Dispatch from the Trenches: Dismemberment, Cremation, and Embalming in Wittig's Les Guerilleres

By Carson, Jane | Transformations, March 31, 1992 | Go to article overview

Dispatch from the Trenches: Dismemberment, Cremation, and Embalming in Wittig's Les Guerilleres


Carson, Jane, Transformations


Dispatch From The Trenches: Dismemberment, Cremation, and Embalming in Wittig's Les Guerilleres

We have declared war on the canon, but where do we find our battle plan? The syllabus has been updated any number of times; year by year the women's names are edging out the hallowed males in every introductory course; the answer to the perennial "But what can be left out?" turns out to be "Anything." But at some point or other curriculum integration brings you to the inescapable conclusion: the women don't fit. All the neat patterns and movements we learned in graduate school, all the major figures, works, and dates we feel guilty if we aren't teaching -- it all forms a seamless whole; it was made that way.

There isn't any room for the women, but we put them in anyway. Then we have to come up with a new kind of exam, because the old patterns don't contain them. We have to explain to the class that this particular woman wrote at the same time as this movement was taking place, but she wasn't really part of the movement. Our students ask us if this is because women work outside of movements. We don't want to say yes. "Look at it this way," we say. "If you had a picture with a lot of red in it and a lot of green, and if you ignored the green, you could say it was a red picture. Is the solution to print all the green parts separately, to prove that they're there?" Then we dig into the text again, looking for the answer in metaphors.

Battle imagery is not my favorite idiom, but I am hard put to find any other to express my frustrations at trying to put together a syllabus that really teaches literature. Simply sprinkling a few women writers into the syllabus doesn't work, as we have seen. I turned to Monique Wittig, to a novel about the war between the sexes, which she chronicles in true epic style. Together with my class, I read it as a primer for revolution. We hoped that this novel, a feminist handbook, would help us find our way through male determined categories (quick, how many female French Romantic poets can you name?) to a picture of French literature which, if not truer would at least appease our outraged sense of exclusion.

What we saw in Les Guerilleres was a whole lot of dead bodies. This is not surprising in a novel about war, however imaginary and even figurative that war may be. The field is littered with mangled and decaying corpses from two armies, both in the final battle scene and throughout the earlier parts of the novel. A goodly amount of space is devoted to the subsequent treatment of the cadavers, as if this treatment were in no way less significant than -- might in fact be related to -- the outcome of the battles. This emphasis on dismemberment puts one in mind of The Lesbian Body, a celebration in brutal detail of discrete and (to the erotic imagination) edible parts of the body. Some of the bodies are embalmed, preserved for posterity.

Without hesitation we posit dead bodies as books. Then one student offers, "But when we read them, they come alive."

"Well then, what happens when we cut them up?"

The cutting up of the body is a form of textual analysis. In The Lesbian Body textual analysis. In The Lesbian Body dismemberment is one of the metaphors for love-making: entry into the lover's body, cannibalism, and fragmentation of the lover's limbs are all ways of assimilating the lover and denying her otherness. The chilling scene in Les Guerilleres which describes wolves devouring female corpses, rushing from one cut-up body to the next, panting, eyes gleaming in the dusk, may also be taken as a sexual metaphor, but this metaphor rests on heterosexual exploitation rather than assimilation.

In this scene of violence the wolves are consumed not by hunger, for they leave the corpses half-eaten, but by lust. In commenting on the story, one of the fictional female listeners says, "To hell with stories of wolves, now if it had had to do with rats, yes if only they had been rats" (36). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dispatch from the Trenches: Dismemberment, Cremation, and Embalming in Wittig's Les Guerilleres
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.