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Beautiful War

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

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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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3 ANATOMICAL CHAOS 97

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ANATOMICAL CHAOS C H A P T E R T H R E E The body that is the subject of study in Monique Wittig’s Le Corps Lesbien at once becomes a disruptive oddity in the standard medical/social lexicon through the immediate modification of the noun by the adjective lesbien. The author identi- fies with the title of her third novel a specific body situated along the axes of gender and sexual orientation that exists outside the heterosexual sociobiological realm. Since medical textbooks do not identify particular anatomical character- istics unique to gay women, and the physical bodies of lesbians are eclectic and dissimilar, the two terms lesbian and body immediately coexist in an awkward and unfamiliar coupling. The union of these two terms therefore gives birth to a need to differentiate le corps lesbien (the lesbian body) from le corps humain (the human body) and even le corps féminin (the feminine body). If the constituents of its corporal uniqueness are not anatomical, the lesbian body must possess other characteristics that explain its singularity. As Leigh Gilmore observes, “There is no stable referent, either anatomical or metaphorical, that makes the bodies les- bian” (229). It is the direct attempt to articulate the foundation of these differences that becomes a primary focus of Le Corps Lesbien. Given the complexity of this task, Wittig must assume a particularly radical position as author/narrator, using lesbian feminist semiotics to challenge the powerful historical male/heterosexist inf luences on le corps lesbien: “What she wanted,...

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