Academic journal article Hecate

The Depoliticising of Lesbian Culture

Academic journal article Hecate

The Depoliticising of Lesbian Culture

Article excerpt

One has the imagination of one's century, one's culture, one's generation, one's particular social class, one's decade, and the imagination of what one reads, but above all one has the imagination of one's body and of the sex who inhabits it. (1)


I began to think reflectively about the issue of lesbian culture some years ago when I was writing a series of hypertext poems, 'Unstopped Mouths', (2) about lesbian culture. In the last year or so I have had women ask whether lesbian culture exists. It has made me wonder, why was it that lesbian culture was so hard to see, and why did some people think it did not even exist?

The second event was the recent death of Monique Wittig who died in the first week of 2003. I found out through friends on email lists, and there were some obituaries in the US, where she lived, and one in Le Monde, Paris where she had grown up and had won major literary prizes. I was distraught by the news and sent it on to friends all around the world. A day later Morris Gibb died and Australian television reported his death for several days. I have not yet heard a whisper in the Australian media about Wittig. For me and many other feminists and lesbians Monique Wittig changed the way we saw the world. The first novel of hers that I read was The Guerilleres (1969, 1971 in English), a profound meditation on women, war, lesbian culture and a different way of seeing history and imagining the future. Her second with the then controversial title of The Lesbian Body (1973, 1975 in English) once again challenged me as a reader. It was published years before anyone thought of writing about the body as a feminist or cultural studies issue. She also co-wrote Lesbian Peoples: Materials for a Dictionary with her partner Sande Zeig (1975, 1979 in English), a send-up of the dictionary which takes lesbian culture as its centre. And finally there is her novel, Across the Acheron (1985, in English 1987) a rewriting of Dante's Inferno set near San Francisco. In 1964 she won the prestigious Prix Medici with her first novel The Opopanax. In addition to her groundbreaking fiction she was a major contributor to Questions feministes and her essays written between 1976 and 1990 were subsequently collected in a volume entitled The Straight Mind and Other Essays (1992). Those essays challenged just about every assumption contained in heterosexual discourse. Her work is as revolutionary as that of any other iconoclast--think of Martin Luther King, Franz Fanon--take several more steps and you will find Monique Wittig. Although it's not unusual for a farsighted thinker not to be acknowledged in her lifetime, for a writer who has consistently challenged the mainstream for more than thirty years, it is unusual for her not to be recognised by the mainstream yet.

I have to ask whether it is because she is a lesbian, and her work therefore is considered to have no cultural significance. For me and for thousands of others around the world, Monique Wittig remains a source of inspiration and an extraordinary contributor to lesbian culture.

The Politics of Culture

When colonisers conquer a land, their first reports back to the empire usually contain something along the lines of 'the natives possess no culture'. This is a very fine way of excusing themselves for conquering and dispossessing other peoples. It also excuses their future actions of imposing their own culture and their own values on the colonised peoples for their own good. Eventually the colonised begin to believe the lies they are told by the colonisers and take up the imperial culture at which they have to excel in order to get along in the world.

Lesbians, in this so-called post-colonial world, remain dispossessed of culture. Many still believe that lesbians have no culture. The dominant heterosexual discourse perpetuates the myth that there is no such thing as lesbian culture. And the mainstream media does not recognise the work of lesbians until they are well and truly entombed and any relatives scared of the repercussions have also died. …

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