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Beautiful War

Uncommon Violence, Praxis, and Aesthetics in the Novels of Monique Wittig


James D. Davis Jr.

Beautiful War explores the interdependent political, linguistic, and erotic registers of lesbian feminism in Monique Wittig’s novels, querying in particular how they function collectively to destabilize male hegemony and heterosexism. Beginning with the assertion that Wittig expressly dismantles the Classical veneration of la belle femme in order to create an agent more capable of social change ( la femme belliqueuse), the author traces the permutations of violence through her four novels, L’Opoponax, Les Guérillères, Le Corps Lesbien, and Virgile, Non and examines the relevance of brutality to Wittig’s feminist agenda. Drawing on literary criticism, intellectual and political history, queer theory, and feminist theory in his readings of the primary texts, the author argues that Wittig’s œuvre constitutes a progressive textual actualization of paradigm shifts toward gender parity and a permanent banishment of the primacy of male and heterosexist political and sexual discourse.


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1 for her first novel, L’Opoponax and was immediately heralded by critics as a prom- ising young writer. Her prowess as an author was extolled by such important literary figures as Nathalie Sarraute, Claude Simon, Marguerite Duras, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. By stripping the Bildungsroman of its traditional male associations and employing the stylistic patterns of the Nouveau Roman, Monique Wittig achieved in L’Opoponax a reputation of literary innovation and infused a marked feminist element into these genres. In this novel about the evolution of young women, Wittig carved out progressive ideological terrain by suggesting same-sex intimacy among young schoolgirls, thus “outing” the characters of her first novel against the backdrop of the sexist/heterosexist society of the early 1960s. Wittig accomplished in this novel the important task of identifying and valorizing gay women in literature through her unapologetic depictions of lesbian romance and fledgling eroticism, but the circumstances into which she released her charac- ters were hostile. Although Simone de Beauvoir’s recounting of the torture of Djamila Boupacha had raised consciousness about the abuse of women in France during this era, being lesbian in the anti-lesbian milieu of the early 1960s was nonetheless still dangerous: in July, 1960, homosexuality was declared a “social plague” in France (Robinson 4), and until global neopolitical solidarity within the gay community began to arise in the late sixties and early seventies with such historical occurrences as the Stonewall riots of 19693, most discussions of homosexuality were either rife with homophobic dysphemism or heterocentric explanations of...

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