Academic journal article Genders

Getting the Girl: Wittig and Zeig's Trojan Horse

Academic journal article Genders

Getting the Girl: Wittig and Zeig's Trojan Horse

Article excerpt

Introduction: Situating Monique Wittig

[1] Following Monique Wittig's sudden death in 2003 there has been a flurry of criticism paying homage to the importance of her work, rightly situating it as a crucial contribution to gender and sexuality studies. In 2007 GLQ produced a special issue entitled "Monique Wittig: At the Crossroads of Criticism," following on from Namascar Shaktini's edited collection, On Monique Wittig: Theoretical, Political and Literary Essays published in 2005. These collections help to safeguard and shape Wittig's legacy as the radical French theorist who, it can be argued, paved the way for queer theory, who bequeathed theorists and activists the contentious statement "lesbians are not women" at New York's MLA conference in 1978, and the novelist who, throughout her fiction spanning the mid 1960s to mid 1980s, challenged literary form through experiments with language, point of view and structure. Whilst there is much critical work on Wittig's theories and fiction, academic consideration of the film The Girl (2000) has been largely absent, aside from a recent article by Annabelle Dolidon in Feminist Review. The Girl is a collaboration between director Sande Zeig and Wittig and is based on an unpublished short story by the latter who also worked on the screenplay and was an advisor on the film. In this article I seek to situate the film in relation to the discourses of Wittig's own theories as well as its contribution to theories of gender and sexuality more widely. Analysing The Girl offers an opportunity to re-vision Wittig's earlier theories in the light of a post lesbian chic cultural climate of the 1990s and a concomitant theoretical climate of queer.

[2] It is not my intention to redeem Wittig for queer theory; she needs no such legitimating redemption by the "critical authority" of queer theory, in Robyn Wiegman's phrase (507). Whereas Dolidon states she "reconciles Wittigian theory with post-modern queer theory," I wish to consider Wittig's work as always at odds with any dominant system of thought, which, paradoxically, queer theory has become by the film's release date of 2000 (Dolidon, 72). Whilst overtly there is little disagreement on how influential Wittig's theoretical work is to its contemporaneous context of the mid 1960s to 1990, its specific relationship to queer theories is a subject of debate. Indeed, Wiegman perceives a tacit silencing of Wittig's contribution in certain arenas of queer theory, which serves to suggest some of the tensions between Wittig's work and what has come to be the queer establishment:

Judith Butler's paradigm-shifting Gender Trouble needed Wittig to make the turn that has become absolutely definitional to queer theoretical work, but in the critical habits that shape that enduring history, Wittig has become something of an unknown (Wiegman, 513).

Writing this in GLQ's memorial special issue on Wittig, Wiegman offers remarkable evidence from this leading journal's own history of citations in its digital archives. Since the journal's inception in 1993 she finds Wittig cited five times, contrasted to other figures such as Foucault (127 times), Butler (125 times) and Sedgwick (97 times). Wiegman is cognisant of her own and the journal's U.S. base that reflects the "distinct U.S. focus of the scholarship that serves to found, paradoxically even in transnational trajectories, so much of the critical authority of queer studies as a field" (Wiegman, 518, n.20). Widening the statistics that Wiegman points to, Shaktini offers a brief analysis of the distribution of criticism on Wittig from 1964 to 1999, noting that there was a progressive increase in publications year-on-year until a peak in 1990, "the year when the influential critique of Wittig in Gender Trouble appeared," the number of items published on Wittig thereafter maintaining a 50% reduction from 1991 onwards (Shaktini, 110, n.18). Recent work has revised what many see as Judith Butler's misapprehensions of Wittig's theories in Gender Trouble, including re-readings by Butler herself in "Wittig's Material Practice" (see also De Lauretis; Zerilli). …

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