Academic journal article Hecate

Wittig's Lesbian and the Corinthian Men: Problematising Categories of Sex in 1 Cor 11.2-16

Academic journal article Hecate

Wittig's Lesbian and the Corinthian Men: Problematising Categories of Sex in 1 Cor 11.2-16

Article excerpt

Monique Wittig burst onto the French literary scene in 1964 with the publication of her first novel, L'opoponax, at the age of 29, for which she was awarded the Prix Medicis, one of the most prestigious literary awards in France. With her subsequent novels and theoretical essays functioning alongside her radical politics, she was foundational in the development of post-Beauvoirian French Feminist philosophy, a movement which she would come to epitomise alongside the better-known figures of Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva and He1ene Cixous. Although she moved to the United States in 1976, it was Judith Butler's reading (and critique) of her work in Gender Trouble (1990) that brought Wittig to the attention of academic feminist circles throughout North America, the UK and Australasia. In particular, her social theory and literary praxis informed the thinking of leading figures associated with queer theory such as Butler, but also Teresa de Lauretis, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Consequently, Wittig is often considered a pioneer of the queer theory movement.

Wittig published The Straight Mind in 1992, (1) the first (and only) collection of her essays, many of which were previously published in English between 1980 and 1990 in the journal Feminist Issues. She notes in the Preface that the collection is divided into two parts, the first half being political discussion and the second half being about writing. This division is perhaps indicative of her dual literary role as novelist and political theorist; (2) a quick scan of any bibliography of Monique Wittig criticism will reveal a tendency by scholars to focus on either her fiction or her philosophy. (3) For the purposes of this paper I will restrict myself to one aspect of Wittig's work, namely her theoretical writings on gender that are found in The Straight Mind, and other places, rather than on her novels. Undoubtedly Wittig's philosophy of gender influenced her fictional writing, finding there a place of creative outworking. For her, the act of writing is a political act 'of unwriting and rewriting' in order to specifically demonstrate that the category of women is not a natural group but an historical creation of the dominant phallogocentric point of view. (4) Any reading of her fiction ought to then indicate a familiarity with her theory, but I think it safe to assume that it is possible (albeit not ideal) to read the theory without the fiction.

As noted above, Judith Butler's reading of Wittig was a catalyst for increasing awareness of her work outside of France. However, while Wittig scholars argue that Butler's critique of Wittig is actually a 'misreading', as we shall see, other scholars found Butler's reading incisive. One such scholar is Daniel Boyarin (noted Talmudic professor, Pauline scholar, and author), who utilised Wittig's theory in two articles exploring early Christian formulations of gender. (5) In his initial analysis, the crucial biblical text for Boyarin is the notoriously difficult 1 Corinthians 11.2-16, in which he suggests Paul makes clear his theory of gender. (6) In fact, very few scholars find this passage clear, commenting rather that Paul is being 'obscure' and 'contradictory', (7) 'inarticulate, incomprehensible, and inconsistent.' (8) But, as I have suggested elsewhere, (9) in order to make progress on deciphering this text an approach is needed which critically examines the gender issues inherent in the text, something which Boyarin does exceptionally well. To do so through the intersection of biblical studies and poststructuralist theory creates a marginal zone of critical inquiry, something which Butler reminds us is required when examining the complex issue of gender. (10)

In this paper, then, I will explore 1 Cor 11.2-16 in the light of Wittig's philosophy of gender, building upon Boyarin's reading (which is dependent upon Butler), and seeking a clarification in the light of those scholars who found Butler's reading misrepresentative of Wittig's theory. …

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