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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13.4 (2007) v-454

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

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Figure 1
Monique Wittig. Courtesy of Colette Geoffrey
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La pérennité des sexes et la pérennité des esclaves et des maîtres proviennent de la même croyance.

[The endurance of the sexes and the endurance of slaves and masters derive from the same belief.]

—Monique Wittig, "La catégorie de sexe"

The whole is the truth, and the whole is false.

—Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution

The essays here assembled, variegated in methodology, tone, and texture, are the fruit of a memorial conference in honor of Monique Wittig that was, in turn, the fruit of friendship and its traces.1 In 2002 Brad Epps, encouraged by his friend Carol Pavitt, a friend in turn of Sande Zeig, Wittig's partner and occasional coauthor, invited Wittig to Harvard University. The dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Drew Faust (recently appointed president of Harvard), kindly agreed to finance the invitation. All was in place for a visit—to the very room in which the memorial conference took place—by a writer whose work had long dazzled readers with its conceptual brilliance, theoretical verve, poetic elegance, and political power. That visit, however, never took place: on January 3, 2003, Monique Wittig suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Reeling from the news, the organizers of Wittig's visit were left at a loss: as to how to respond to the loss of someone whom we had never met but had felt certain that we would meet (the arrogant or insouciant optimism of life); as to how to respond to Sande Zeig, so [End Page 423] close to Wittig; as to how to respond to a body of work that had been strangely quickened by death.

Knowing that every attempt to put into words this sense of loss is bound to all sorts of infelicities and failures, missteps and maudlin projections, overstatements and understatements, we turned to other friends, old and new: to Judith Surkis, codirector of the Seminar on Gender and Sexuality at the Humanities Center; to Jonathan Katz, then director of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale University; to Nancy Cott, director of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe; and, most importantly, to Sande Zeig, whom we finally met, after many an electronic exchange and more than a few telephone calls, at the memorial conference in which Wittig's absence was everywhere present. It is just this turning to friends and colleagues that we would like to propose as honoring, in some small way, the memory of a thinker, an activist, and a writer who understood the importance of group efforts and collective projects beyond the petty isolation of the self and in tension with, if not indeed beyond, the power of powerful institutions, Yale and Harvard surely among them.

The ties and tensions between individuals, groups, societies, and systems are crucial to Wittig's critical and creative practice. In the introduction to a collection of essays published in English in 1992 under the title The Straight Mind and Other Essays and in French in 2001 under the title La pensée straight (the title, of course, of one of Wittig's most celebrated essays, first presented at a meeting of the Modern Language Association in New York City in 1978), Wittig, writing from her adopted home in Tucson, Arizona, revisits her work and expresses her gratitude to some of the women without whom she says she would not have had the strength to take on the straight world, its conceptual systems, its symbolic and material power: Nicole-Claude Mathieu, Christine Delphy, Colette Guillaumin, Paola Taber, and Sande Zeig ("Introduction," PS, 12).2 The list of proper names, not unlike other lists in Wittig's work (most famously, the list of body parts in The Lesbian Body), gestures toward a unity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9375
Print ISSN
1064-2684
Pages
pp. v-454
Launched on MUSE
2007-10-04
Open Access
No
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