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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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WITTIG, OUI C H A P T E R F O U R Nearly ten years passed between the publication of Le Corps Lesbien and Wittig’s last novel, Virgile, Non. After this lengthy hiatus, Wittig emerged from liter- ary silence with a markedly different approach to narrative. Gone now were the pronominal oddities that had typified her first three novels (the litany of on in L’Opoponax, the forceful use of elles in Les Guérillères, and the divided j/e of Le Corps Lesbien); absent also was the radical emphasis she had placed on the reappro- priation of language. Furthermore, although she still demonstrated a predilection for using the present tense, Wittig did not use the present tense to situate her text in a limbo of place and time as she had done with L’Opoponax, Les Guérillères, and Le Corps Lesbien. Instead, the present serves to transport the reader to modern times: to the streets of San Francisco, into lesbian bars, to the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Castro. As Diane Griffin Crowder notes, “It is obvious that the real world has overwhelmed the lesbian and feminist utopian impulse” (Crowder, Separatism and feminist utopian fiction, 245). In addition, orthographic peculiarities (display- ing the large “O” as text, the fracturing of words with slashes) no longer exist prominently in her narrative, although Wittig does make one zealous effort to banish quotation marks in favor of parentheses, which may be read as a violent castration of ideographical testicles [ “ ] and the...

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