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Writing to Exist: Humanity and Survival in Two fin de siècle Novels in French (Harpman, Darrieussecq) Lorie Sauble-Otto THE LAST HALF OF THE 1990's saw a new generation of writing by women in French.1 Two texts from the mid 1990's merit particular attention, both for what these texts are as well as for what they are not. These are not feminist manifestos. These are not feminist utopias, nor are they exactly feminist dystopias. These novels are not what science fiction scholar Justine Larbalestier calls "battle-of-fhe-sexes texts."2 (Although these works cannot be categorized unequivocally as feminist science fiction, many of the social and political themes that run through that genre are evident in these two novels.) These novels are, however, creative speculative snapshots of women in oppressive futuristic, post-apocalyptic environments, striving to find meaning for their existence in these far from ideal circumstances and conditions. They are, similar to feminist science fiction of the 1970's and 1980's, what Anne Cranny-Francis has described as a "literary response" to an "age of crisis."3 Whereas the 1970's and 1980's saw a dialogue of feminist science fiction that concentrated on a separatist utopia or dystopia according to gender, the 1990's and the millennium provided a backdrop for the exploration of the post-feminist, post-modern female protagonist striving for her survival and her identity.4 The earlier of the two texts examined in this article, Moi qui n'ai pas connu les hommes (Prix de Mediéis 1996), is by Belgian-born author and practicing psychoanalyst Jacqueline Harpman.5 Although this and most of Harpman's nine other novels to date lend themselves to psychoanalytical interpretation, this article will concentrate on the role of subjectivity and writing in the construction of the self and of existence. Harpman's novel is a firstperson narrative that documents the life of a nameless young woman who grows from childhood to adulthood in a cage with thirty-nine other women where they are constantly and rigidly kept under a form of surveillance that recalls the Foucauldian panopticon.6 Within this system of power and surveillance , the women inhabiting the cage discipline themselves in order to avoid punishment. Foucault's theory of discipline, or "the panoptic machine," is a salient image of power and of surveillance techniques that can be helpful in understanding the particular kind of control that is exerted over the women in Vol. XLV, No. 1 59 L'Esprit Créateur Harpman's futuristic tale. With no clear memory of the catastrophic events that preceded their captivity, the women live in a state of loss, grief, isolation and ignorance for nearly a decade until the day when suddenly and without explanation the guards are called away by sirens. Leaving the key to the cage in the lock, the guards thus enable the women to escape into an unknown and desolate landscape to wander in biblical fashion for the rest of their lives. The second novel treated in this analysis is the better-known Truismes published in 1996 by French-born normalienne and one-time professor of literature Marie Darrieussecq. Truismes is Darrieussecq's first and to date most recognized novel within a growing œuvre.7 Like Harpman's, Darrieussecq's text is written in the first person, and it documents the often humorous metamorphosis of a nameless Parisian woman into a sow. The post-apocalyptic Paris and its inhabitants portrayed by Darrieussecq have become sensually extravagant to the extreme. Marina Warner in her analysis of Truismes characterizes Darrieussecq's novel as a "fable of moral and political degradation ."8 Darrieussecq's young female narrator takes a job in the pleasure industry , specifically, in a perfume shop, that is actually a sort of brothel, and her work involves what is effectively prostitution. In Truismes the social status of women in general is made quite clear simply by the kind of work that is available to them: "Ils m'ont dit que les seuls métiers publics accessibles aux femmes désormais c'était assistante privée ou accompagnatrice de travels."9 The narrator's continued and at times aggravated mutation, perhaps...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 59-66
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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