In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Wittig in Aztlán
  • Sandra K. Soto (bio)

When I arrived in Tucson as a newly hired assistant professor with a freshly minted PhD, eager to make a go of the University of Arizona and women's studies despite the usual first-year anxieties, one of the first questions the department head, Elizabeth Kennedy, asked me was who I wanted to invite to be my official mentor. I chose Monique Wittig. It was not an obvious choice. Wittig was hardly someone whose time at Arizona had included firsthand experiences with making one's way to and through tenure. When she came to the university in 1990 (first joining the French department, and then in 1998 also making a home in women's studies), she had already long been celebrated internationally as a renowned writer, lesbian materialist theorist, and activist.1 Wittig herself worried that she might not be the best person to go to for help with formalities like composing and formatting the annual review. (I look back at our old e-mail messages now and come across one from April 2002 thanking me for helping her print out and photocopy hers.)

I chose Wittig because there had been something so indisputably solid and compassionate in her critical engagement with my job talk (in the hallway, not during the Q and A). Concerned that the talk had ended (favorably) with one Chicana theorist's provocative use of Roland Barthes's punctum as a site for social transformation, Wittig urgently pressed me with a number of questions and offered the most animated feedback about the political and gendered implications of this turn to love, and to lover's discourse. For her—and thus for me, at least in the space of that hallway conversation—the job talk was more than, or something other than, a formality for evaluation. Forgetting for those moments the too-many-details-to-keep-straight-in-one's-head mind-set that is demanded by the on-campus interview, I wanted only to stay in that hallway with Wittig, to continue the substantive conversation that she generously had opened. I chose Wittig because she took a young scholar seriously, because she genuinely, in fact passionately, seemed to care about the current debates taking place among Chicana feminists, and because she did not hesitate for a moment to offer critique. While I had certainly [End Page 535] hoped that Wittig would offer me something more than, or other than, the nuts and bolts of formatting, how could I have known she would bring the same verve she displayed that day in the hallway to each of the many discussions we shared over the next year and a half?

Wittig Teaching

I know now how important it was that most of the conversations that became the basis of our friendship unfolded not at the university but in the space of or in eyeshot of the desert at its rawest. I don't see how any other backdrop could have been at once expansive enough and still enough to allow me to take in Wittig's steadfast intensity, meet her rapt gaze, letting go for the moment of all and everyone else. And Wittig fervently loved the desert. Rather than being mystified by it, admiring it from a distance, or "using" it when taking out-of-town guests to the Desert Museum as many of us here do, she lived near it, regularly walked in it, came to know the names of its trees and cactuses, fed its wildlife, and frequently talked about it. The restaurant where we would meet for dinner—where Wittig met many of her friends for dinner—is in the foothills of one part of the desert, and she never failed to ask the waitperson to pack up the bread so that she could feed the javelina who knew to show up in her yard for treats.

It was not uncommon for me to find in my mailbox a few days after one of our dinners a 1980s issue of a journal that was clearly important to Wittig and vice versa: Feminist Issues: A Journal of Feminist Social and Political Theory.2 With no note explaining...


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