Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Lesbian Body

More French feminism, y'all. Monique Wittig's The Lesbian Body is a series of poems in which she seeks to articulate bodily experience from a lesbian perspective, often invoking images of the Amazon tribe to represent what Adrienne Rich and others have called the life of the "woman-identified woman." The poems in this volume are rich and lovely, and I noticed two important things about the way they are written. First, Wittig never uses the word "I" unquestioningly. She wrote the poems in French, and instead of writing "je" ("I"), she writes "j/e" in order to express what she sees as the naturally occurring fragmentation and multiplicity of femininity. This linguistic choice seems to me to be a visual representation of the philosophy Irigaray articulates in "This Sex Which Is Not One": Though psychoanalytic critics like Freud and Lacan have said that woman's multiplicity or doubleness (her "know[ing] seems," as in Hamlet's accusation of Gertrude) is bad and a mark of her inferiority, we as women should joy in our double selves because they give us complexities that patriarchal society fears and does not understand. These complexities belong to us and us alone, and therefore should be respected and nourished, not shamed and hidden.

The second thing I noticed is thematic. Wittig expresses a joy in the bodily similar to that of Cixous, Clement, and Irigaray, but hers is different in that it is much more visceral. Cixous tries to get messy with her loud, self-interrupting exhortations to "Write!" and her many liquid metaphors of overflowing words and writing with milk ("The Laugh of the Medusa," "Sorties"), but Wittig surpasses her easily. She takes common romanticisms like the desire to get closer to one's lover by crawling under her skin and literalizing them in her poems, peeling back her lover's dermis, exposing vessels and globules of fat inch by inch, and worshiping those parts in an empowering series of blazons that seem anti-Petrarchan in their emphasis on the wholeness of the tiny parts that makes up this beloved woman. If anybody out there is looking for some feminist romance (and you all should be), give The Lesbian Body a read.

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