- Un-Remembering Monique Wittig
If the demeanor of a public voice is set in large part by the genre in which one is called to speech, then I can only begin by confessing that I do not fulfill here what memorialization might most seem to offer. This is odd, no doubt, because I did indeed accept an invitation to remember the contributions of Monique Wittig, and I did promise to consider the implications for the critical present of what her absence might come, now, to speak. But as you will soon see, I have faltered on some of the less noble implications of memorialization, and I have grown increasingly disoriented by the disjuncture between the ongoing force of our own outliving and the necessary break—the insistent interruption—that the proper acknowledgment of loss necessitates. To be sure, I did go looking for Monique Wittig, and there are clear signs that many of the issues that have stopped me in my tracks are ones absolutely germane to her political theory and fictional worlds. She was, after all, consistently enthralled by the dissonance between the struggle to diagnose the incipient violences of her own political present and the impulse to leap, wholesale, into an imaginative elsewhere that ruptured the toxicity of what we can only call, inadequately, the status quo: that is, the seemingly frozen is of a contemporary field of speech and action. What else, quite honestly, can we take her statement "lesbians are not women" to be, except an absolute refusal to concede to the conditions of the known?1
Wittig, of course, would spend a great deal of time writing about what "women" were, how they had become trapped in conceptual practices, social relationships, and economic forms, and what it meant to wrench them from their annihilating particularity into other possibilities. The "paradise of the social contract," she wrote, "exists only in literature, where the tropisms, by their violence, [End Page 505] are able to counter any reduction of the 'I' to a common denominator, to tear open the closely woven material of the commonplaces, and to continually prevent their organization into a system of compulsory meaning."2 In rereading Wittig for this volume, I was struck by how relentless she was about the struggle against compulsory meaning, which is why she took everything—abstractions, metaphors, aesthetics, analytics—down to the bone. In the aptly named 1984 essay "The Site of Action," she characterized her objective this way: "What is smothered by all kinds of talk, whether it be that of the street or of the philosopher's study, is the first language . . . the one in which meaning has not yet occurred."3 If what I have written here follows Wittig in some way, believe me when I say that I regret that it is not the direction I initially intended. I had hoped to make the leap into the meaning that had not yet occurred, but I have floundered on the difficulty of escaping the everyday violences of the already known.
Last night, I received an e-mail from a faculty member in the program I direct, about a student in her course who has been found guilty of "violence against another person." Both the perpetrator (who confessed) and his victim are enrolled in the course. The court order that protects the victim from contact with her perpetrator does not cover libraries or classrooms, and the perpetrator needs his women's studies course to graduate. To protect the victim, my faculty member has been asked to complete the course with the perpetrator on an independent study basis. The victim's safety, in other words, is now in our hands.
Academic memorialization, like every form of memorialization, has its protocols, not simply of personal voice but of critical intimacy, and its aim is typically to reorganize loss and social dismemberment into some kind of coherence. But I actually never knew Monique Wittig or heard her speak, nor, let me confess, have I written about her before or been critically aligned with the different theoretical projects—lesbian studies or feminist materialism—that many scholars take her uniquely to represent. It is with a...