These are all political, highly contested terms that refuse essentializing meanings.12←4 | 5→
Here, Dean illustrates that both the terms ‘queer’ and ‘disabled’ resist essentialism and categorization. A further parallel drawn by Dean is between heteronormativity and ableism. He argues that queer studies and disability studies criticize ‘the effects of normalization on embodiment, desire, and access’.13 Thus, as Dean’s article demonstrates, the body is at the centre of both queer studies and disability studies. Both disciplines reveal, question and denounce the monolithic application of normative perspectives to all bodies. Instead, these disciplines encourage intersectionality, nuance and contextualization.
Queer(y)ing Bodily Norms in Francophone Culture builds on these studies that ‘queer’ societal norms and values through our ‘queer(y) ing’ methodology. Since the volume combines chapters which focus on LGBTQ+ identity and those which question normativity outside an LGBTQ+ space, we coined the term ‘queer(y)ing’ to illustrate the value of applying approaches informed by a queer perspective in a variety of different sociocultural and generic contexts. At its heart, the term ‘queer(y) ing’ articulates an approach to society that examines, questions and challenges normativity in all of its manifestations. Since the word ‘queer’ today epitomizes the pride of the LGBTQ+ community and expresses their marginalization, we created a term that celebrates this influence but does not appropriate it. The term amalgamates the ideas of queering and questioning to encompass a variety of approaches that question normativity in all of its guises. For instance, a queer(y)ing approach can be used to criticize a range of discourses such as ableism, neocolonialism, ciscentrism and trans-exclusionary feminism, but is nevertheless inspired by the contestatory movement of queer studies.
The Origins of Queer Theory in French and Francophone Thought←5 | 6→
In France specifically, queer thinking has been strongly associated with political activism,14 and organizations such as the Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire (founded in 1971) and Les Gouines rouges (also founded in 1971) have been at the forefront of revolutionary queer activism in France during the twentieth century. Although, as Michael Sibalis argues, it is too simplistic to attribute the emergence of gay rights movements in France to the events of May ‘68,15 it is true that May ‘68 gave an impetus to activists striving for social, political and sexual equality. However, the francophone academy has been somewhat reluctant to engage with queer theory. The best-known anglophone works of queer theory have only appeared in French translation relatively recently: Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, initially published in 1990, was translated into French in 2005,16 while Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet (1990) was published in French in 2008.17 French queer theorists themselves also seem to lag behind their anglophone contemporaries to a certain extent, perhaps because the French Republican model results in a ‘supposed blindness to all particularities, including of course sexual orientation’.18 As Oliver Davis and Hector Kollias observe:
Queer theory is now an established term in the Anglo-American academic lexicon, so much so that it has already started to engender the kind of internal criticism which intimates that it may no longer be as avant-garde, as radical, or indeed as queer, as was thought in the heady days of the 1900s. The impetus behind this special issue is the realization that the same cannot be said about queer theory in Europe in general and in France in particular, where it still connotates that which is radical and avant-garde in thinking about sexuality and sociality. […]. Queer theory has arrived in France–late.19←6 | 7→
Yet as they then go on to explain, and as the title of their special issue – Queer Theory’s Return to France – makes clear, it is erroneous to think that France has no history of queer theoretical discourse: ‘This arrival is not that of a total newcomer, but a return, the return of a native.’20 Rather, much contemporary francophone and anglophone queer theory has been strongly influenced by the seminal French thinkers of the twentieth century. Claire Boyle notes in her contribution to Davis and Kollias’s special issue of Paragraph that ‘American queer theory is deeply rooted in European, and specifically French, thought’; Butler draws on Michel Foucault and Luce Irigaray, Sedgwick engages with Marcel Proust, and Diana Fuss develops her ideas on sexuality through a discussion of the work of Jacques Lacan and Frantz Fanon.21 Boyle goes on to propose that French queer subjects and thinkers will act as a ‘critical interlocutor’ to post-queer theory that has emerged from the USA –a field still in its infancy but marked by the importance of the virtual world and the blurring of human and machine à la Donna Haraway’s cyborg –just as it inspired queer theory there in the first place.22 Bruno Perreau agrees that Anglo-American queer theory has been greatly inspired by French thought, largely thanks to Foucault who acts as a ‘bridge’ between both transatlantic schools of thought.23 Moreover, in Queering Transcultural Encounters (2019), Luis Navarro-Ayala outlines how Frenchness itself is equated with sexual deviance in Latin America and North Africa, meaning that to adopt certain French traits allows for queer sexual exploration, even in places where this is strictly policed.24 Following in the footsteps of these influential gender studies scholars, our own contribution to queer studies in France seeks to query what queer means, and how it has been theorized, at different stages of French and francophone history.←7 | 8→
Much of contemporary queer theory is rooted in distinctions between sex and gender, a key aspect of Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist thought. Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième sexe (1949) needs little introduction, so seminal has it been in Western feminist discourse. The oft-quoted phrase ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’ has been crucial to understanding this division between sex and gender.25 Beauvoir considers sex to be the anatomically stable condition determined by birth, whereas gender is the cultural and societal meaning given to the body. As Butler explains in an article dedicated to sex and gender in Beauvoir’s work, ‘with the distinction intact, it is no longer possible to attribute the values or social functions of women to biological necessity, and neither can we refer meaningfully to natural or unnatural gendered behaviour: all gender is, by definition, unnatural’.26 Butler develops Beauvoir’s thinking further in her own analysis of sexuality. She questions whether, if it is possible to conceive of gendered and sexed identity as a relative concept, we should abandon gendered and sexed binaries altogether.27 The American poet, essayist and feminist Adrienne Rich also argues that such binaries are counter-productive, and she advocates that sexuality be seen as shifting points on a ‘lesbian continuum’ rather as binary positions.28 For Rich, this continuum should include ‘a range –through each woman’s life and throughout history –of woman-identified experience’29 because only then can we fully understand how diverse women experience lesbianism differently, as both ‘the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life’.30 Queer theorists have thus drawn on and expanded Beauvoir’s feminist thinking in order to call for an eradication of sexual as well as gendered normativity.←8 | 9→
Of course, many francophone second-wave feminists, including Beauvoir but also Annie Leclerc, Julia Kristeva, Marie Cardinal and Christine Delphy, have been criticized by subsequent feminist movements for their monolithic approach to women’s issues. However, it must also be remembered that second-wave feminist activists, under the auspices of the Mouvement de libération des femmes, did win some major legislative and legal victories in France, such as the legalization of contraception in 1967 and the legalization of abortion in 1975.31 The economic and political progress made during this period, then, should not go unnoted. Yet, the above feminist theorists have been taken to task particularly for their failure to include non-normative gendered and sexual identities in their struggle for equality. Indeed, since gender and sexuality also intersect with other aspects of identity such as ethnicity, religious beliefs and class, the second-wave feminists have also been criticized for basing their broad theories about women on their own experiences as white privileged women. For instance, black and lesbian feminist Audre Lorde writes: ‘White women focus upon their oppression and ignore differences of race, sexual preference, class and age. There is a pretense to a homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist.’32 Indeed, Lorde’s words resonate very strongly with contemporary movements today such as #BlackLivesMatters and #BlackintheIvory (an online movement to amplify black voices in academia founded by Shardé Davis and Joy Melody Woods, scholars in the field of communication studies). The online responses to these hashtags, which were trending on social media in June 2020, highlight the importance of amplifying black voices rather than speaking on behalf of black people.←9 | 10→
Irigaray is another feminist theorist who has been criticized for failing to acknowledge intersectional considerations, even if her work on sexual difference has been a cornerstone of contemporary queer theory. Adopting a similar approach to psychoanalytic theory as Beauvoir, Irigaray nevertheless foregrounds issues of female sexuality as well as issues of gender. Irigaray is particularly critical of Freudian and Lacanian theory which positions women in opposition to men, defining women as ‘not-man’.33 Just as Beauvoir argues that women are culturally determined to adopt an object-status within society because they are considered to be ‘not-man’,34 Irigaray asserts that female sexuality is also defined in relation to male sexuality, a fact which is key to understanding gendered and sexual inequality in society.35 For Irigaray, Freudian and Lacanian theory is an inappropriate lens through which to understand female development because it is immediately conditioned by a phallocentric viewpoint which posits that female sexuality is a negative entity, a ‘not-male sexuality’.36 Irigaray also argues that the female sexual organ suffers a similar fate: it is considered an inferior version of the male genitalia. For Irigaray, Freud’s emphasis on the vagina as the key source of sexual pleasure demonstrates a limited understanding of female sexuality because she asserts that women in fact have multiple sources of sexual pleasure.37 Irigaray’s most important contribution to discussions of female sexuality is the conclusion that female sexuality has never been truly defined because it has also been understood relatively, in opposition to male sexuality –hence the description of ‘woman’ as the ‘sex which is not one’ in the title of her most famous work.←10 | 11→
The self-identified ‘radical lesbian’ Monique Wittig is also acutely aware that for many theorists, the category of ‘woman’ only exists in relation to its opposed category of ‘man’. In her landmark essay ‘The Straight Mind’ (1980), she argues that these categories are ‘political concepts of opposition’ rather than ontological categories of being which should be abolished altogether rather than celebrated.38 Wittig is also critical of French feminists who construct their own arguments around the binary concepts of ‘man’ and ‘woman’. For Wittig, such feminist discourse excludes non-heterosexual women, and therefore is not a discourse which represents all women because it neglects to consider sexual difference: ‘The consequence of this tendency toward universality is that the straight mind cannot conceive of a culture, a society where heterosexuality would not order not only all human relationships but also its very production of concepts and all the processes which escape consciousness, as well.’39 Here, Wittig is criticizing feminists who treat the category ‘women’ as a single, unique entity, and do not consider how such a heteronormative and monolithic approach to women’s identity silences lesbian women and women who do not fit into the gendered and sexual norm. For Wittig, the oppression of lesbians occurs on two counts –they are marginalized for their gender and for their sexuality –meaning that their oppression is even more acute than that of their female heterosexual counterparts. Quebecois writers Isabelle Boisclair and Lori Saint-Martin, meanwhile, consider the oppression of trans identities, a category which calls into the question the very meaning of woman itself, due to a reconfiguration of diversity and multiplicity.40 The term ‘womxn’ is now usefully employed to steer terminology away from the sexist implications of the suffixes -man and -men, and to be inclusive of queer, trans and non-binary women.←11 | 12→
It is clear, then, that twentieth-century French feminist thought has been at the heart of debates about queer identity and queer culture, even if queer studies as a theoretical discourse has been slow to launch in France. As Cameron and Scanlon point out, ‘we often forget that thinkers within the gay liberation movement in the early days had much in common with feminism: deconstructing masculinity, questioning the nuclear family, challenging misogyny, and seeking a sexuality of equality.’41 Yet contemporary queer activists and thinkers have sought to push these debates further to examine how gendered inequalities are perpetuated in a heterosexual society. It is important to again acknowledge here that many of the key feminist and queer thinkers explored above demonstrate a white, Eurocentric attitude. Their application, therefore, within a broader francophone context requires a nuanced and mediated response, taking into account intersectional issues of race, ethnicity, class and ableism, which, of course, is a key concern of third-wave feminists.
Queer Bodies à la française: Resistance, Interrogation and Celebration←12 | 13→
More inclusive visions of the body of this kind are very much the order of the day given recent global events. The global health crisis of 2020/2021, more than any other historic event, placed the human body at the centre of social and political conversation. This crisis highlighted the enduring importance of biological matter on our livelihoods and sense of self, and called into question the ways in which we interact with fellow bodies in the world around us. It also provided a vivid figuration of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s ‘Body without Organs’ (BoW).42 Our lives have been controlled by an untenable entity – COVID-19 – that establishes connections between people in a disorderly fashion, producing rhizomatic maps of infection across the globe.43 This had paradoxical outcomes: on the one hand, this made many people look closer to home. People solidified relationships with their family members and childhood friends, reinforcing nuclear units and neatly related ‘bubbles’, and proud acts of patriotism played a large part in the fight mounted against the global virus. We can think back, for instance, to Macron’s closing statement to his ‘compatriotes’ when he first formally announced lockdown from the Elysée Palace: ‘Nous tiendrons tous ensemble. Vive la République. Vive la France.’44 Our bodily horizons also became extremely limited as we found new ways to exercise within restrictive spaces that proved tensely testing for everyone’s mental as well as physical wellbeing.
On the other hand, this crisis reflected the arbitrary nature of borders between national and familial bodies. Brexit, and the bourgeoning Frexit movement across the waters, took on a highly incongruous –if not completely risible –tone in the face of such international angst and cross-collaboration. Some family units also found themselves fragmented owing to domestic frictions, and people the world over were re-evaluating whereabouts they could truly call ‘home’. To return to Deleuze and Guattari’s theory, the crisis instigated multiple ‘lines of flight’ away from structured institutions and clearly defined centres –a figurative term that carried a painfully ironic undertone for those individuals unable to fly back to families in other states or countries.45 While our bodies were materially curtailed, moreover, we rapidly learned to communicate and express ourselves in a meaningful way via virtual platforms. This introduced us to interesting and productive alternatives to face-to-face contact, but also highlighted the impossibility of responding appropriately to body language outside of ‘real-time’, since affective relationships rely largely on a biological body to be effective.
Beyond personal bodily identities and relationships, the health crisis carried contradictory consequences from a political perspective too. The corona virus was galvanized by governments to control the behaviour of its citizens, through attempts to collect and consolidate large swathes of personal data to track the health and location of bodies, that led to widespread fear about what the judicial ramifications would be once ‘normality’ resumed. Citizens’ legal right to democratic protest was likewise jeopardized by the state control of bodily presence and contact in public, under the pretext of saving lives. The notion of the body politic has never been so plainly illustrated.
- X, 294
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2021 (April)
- Queer Body Francophone culture Queer(y)ing Bodily Norms in Francophone Culture Polly Galis Maria Tomlinson Antonia Wimbush
- Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. X, 294 pp.