Monique Wittig’s
Materialist Utopia and
Radical Critique
Brad Epps and Jonathan Katz

Section Three

A refusal to allow the imagination to fail is precisely what motivates Wittig’s novels and short stories, including the one published here for the first time in English, “The Garden,” in which a fantastic allegorical tale of bodies, beings, guardians, and feeders offers a countercritique of the critical forces of violence, interdependency, domination, and resistance. In her pursuit of both a universal and a particular point of view, in her reticence with regard to the first-person singular, Wittig similarly denies the viability of any theoretical construct rooted in a negotiation with extant social facts, understanding that to accept the privileged terms of the current organization of the social as the necessarily privileged ground for resistance is to have already lost. It is along these lines that Wittig declared:

If we accept that there is a “natural” division between women and men, we naturalize history, we make as if men and women had always existed and always will exist. . . . we naturalize the social phenomena that manifest our oppression, making change impossible. (“On ne naît pas femme, PS, 53)

In Wittig’s formulation, to embrace the M/F divide, to subsume lesbian into woman (rather than, perhaps, woman into lesbian) is to take a previously allotted, which is to say subjugated, position. Or as the more somber and elitist Adorno put it, “Dialectics seeks to say what something is, while identarian thinking says what something comes under, what it exemplifies or represents, and what, accordingly, it is not itself.”38 It is here, once more, that de Lauretis’s reading of Wittig’s deployment of “lesbian” as a mode of disidentification and displacement, back and forth, and not as some facile, literal identitarian assertion (which is how it has all too often been read) gains, we believe, its full critical force. Wittig understood that a form of thought, of writing, of political practice that moved back and forth between the old (call it tradition or myth) and the new (call it betrayal or experimentation) was required to avoid the trap of “resolving” social problems by accommodating individuals to their domination. In this, she mobilized a politics of the negative whose (not so) distant relatives include key Frankfurt School texts like Adorno’s 1966 Negative Dialectics or Marcuse’s 1968 Negations. To negate a thought was not to accommodate oneself to it but to strike out toward a new form of possibility. Not coincidentally, Wittig’s most influential formulation, already noted more than once, took precisely the form of a negation: “It would be incorrect to say that lesbians associate, make love, live with women, for ‘woman’ has meaning only in heterosexual systems of thought and heterosexual economic systems. Lesbians are not women” (“La pensée straight,” PS, 76). In resisting those discourses, feminist and otherwise, that understood sexuality to be a discretely private or minority issue, Wittig did not accommodate the discourse and conditions of womanhood but attempted to step out of the category altogether.

Notably, this negation is the obverse of traditional 1970s constructions of lesbian difference that largely addressed themselves to that era’s faith in the possibility of the recovery of an inherent “deep” femaleness when women were no longer called into being as subjects by men. Wittig’s language notably does not traffic in women-identified women, women-loving women, or any other formulation of an easy ideal of shared female subjectivity. Rather, negation enacts a rupture in language, which is the first step toward promulgating a rupture in the category being negated. Wittig was explicit: “To understand what really happens, it is necessary to leave the well-beaten paths of politics, philosophy, anthropology, ‘cultures’ ” (“Introduction,” PS, 11). Language therefore is inextricably bound up with this process of domination, and any call for liberation simply written in the language of domination could in the end only reify the subject’s subjection. Wittig therefore sought to wrest language from mere instrumentalization, to turn it back on itself, and through a kind of dialectical negation, to work toward a linguistic formulation that would not simply reify what she was trying to escape. When Wittig claimed that lesbians were not women, she was engaging in exactly such a dialectical relation, using negation to disinter the subject from layers of linguistic entrapment while pointing to the need for transformation.

Furthermore, as Butler observes in her essay in this special issue, in universalizing her claims, Wittig sought to dissociate the subject from an “always already” imbrication in an instrumentalized social reality that parades as merely linguistic. “When [Wittig] say[s] that a work of literature can function like a war machine upon the context of its age,” (“Le cheval de Troie,” PS, 120), she is obviously not advocating, here at least, immediate political intervention but a verbally mediated universalization of a particular point of view. Rather than being a gesture without precedent, and hence without history and tradition, it is one that Wittig finds in Proust: “By the end of Remembrance of Things Past, it’s done. Proust has succeeded in transforming the real world into a uniquely homosexual world,” that is to say, into a world only of homosexuals (“Le cheval de Troie,” PS, 125). In reversing the marginalization and exclusion of homosexuals and in constituting a homosexual world that yet bears the hallmarks of the familiar and the “real,” Wittig argues that something politically powerful is being accomplished. “It is . . . by way of the endeavor of universalization that a literary work can transform itself into a war machine” (“Le cheval de Troie,” PS, 126). The ever so exquisite and subtle Proust becomes, in Wittig’s reading, a war machine that lays waste to the exclusion of homosexuals precisely by not foregrounding a homosexual politics in his writing but by depicting the world through his (homosexual) point of view. Such, Wittig claims, is the particular power of universalization.

Of course, such linguistic universalization was simultaneously a gesture of subjectivity and autonomy, a claiming of a particular speaking stance, and, not least, a performance or, better yet, a speech act. In seeking to remake the world through writing, through what Wittig understood to be the heterogeneity of social phenomena like language in which literary historical forms rather than sociopolitical individuals are at stake, Wittig engaged in a back-and-forth movement between the abstract and the concrete, the ideal and the material:

Words lie there like raw material at the writer’s disposal, just as clay is at the sculptor’s disposal. . . . They (words) are things, material things, and at the same time they have a meaning. And it is because they have a meaning that they are abstract. They are a condensate of abstraction and concreteness, and in this they are completely different from all other media that one can use to create art. (“Le cheval de Troie,” PS, 122)

For Wittig, words are anything but mere transparencies, hence her recourse to the image of the Trojan horse, the “perfect war machine” in which the force of meaning, furtive and surprising, lies in waiting:

Returning to our horse, if one wants to build a perfect war machine, one must refrain from the illusion that facts, actions, ideas can dictate their form directly to words. It is necessary to proceed by a detour, and the shock of words is produced by their association, their disposition, their arrangement, as well as by each one in its isolated use. (“Le cheval de
Troie,” PS, 123 – 24)

The point then is not to rehearse some mimetically ordered littérature engagée or some hypostasized écriture féminine but to make words work by remaking them: “Every writer,” Wittig writes, “should take words one by one and strip them of their everyday meaning in order to be able to work, with words, on words” (“Le cheval de Troie,” PS, 123). To strip the word of its everyday, embedded meaning is, in short, a way to remake, in some small way, the world.

Wittig’s commitment to literary history and language runs across her commitment to social and political reality, and vice versa. According to Louise Turcotte, “Much has been written on [Wittig’s] literary work, [but] still too little on her theoretical and political thought.”39 Yet, in the present volume, Silberman, in a gesture whose conceptual and material import should not be underestimated, works across the literary-critical divide that Turcotte, like so many others, appears to take for granted — as if only a divisive mark of gender, and not of genre, were at issue. Whatever the case, and as if in response to Turcotte’s implicit call, all of the other essays, as well as our introduction to them, are much more focused on Wittig’s theoretical and political thought — though all, in one way or another, are redacted in the shadow of death. Obvious as it may seem, the preceding qualification is not without problems. For conventional, everyday understandings of death are a particular danger for a writer like Wittig, who strained to outstrip the familiar comforts that the socially integrated self so deceptively entails and that the finality of death only tends to reinforce. In our polite assent to eulogistic conventions, we risk perpetuating a symbolic violence that Wittig, as an author committed to fighting dominant modalities of symbolic — and real — violence, does not easily allow. Although Silberman’s, and in a very different manner, Wiegman’s essays may be exemplary in their refusal of the aforementioned conventions (the one by way of an intimate entanglement, the other by way of an extimate departure), the entire collection, in its very heterogeneity, bears witness to an under-standing of Wittig that reaffirms, as it were, the and/or, back and forth, and across that we have thrown into relief in an effort to resist some of the more confident and lapidary constructions of Wittig as an essentialist, a utopianist, a nondialectical separatist, and so on.

In a time and place that are profusely unsettled, and in which oppression and inequality continue to mark the quotidian, to signal tensions within and without Wittig’s work that continue in the wake of her passing, and to do so through a gathering of essays that “have,” “know,” and even “use” Wittig in a variety of ways is, we hope, to do justice to Wittig’s appreciation of the subject as contested and conflicted — even while gesturing to something else. To be here, then to not be here, is, it seems, prima facie evidence of a unified subject. Indeed, Silberman remarked that he would hardly be surprised now by a “prematurely” unitary and cohesive Wittig arising like an ironic phoenix from the ashes of her violent rendition of a split self, her j/e.40 In the following essays, as in our own introduction (itself the effect of a back-and-forth crossing of editorial voices), we have found ourselves in the shadow of such a phoenix, working with a range of authors with strikingly different understandings of Wittig.41 There is, in short, no consensus here, no settled understanding of Wittig’s import, no single thread pulled out from a varied yet coherent body of work and made representative — if it is not, of course, that very heterogeneity that Wittig signaled as inhering in language as a concrete and abstract social phenomenon. Put all too flatly, in these essays, death does not write over or remake Wittig according to one or another of “our” contemporary preoccupations.42

The first essay, Alice Jardine’s “Thinking Wittig’s Differences: ‘Or, Failing That, Invent,’ ” takes the risk of what Jane Gallop has termed “anecdotal theory” to explore what Jardine presents as three life-changing intellectual and political encounters that she had (or almost had) with Wittig across nearly three decades.43 Along the way, Jardine offers her current thinking, from the position of the bereaved living, about the questions raised during each encounter. The first one turned on the question of sexual difference as she and Wittig debated it at a conference at Barnard College in 1979 titled “The Future of Difference.” The second one centered on the question of universalism as raised in an interview that Jardine conducted with Wittig in 1986. The third is a “missed encounter” that addressed — or would have addressed — the question of the mother. By way of these three encounters, Jardine pays personal tribute to Wittig and makes an intellectual and ethical call for renewed conversation and debate on these and other questions within and across feminist and queer communities.

Seth Clark Silberman’s “ ‘I Have Access to Your Glottis’: The Fleshy Syntax, Ethical Irony, and Queer Intimacy of Monique Wittig’s Le corps lesbien” is steeped, sometimes quite uncomfortably, in the kind of fracturing that Wittig visits, or rather revisits and lays bare, on the figures of corporeality in her fiction. His work is an active engagement with Wittig’s novel, which Namascar Shaktini discerningly calls “100 prose poems,” and proceeds by inhabiting and conjoining — fleshing out — Wittig’s voice through his.44 Silberman calls forth the split, refracted, universalized perspectives that Wittig encouraged, with no pretense to trying to “make sense” of Wittig from a distance. Instead, Silberman aims to incorporate Wittig precisely when the personal stakes are highest. Through the narration of his mother’s death, he explores the methodological insights of what he calls the intimate violence, sensual grief, and structural irony of one of Wittig’s most celebrated works of literature: Le corps lesbien.

In “From the Straight Mind to Queer Theory: Implications for Political Movement,” Diane Griffin Crowder makes a brief for Wittig’s materialist theory of gender/sex of the 1970s and 1980s, which preceded by over a decade the development of “queer theory” around 1990 and anticipated many of its key ideas. Despite this genealogy, queer theory, as noted, largely turned away from the materialist basis of Wittig’s philosophy, a shift that, for Crowder, has had some unfortunate political consequences that have become more evident over the past decade. Wittig called for the end of the “straight mind” that divides humans into a gendered caste system based on the appropriation of females by males; queer theory, in contrast, has inadvertently led to what Crowder sees as an individualistic call for the acceptance of difference that effectively leaves the system of divisive difference(s) intact.

Robyn Wiegman’s “Un-Remembering Monique Wittig” provides a compelling and at times irreverent take on the belatedness of memorialization, not simply with respect to the institutional face-offs between Wittig, feminism, and queer studies but also in its more general social forms. For Wiegman, remembering is what “we do with the dead,” and it tends to have a way of paying a debt that allows the living to win the argument in the end. In the process of this meditation on memorialization, Wiegman issues a challenge to queer critique to think about the temporality of its political desire and how it produces the past as the “failure” against which its own present can reign supreme. At the same time, the essay is a performance of the difference between institutional modes of political struggle and critique itself; hence, it shifts between sections that address the explicit topic of the special issue (i.e., Wittig and her legacy) and others that grapple with a catalog of struggles around race, gender, and sexuality in the institution in which Wiegman works and lives. The function of the division is to signal, graphically, the difficulty if not indeed impossibility of converging different domains of the political. In a back-and-forth movement of her own, Wiegman ends up honoring Wittig by offering a way to perform the splits and contradictions of writing and living, conceptually and materially, ideally and, of course, really.

With meticulous philosophical clarity and care, Judith Butler, in “Wittig’s Material Practice: Universalizing a Minority Point of View,” reexamines the social and political weight of Wittig’s universalizing of a lesbian perspective. According to Butler, when Wittig refers to “universalizing a minority point of view,” she does something other than offer a standpoint epistemology. The universalizing practice is compellingly paradoxical, because it seeks to render the categories of sex obsolete, and so it acts to destroy a given set of long-standing conceptualizations. The practice of universalization must be understood, Butler contends, along materialist lines insofar as Wittig seeks, through her words, to act on bodies, to rearrange the categories by which they are organized, and, in fine, to materialize a new set of bodies and their social relations.

Sandra K. Soto, in a short, moving memoir titled “Wittig in Aztlán,” offers a personal reading of Wittig as a professor at the University of Arizona and, more amply, as a resident of the U.S. Southwest. Weaving together references to the natural environment, reflections on students and colleagues, and reminiscences of conversations, Soto recounts how Wittig mentored her, not in the usual sense of providing insight into the daily “politics” of university life but in the much rarer sense of honing an appreciation of the challenges, contradictions, and commitments of feminist practice. As if extending Jardine’s invocation of anecdotal theory, Soto, a Chicana feminist, offers a vivid, if inevitably partial, glimpse into Wittig’s life that addresses the interplays of teaching, writing, activism, and embodied experience (racial, ethnic, national, sexual, economic, and otherwise).

The special issue closes with two short texts by Wittig herself, one critical and one creative, available for the first time in English. “The Literary Workshop,” cotranslated by Catherine Temerson and Sande Zeig and with an introduction by Zeig, offers a glimpse into some of Wittig’s ideas about the craft of writing fiction, with special emphasis on literary tradition, heterogeneity, and what Wittig calls the point of view of after (somewhat specifically, the critic’s belated position vis-à-vis the writer’s before, but more generally, the position of any writer vis-à-vis the reservoir of the written). It is through recourse to a preexisting yet open “literary workshop,” for instance, that Wittig rewrites Dante (Virgile, non), Cervantes (Le voyage sans fin), Homeric epic (Les guérillères), the dictionary (Brouillon pour un dictionnaire des amantes), and, for that matter, Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose pensée sauvage, or savage mind, is ironically invoked in Wittig’s pensée straight, or straight mind.45 Closer to Wittig in time and temperament is Nathalie Sarraute, whose cutting-edge, antipsychologistic writing Wittig presents as decisive to her literary practice. In marked contrast, and as proof of Wittig’s mobility across writ- erly formations, stands the short story “The Garden,” lovingly translated by Lorie Sauble-Otto. A disturbingly fantastic allegory of control and rebellion whose protagonists, and antagonists, are mysterious bodies and beings, it attests to the pre-viously noted commitment to reworking the world through the word that characterizes Wittig’s fiction and that crisscrosses her theoretical, political, and critical production, too.


1. The first epigraph is from Monique Wittig, La pensée straight (Paris: Éditions Bal-
land, 2001), 42. Further references to this volume appear as PS; all translations are
2. The English version, which does not include all of the essays found in the French ver-
sion, is The Straight Mind and Other Essays (Boston: Beacon, 1992).
3. According to Wittig, “What a materialist analysis accomplishes by reason, a lesbian society accomplishes by deed: not only is there no natural group ‘women’ (we lesbians are living, physical proof of that) but also, as individuals, we put into question ‘the woman,’ who is but a myth for us as well as for Simone de Beauvoir” (“On ne naît pas femme,” PS, 52). As Teresa de Lauretis recounts in “When Lesbians Were Not Women,” in On Monique Wittig: Theoretical, Political, and Literary Essays, ed. Namascar Shaktini (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 51 – 62, “the phrase ‘lesbian society’ had everyone in an uproar. They took it to be descriptive of a type of social organization, or a blueprint for a futuristic, utopian, or dystopian society like the amazons of Les guérillères or the all-female communities imagined in Joanna Russ’s science fiction novel The Female Man. They said Wittig was a utopist, an essentialist, a dogmatic separatist, even a ‘classic idealist.’ You cannot be a Marxist, people said, and speak of a lesbian society. You can speak of a lesbian society only in the liberal political perspective of free choice, according to which anyone is free to live as they like, and that, of course, is a capitalist myth” (54). It is just this constellation of criticisms — utopianism, essentialism, idealism, “improper” Marxism — with which we tarry in this introduction.
4. This formulation, placed at the opening of the introduction to the French version of Wittig’s collected critical essays, is virtually identical to the conclusion of one of her most influential pieces, the aforementioned “On ne naît pas femme”; see PS, 63 – 64.
5. The “outside” is the ongoing effect of a discursive and politically charged movement, aspiration, or project, not a physical realm that can be occupied, inhabited, and reordered. As Wittig so emphatically puts it, “There is no territory, no other bank of the Mississippi, no Palestine, no Liberia for women” (“Introduction,” PS, 11). By invoking real historical spaces that, conjured out of other liberationist projects, remain fraught with conflict — neither Liberia, nor Palestine, nor even the other bank of the Mississippi is entirely free to this day — Wittig underscores the difficulties, and necessity, of liberationist projects in general and of a lesbian liberational project in particular. Moreover, the social contract that Wittig examines differs, for instance, from that which is implied in Ernest Renan’s daily plebiscite of the nation to the very degree that, to Wittig’s eyes, it calls for an act of refusal and rupture rather than an act of ratification and perpetuation. See Ernest Renan, “What Is a Nation?” trans. Alfred E. Zimmern, in Modern Political Doctrines, ed. Alfred E. Zimmern (New York: Oxford University Press, 1939), 186 – 205.
6. Painful as the splitting of subjectivity — and of language — may be, it nonetheless signals a possibility of action and articulation in the here and now that is not available in Luce Irigaray’s assertion, or concession, that “every theory of the subject is always already masculine.” See Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985).
7. Translation proves, once more, problematic. In the French, the subjects are in the plural, and their plural pronouns bear the mark of gender as a mark of general or serial particularization: “Ils/elles sont vus noirs, par conséquent ils/elles sont noirs; elles sont vues femmes, par consequent elles sont femmes. Mais avant d’être vu(e)s de cette façon, il a bien fallu qu’ils/elles soient fait(e)s noir(e), femmes.” Interestingly, despite the profusion of parentheses and virgules, the first sentence cedes something to the conventional masculine plural: “Ils/elles sont vus noirs, par conséquent ils/elles sontnoirs.” Taken to its most rigorous ends, and in keeping with the final sentence, the first sentence might read — should read — as follows: Ils/elles sont vu(e)s noirs, par conséquent ils/elles sont noir(e)s.” The diacritical markers, which Wittig here and elsewhere deployed to pointed effect, and which were omnipresent in a wide array of post-structuralist writing far removed from Wittig’s concerns, are fraught with a significance that is, well, lost in translation, where “they,” “them,” and “their” present no such divisive ambivalences but also, as it were, no room for the “feminine mark.” In “The Mark of Gender,” and/or “The Mark of Genre,” Wittig claims that “it is true that English does not give the mark of gender (genre) to inanimate objects, to non- human things or beings. But inasmuch as the categories of the person are touched, one can say that both English and French practice gender (genre) one the same as the other” (“La marque du genre,” PS, 127). Wittig is right yet not quite: both languages are marked, or “touched,” by gender (genre), but they are most definitely not marked, or “touched,” in the same way, to the same degree, with the same visibility (the spoken language, in which the presence or absence of an “e” is not “heard,” is an entirely different — or, to nod to Derrida, “different” — matter). This certainly does not mean that English is less “sexist” or “gender-biased” than French but that sex and gender
come across in language differently.
8. Linda M. G. Zerilli, “A New Grammar of Difference: Monique Wittig’s Poetic Revolution,” in Shaktini, On Monique Wittig, 102.
9. Wittig’s understanding, and activation, of utopianism is not without resonance, even among those who have little truck with the “class” of sex and gender. None other than Fredric Jameson declares in The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981) that “all class consciousness — or in other words, all ideology . . . is in its very nature utopian” (289). This includes, of course, the ideology of normal, natural, everyday reality.
10. Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (London: Penguin, 1972). In this work, first published in 1884, Engels writes that the family’s “essential features are the incorporation of unfree persons and paternal power: hence the perfect type of this form of family is the Roman. The original meaning of the word ‘family’ (familia) is not that compound of sentimentality and domestic strife which forms the ideal of the present-day philistine; among the Romans it did not at first even refer to the married pair and their children but only to the slaves. Famulus means
domestic slave, and familia is the total number of slaves belonging to one man” (88). Wittig’s language is strikingly similar to Engels’s (which also includes a reference to the “ideal” of this very real social formation). Elsewhere, Wittig’s language approxi- mates that of Jacques Lacan, whom she excoriates in “The Straight Mind” (“La pensée straight,” PS, 65 – 76), especially in the refusal of “the woman,” “la femme.” There are profound differences of approach, tone, and objective, but the differences do not entirely drown out the echoes between Wittig’s rejection of “la-femme” (“On ne naît pas femme,” 54, 58) and Lacan’s claim in Le séminaire livre XX: Encore 1972 – 1973 (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1975) that “there is no The Woman, the definite article designating the universal” (“Il n’y a pas La femme, article défini pour designer l’universel” [68]). Of course, just as Wittig reworked Beauvoir, she also reworked others like Engels and Lacan.
11. Like the most prominent members of the Frankfurt School, Wittig does not see the future transformation and reparation of human society as entailing the redemption of the past, whose suffering, embodied in countless individuals, no revolutionary project can make good. For an examination of nonredemptive transformation, see Max Horkheimer, “Thoughts on Religion,” in Critical Theory: Selected Essays, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell et al. (New York: Seabury, 1975), 129 – 32.
12. Monique Wittig, “Author’s Note,” in The Lesbian Body, trans. David Le Vay (Boston: Beacon, 1986), 10 – 11.
13. Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature, and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989), 43.
14. Fuss, Essentially Speaking, 43.
15. Wittig’s “arrogance” arises within the context of a previous, systemically embedded arrogance: that of the institution of heterosexuality. When Wittig bemoans that “certain lesbians, alas, . . . have given themselves the political task of becoming more and more ‘feminine’ ” (“On ne naît pas femme,” PS, 55), she expresses a frustration, analogous to that of other radical thinkers (feminists included), that refuses to validate a liberal politics of variety and diversity, the politics, after all, of capitalist production. One may certainly disagree with her assessment (especially from within a liberal framework), but one would do well to attend to its historical and theoretical complexity. It is in this light that Fuss’s critique of Wittig, published in 1989, merits reexamination. For Fuss has provided one of the most pointed and provocative critiques of Wittig’s insistence on the singular “lesbian” instead of the plural “lesbians”: “ ‘Lesbian’ is . . . an unstable, changing, historically specific category which all too often becomes reified and solidified in Wittig’s theoretical texts. Phrases such as ‘that is the point of view of a lesbian’ . . . or ‘a lesbian subject as the absolute subject’ . . . are troubling because, in or out of the textual contexts, they suggest that a lesbian is innocent and whole, outside history, outside ideology, and outside change.To return to Lacanian psychoanalysis for a moment, Wittig’s ‘lesbian’ functions as a transcendental signifier, occupying none other than the place of the Lacanian phallus” (43 – 44). There may well be no more damning reading of Wittig than this — and none more misguided. Not only does Fuss resort to Lacan to “out-master” Wittig (who memorably said that “for me, there is no doubt that Lacan found in the ‘unconscious’ the structures that he claims to have found since he had previously put them there” [“La pensée straight,” PS, 67]), she also elides the very tradition of historical materialism out of which Wittig is ever so tensely working. Notions such as the “absolute subject” and a particular point of view that lays claim to universality are part of a rich, if contested, practice of (post)-Marxist thought. They are not, that is, wholly of Wittig’s making — though the placement of the lesbian in the structural position of the proletariat is. Tellingly, Fuss makes no mention of Marx, Engels, or any other major (post)-Marxist thinker other than Louis Althusser in her book and therefore misses, in a manner that is culturally overdetermined (i.e., the general ignorance of [post]-Marxist thought among U.S. intellectuals) a strain of thought that is, we submit, “essential” to a more-nuanced understanding of Wittig.
16. Fuss, Essentially Speaking, 42.
17. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), xii. Sedgwick makes her case for nonobsolescence by way of an invocation of etymology whose instrumentalization in the service of a largely Anglo-American “queer” cause is not without problems. See Brad Epps, “The Fetish of Fluidity,” in Homosexuality and Psychoanalysis, ed. Tim Dean and Christopher Lane (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 412 – 31.
18. De Lauretis, “When Lesbians Were Not Women,” 51 – 52.
19. Ann Cvetkovich, e-mail message to Brad Epps, February 22, 2007. See also Marie-Hélène Bourcier, “Wittig la politique” (“Wittig the Political”), in PS, 25 – 39, whose text has been “translated” as “Wittig la politique” and included in Shaktini, On Monique Wittig, 187 – 97. Bourcier, via Wittig, scoffs at “French feminism” made in the United States: “This denomination fabricated in university settings on the other side of the Atlantic [the United States] designates the troika Cixous-Kristeva-Irigaray and makes them the official representatives of French feminism. The [denomination] has contributed mightily to the elision of the political dimension of [feminism in France] and to render invisible the feminist materialist current” (“Wittig la politique,” PS, 32).
20. For more on the translation of a French writer into French, on the translation of a translation, see Bourcier, “Wittig la politique,” PS, 27.
21. “On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.” Simone de Beauvoir, Le deuxième sexe (1949; rpt. Paris: Gallimard, 1976), 2:13.
22. See Max Horkheimer, “Traditional and Critical Theory,” in O’Connell et al., Critical Theory, 188 – 243.
23. Others have not been so generous in their views of monolingual critics. Bourcier presents Wittig as holding that “unilingual feminists were so dominant that they had made feminism into theory and politics and lesbianism only into practice” (“Wittig la politique,” PS, 32).
24. Bourcier presents Wittig as emitting a warning: “Do not expect to find the original text or to subtitle it. There is no original; you translate a translation. What you already call the straight mind was written in language foreign to the French language and to the straight language. It was its very condition of possibility and the reason that Wittig escaped France. It is also why the text transited from Paris to Berkeley via New York” (“Wittig la politique,” PS, 27).
25. As Judith Butler puts it, “For Wittig, there is no distinction between sex and gender; the category of ‘sex’ is itself a gendered category, fully politically invested, naturalized but not natural” (Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity [New York: Routledge, 1990], 112). It is surely no accident that the sex-gender distinction does not hold with the same verbal force in French and other Romance languages as in English.
26. De Lauretis, “When Lesbians Were Not Women,” 51.
27. Suzette Robichon, “Monique Wittig,” Le Monde, January 11, 2003.
28. De Lauretis, “When Lesbians Were Not Women,” 57. De Lauretis cites the same sentence from Gender Trouble that we do here.
29. Zerilli, in the previously cited “A New Grammar of Difference,” also notes that “Butler’s reading served for many American feminists as the definitive verdict on Wittig’s work, which is stunningly absent from 1990s feminist debates” (91). But like us, she goes on to remark that the “dismissal of Wittig is not reducible to Butler’s critique, let alone caused by it, but symptomatic of the dominant problematic of feminism at the time, namely, identity” (91).
30. Marcuse understands eros and “the body” as ungendered or unsexed, for he comprehends genital sexuality as part of capitalism’s instrumentalization of desire toward a narrow erotogenic zone. True eros, in contrast, implies an unregimented and non-instrumentalized cathexis free of a genital reproductive imperative and a concomitant desire for possession or control. Of course, such a vision of the unsexed body in free-floating eros was itself a gendered construct. See Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (1964; rpt. Boston: Beacon, 1991), 73.
31. We take the phrase from Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 219. The full sentence, whose dialectic import is critical, reads as follows: “In both Marcuse and Adorno, if in different ways and to varying degrees, the combination of yearning for normative totality in the future and pessimism about its denial in the ‘false totality’ of the present remained potent.” We would extend Jay’s caveat about “different ways and to varying degrees” to a figure far afield from the Frankfurt School: Monique Wittig. And we would caution against the almost knee-jerk assumption that a normative totality does not subtend more than one antinormative project beyond Wittig’s, that of queer theory included (where the “normative totality” would be a totalization of its antinormative norms).
32. Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (New York: Beacon, 1955, 1966), 49 – 50. Marcuse celebrated “the perversions” as one of the few modes genuinely resistant to co-optation, in that perversity refused the instrumentalization of the body in service to capital.
33. Dennis Altman, Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation (New York: Outbridge and
Dienstfrey, 1971), 103.
34. Monique Wittig, L’opoponax (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1964); and Wittig, L’homme unidimensionnel (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1968).
35. It is surprising that, her translation of One Dimensional Man notwithstanding, Marcuse is rarely mentioned in relation to Wittig’s work. In the collection of essays edited by Namascar Shaktini, a philosopher as “dry” as Kant figures, while Marcuse and other members of the Frankfurt School do not. The same, of course, goes for the present essays, none of which refer to Marcuse and only two of which, Crowder’s and Silberman’s, engage the feminist materialism developed by Delphy, Guillaumin, Mathieu, and others. The players in the “debate” on Wittig are, we submit, considerably more diverse than has often been recognized.
36. See, for instance, Biddy Martin, Femininity Played Straight: The Significance of Being Lesbian (New York: Routledge, 1996), which Jardine cites to strong effect.
37. See Christine Delphy, “The Invention of French Feminism,” Yale French Studies 87 (1995): 190 – 221; Claire Duchen, Feminism in France: From May ’68 to Mitterrand (New York: Routledge, 1986); and Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds., New French Feminisms: An Anthology (New York: Schocken Books, 1981).
38. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (London: Routledge, 1990), 149.
39. Louise Turcotte, “La Révolution d’un point de vue,” PS, 17.
40. Seth Silberman, e-mail message to Epps, February 3, 2007.
41. The authors would like to extend a special note of thanks to Sande Zeig for her movingly dialogic role in this “introduction” to a memorial issue on Monique Wittig.
42. Zerilli, through Hannah Arendt, also examines the problematic purview of “we,” “us,” and “our” in and around Wittig. According to Zerilli, “[For] Wittig, the problem is how to articulate the emergence of the ‘we’ as something constituted by a free act, that is, without naturalizing or predetermining its appearance in the possible, in the past. . . . Not only is the ‘we’ (the elles of Les guérillères) not the reemergence of a collective subject once unmarked by oppression, but it is also not reducible to or merely continuous with the subject that achieves liberation from oppression, for this liberation is not ever achieved once and for all” (“New Grammar of Difference,” 103).
43. Wittig’s inventions are well known to her readers. They include incursions not only in the realm of style, form, and syntax but also in that of semantics, as with the word cyprine, which Namascar Shaktini proposes that we bring into the English language; see Shaktini’s “Introduction,” in On Monique Wittig, 5. Regarding Wittig’s theory and practice of invention, Zerilli writes: “Freedom emerges not through the rememoration
of the past but through invention” (“New Grammar of Difference,” 102).
44. Namascar Shaktini, “The Critical Mind and the Lesbian Body,” in On Monique Wittig, 151.
45. See Monique Wittig, Virgile, non (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1985); Wittig, Le voyage sans fin, in Vlasta (1985); Wittig, Les guérillères (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1969); and Wittig, with Sande Zeig, Brouillon pour un dictionnaire des amantes (Paris: Grasset, 1976). The rewritings also include, as de Lauretis notes, the bildungsroman (L’opoponax) and the satire (Paris- la-politique et autres histoires) (58). For more on the role of irony in Wittig’s writing, see Bourcier, “Wittig la politique,” PS, 37.

Section One | Section Two | Section Three