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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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BELLE-ICOSITY C H A P T E R T W O If L’Opoponax is the laboratory in which Wittig concocts her neophyte warrior women, Les Guérillères is the primary experiment in which Wittig begins to exam- ine the interaction between women protagonists, whom she has made capable of war, and men, who had historically been the sole gender allowed to participate in warcraft. A text of extreme complexity and scope, Les Guérillères is an immediately paradoxical novel, in that the traditional bloodiness and scenes of actual battle common in the war narrative are for the most part only tangentially present in the text. Although Wittig does incorporate a few lengthy passages that do involve actual offensives by feminist warriors in Les Guérillères, the work focuses primarily on a gradual presentation of historical and mythological details that substanti- ate the necessity for a gender war, an erasure of these factors, an accompanying feminist retelling and rewriting of history and myth, a “war” between the genders that occurs largely in the ellipses of the text, and the presentation of a tenuous and uneasy peace (which might aptly be dubbed “warpeace”) that ensues as a result of these tensions. Furthermore, the novel seeks to undermine the prejudice of the lexicon histor- ically associated with “womanhood.” Wittig expressly dismantles the traditional notion of beautiful (belle) as the primary quality in women worthy of veneration and assigns the more potent fundamental aspect of martial prowess (belliqueuse) to women in...

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