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  • I Have Access to Your Glottis":The Fleshy Syntax, Ethical Irony, and Queer Intimacy of Monique Wittig's Le corps lesbien
  • Seth Clark Silberman (bio)

As always happens, when something new appears, it is immediately interpreted and turned into its opposite.

—Monique Wittig, "The Point of View: Universal or Particular?"

SHE DIES ABOUT ONE HUNDRED TWENTY MILES AWAY FROM AND EIGHTEEN MONTHS BEFORE MONIQUE WITTIG, HERE IN WHAT IS NOT QUITE A ROOM, WITH HOSPITAL PRIVACY CURTAINS AND GRACIOUS DEVICES. M/Y MOTHER'S SON HOLDS AN OEDEMATIC HAND MORE PORCELAIN NOW THAN PINK, SWOLLEN BEYOND THE ONE THAT RUBS M/Y YOUNGER SCALP ASLEEP, PARTS M/Y THEN-BLOND HAIR. NEAR M/E STANDS NOT A GROUP OF AMAZONS UNABLE TO BEAR SEEING MOM LIKE THIS BUT A WITNESS TO HER BIRTH, AN UNCLE OF HERS WHO IS HERE NOW IN SCOTTSDALE. SOME VACATION ALREADY PLANNED. I AM NOT SURE HOW HE FINDS US. HER SON SITS WHILE THE EXECUTOR OF HER ESTATE WAITS. SOMEONE STOPS THE LIFE SUPPORT THAT I START WHEN SHE FIGHTS THE HEPATIC COMA. SETH SEES THE CHARTS, AGREES, SMILES WHEN SHE AWAKES FROM SURGERY. THAT ESOPHAGUS TUMOR IS GONE. I LOVE YOU, WE SAY SO SHE CAN REST. THAT NIGHT, A BLOOD CLOT TAKES CHERYL'S CONSCIOUSNESS. SETH CONSENTS TO SOME MECHANICAL BREATHING TO AID A LIVER WEAKENED BY CIRRHOSIS. I CONSIDER CHERYL'S INSTRUCTIONS: FILL WITH ICE, WET WITH CANADIAN CLUB. WE'RE IN [End Page 467] OCEAN CITY, M/Y MOTHER, HER LOVER AT THE TIME, JOANNE, AND M/Y NOW-EX. OUR SMILES STRETCH WITH SIPS AND ANECDOTES, PART TO ADJOINING ROOMS. I LIKE HOW SHE LOOKS AT HER, LINGERS. ON TRIPS MOM AND I TAKE BEFORE SHE BIRTHS M/Y SISTERS, WE CALL OUR TOYOTA, LATER HONDA, THE LAUGHING CAR. TRAVELING THROUGH HER PORTAL VEIN, A JELLY-LIKE MASS NESTLES IN A PLACE WHERE SHE CANNOT FILTER TOXINS. SHE IS SEDATED, SO THE THROMBUS MOVES DISTALLY. THREE YEARS BEFORE, SIX LITERS OF BILE SURGE BENEATH CHERYL'S OMENTUM. ITS RUPTURE GUSHES DEATH, SLOW DECAY, STENCH OVER THIRTY-SEVEN MONTHS AND A COUPLE OF WEEKS. I HAVE HER BLUE EYES, NOT JUST THEIR COLOR. THE RESECTION OF A JUST-EXPLODED ADENOMATOUS POLYP LEADS TO THE REMOVAL OF M/Y MOTHER'S COLON, A PROCEDURE HER SURGEON DIVIDES BECAUSE SHE DIES BRIEFLY ON THAT TABLE. AFTER A FEROCIOUS DOSE OF MORPHINE FADES, SHE JOKES THAT HER SMALL INTESTINE HAS NOTHING TO HOLD IT UP. NOW, ASCITES BLOAT MY MOTHER'S BELLY. THE WEEK BEFORE, SO THIN FROM CHEMO AND INTRAVENOUS FOOD, CHERYL JOKES THAT SHE FINALLY HAS THE SVELTE FIGURE SHE WANTS. WE GIGGLE, COMPETE AT TETRIS. SHE WHISTLES LIKE SHE DOES.

M/y mother lingers in the compositional affect that draws me, again, into Monique Wittig's Le corps lesbien (1973). She is there, m/y mother, when the novel's pronominal narrator-protagonist J/e recounts her own Tu's resounding death at the outset.1 It is a graphic spectacle that considers an audience much larger than the J/e who loves "m/y very beautiful" Tu, or even the group of onlooking amazons—perhaps expected after Les guérillères—not one of whom "can stay there to see Tu" in such a state (CL, 7). Not only does the character Tu refuse to succumb quietly, her survivor J/e incorporates Tu's graphic death into Le corps's narration. By recalling the "sound of Tu's abject laughter frenzied and insistent," J/e starts a remembrance that troubles conventional lamentation and narration across 114 paragraphs or sections ordered with justified typesetting, divided by irregular spacing and interrupted by eleven lists of body parts, sensations, gesticulations, and reactions (CL, 7). Those lists are entirely in capital letters that spread across two pages; the first list begins and the last one ends with the words "LE CORPS LESBIEN."

The novel's atypical design enables the character Tu's life after death. She returns, later in the text, to "the lugubrious sound of a tom-tom that she beats to the rhythm of a funeral knell" (CL, 117). The ringing heralds as well a new language [End Page 468] that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9375
Print ISSN
1064-2684
Pages
pp. 467-487
Launched on MUSE
2007-10-04
Open Access
No
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