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Reconfiguring Sexual-Textual Space: The Seductions of Catherine Cusset's Jouir Sarah Cooper PUBLISHED BY GALLIMARD IN THE FALL of 1997, Catherine Cusset's Jouir was one of several books of the rentrée littéraire that caused a stir both within and beyond the literary establishment. It appeared at the same time as three other texts, which, while disparate in nature and supported by different publishing houses, were concerned centrally with sex. Marie Barthélemy's Lubricus, Marc Bonnet's Sexes, Jean-Christophe Valtat's Exes, along with Jouir, were the fruits of the so-called 'hot summer' of 1997,1 a prelude to the heated debates of their critical reception. As Carole Vantroys points out, Le Nouvel Observateur devoted its opening dossier of the rentrée to these texts, thus marking them out as part of a literary phenomenon, whatever praise or scorn the individual critic or reader would pour on them. This obviously was not the first time that writing about sex raised critical eyebrows or sold books, and the more recent publication of Catherine Millet's La Vie sexuelle de Catherine M. suggests that it certainly was not the last.2 But in this article, which will focus exclusively on Jouir, I want to make the claim that Cusset is doing something new and distinct in her writing about sex. Born in Paris in 1963, Cusset studied at the École Normale Supérieure, where she obtained the agrégation in classics and wrote a thesis on Sade. Currently she lives in the United States and teaches in the French department at Yale. She is a distinguished academic in the field of eighteenth-century French; her book No Tomorrow: The Ethics of Pleasure in the French Enlightenment (1999) earned her the Walker Co wen Memorial Prize for an outstanding work of scholarship in eighteenth-century studies.3 She is also an acclaimed writer of fiction. En toute innocence (1995), her second book of fiction, was nominated for the Prix Goncourt and was a finalist for the Prix Femina.4 Her wide-ranging writing talents also appeal to a broader audience, as recognized in Elle magazine's readers' prize in 2000 for Le Problème avec Jane (1999).5 Jouir is Cusset's fourth work of fiction and the only one to date to focus almost exclusively on intimate sexual relations. The innovative status of this text will only become apparent through dialogue with a particular literary tradition against which Cusset's own space can be defined. What we witness in Jouir is a re-definition of relations between the literary and the sexual, since the text is not just the record of some real or imagined sexual 38 Spring 2005 Cooper explorations, but the search for a textual form that will accommodate the narrator -protagonist's experimental re-casting of female sexuality. Jouir opens with the following words: "Je me promène dans une ville étrangère. Je marche dans les rues rectilignes à l'heure où tout le monde va dîner. Je me sens terriblement seule. Je sais exactement ce que je veux: un homme" (13). This text of desire is recounted in the first person in a matterof -fact, unsentimental style by a woman who explores her sexuality openly and boldly, in public and in private, on her own and in the company of a long succession of partners labelled from A to Z. This is a woman who knows what she wants and goes out to get it. However, her indiscriminate one-night stands, intermittent contact with more enduring attractions, predatory sexual practices and submissive fantasies of rape and violence make it tempting to ask, as does a female interlocutor at one point, whether these are not just a collection of male fantasies constituting a rather outmoded "vision mâle du désir" (37). This question, which receives no direct reply in the text, is one to which the narrator-protagonist's lifestyle and thinking nonetheless respond. Her sex life is indebted to male sexuality—especially that of gay men—and she professes to read and write in a lineage that owes more to male predecessors than to women. The narrator-protagonist's life...


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