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Writing Feminism: Myth, Epic and Utopia in Monique Wittig’s Les Guerilleres Laurence M. Porter A S A MILITANT FEMINIST AUTHOR, Monique Wittig faces a problem similar to that of the native writers in the colonized nations of Africa or Latin America: in order to communicate widely with those she wishes to influence, she must adopt the language of the oppressors (i.e., French), permeated with their presuppositions and unreflective self-justifications—which is, in other words, a “discourse” in the ideological sense of verbal expression used to support vested inter­ ests. So from the outset she must contend with a Fifth Column in her work; but on the other hand, any gesture of departure from entrenched traditions will be immediately noticeable, standing out to underscore her message. Thus her consistent use of “elles” without antecedent immedi­ ately marks a feminocentric choice, replacing the unmarked “ils” (or “on”)= anonymous “they” which assumes a male-dominated society. Feminized nouns and pronouns (buveuses, joueuses, parleuses, porteuses , soldate, quelqu’une) further distinguish Wittig’s style in this work.1But as a woman, she faces an additional problem most “thirdworld ” writers do not have: the dominant semantic oppositions in French (as in English) imply that “black” is bad and “white” is good (consider, e.g., the figurative uses of “noircir” and “blanchir”), that “man” or “male” is superior while “wo-man” or “fe-male” is inferior (compare the similarly marked terms “in-human” or “in-organic,” “avocat-e” or “une femme professeur” ;whereas a term already possess­ ing connotations of inferiority is not ordinarily marked: you do not say “non-animal”). But conventional literary genres do not usually imply invidious racial (although like the pastoral or tragedy they may imply class) distinctions—the United States’ pop culture “Western” being a noteworthy exception. By choosing to write an epic or a utopia, you do not automatically enter a system where Arabs or “blacks” are bad—but you do enter a system where women, from Plato’s guardians on, are treated as inferiors. The epic is profoundly phallocratic. And as a Mao­ 92 Fa ll 1989 P orter ist, Wittig does not wish simply to recreate social inequity in a reversed form, so that the hierarchy 1) male rulers 2) female subjects becomes 1) female rulers 2) male subjects. Certainly she wishes to make the point that women are angry; women can be autonomous; and if men try to stop them, women can fight and win. But this strong gesture of liberation represents only the first phase of Wittig’s feminist revolution. Nina Auerbach thus misses the point when she remains content to summarize that “This female army has so effectively captured traditionally male myth and militarism that its ultimate victory over men is an anticlimax: it has achieved its triumph in its transfigured nature” but now has “nowhere left to go.” 2 Since Wittig advocates a universal, ongoing revolution, she cannot postulate the creation of a just society through permanently excluding men. Her monosexual culture represents a transitional phase. Yet she must depict the eventual reintegration of rehabilitated men into her sys­ tem in such a way as to avoid creating the impression that their return en­ tails a return to (sexist) normalcy and the restoration of the status quo. Nor can she consummate her feminist affirmation by legislating a rigid, unchanging set of ideal rules as one would do in the conventional utopia.3 And in order to make the fictive revolution endure beyond a single life­ time, she must eschew the cult of personality reflected in such epic titles as The Odyssey or TheAeneid, and in the historical worship of Stalin or of Chairman Mao himself. Marx vested the revolution in the urban proletariat. Mao and General Giap (whom Wittig cites in the list of her intertexts at the end of Les Guerilleres) among others expanded it to include the peasants. Wittig gives it a definitive extension to the last and largest oppressed group, to women. The integrity of her revolution surpasses that of the earlier ones, because she has no need to imagine renegade bourgeois theorists or dis­ placed urban workers as catalysts. It is the women themselves who take the initiative...


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pp. 92-100
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