Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Editor's Introduction: "Feminism's Abject Selves"

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Editor's Introduction: "Feminism's Abject Selves"

Article excerpt

There have not been a great number of feminist conferences held at the Maison Francaise of Columbia. The previous one, which may also have been the first one, took place over thirty years ago, in November 1984. Organized by Nancy K. Miller and Michael Riffaterre, it was one of the then ongoing series of annual "Poetics" colloquia and gave rise to the influential volume Poetics of Gender, edited by Miller and published by Columbia University Press in 1986. The list of conference participants reads like a Who's Who of academic feminism at the time, with a roster including (in order of appearance) Carolyn Heilbrun, Catharine Stimpson, Nancy Vickers, Mary Ann Caws, Alice Jardine, Jane Gallop, Domna Stanton, Sandra Gilbert, Elaine Showalter, and Naomi Schor, as well as organizer Nancy Miller; the concluding remarks were delivered by Gita May. Monique Wittig was also a participant, presenting her paper "The Mark of Gender," which was published the following year in Feminist Issues 5 and eventually became a chapter in her 1992 book The Straight Mind and Other Essays. (1) In April 1985, the following year, the Maison Francaise hosted a conference on Simone de Beauvoir (who had herself spoken there in the late forties).

I unfortunately missed both these events, but I heard about them. In what turned out to be a small twist of historical irony on a personal scale, the announcements for them played a part in my decision to become a graduate student in the Department of French and Romance Philology at Columbia, starting in September 1985. (If I'd been more diligent in my research I might have noticed that feminism was not, in fact, a central driving force in the department during those years.) When the book Poetics of Gender was published, I'd just started graduate studies, and I still have the volume, with its pink cover featuring a drawing of an army boot and a stiletto-heeled pump. In the interim, there have been many conferences on any number of topics hosted by the French department at Columbia, but feminism per se doesn't seem to have figured among them. It thus seemed like it might be time to revisit feminist topics, which along with everything else have changed a great deal over the past thirty years. The result of this rumination was "Beauvoir, Leduc, Wittig: Feminism's Abject Selves," which took place, also at the Maison Francaise at Columbia, on April 17 and 18, 2015.

The idea for this conference was conceived on Saturday, October 5, 2013, over drinks at the end of the "Proust Reread" conference that had just taken place at the Maison Francaise. Its origin was a conversation between Jeanine Plottel and Anne Garreta, who discovered a keen common interest in the works and legacy of Monique Wittig. They observed that since 2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of publication of Wittig's novel L'Opoponax--I won't say seminal novel, because that work is anything but seminal, so let's say germinal instead--of Wittig's germinal novel L'Opoponax, which propelled her to much-deserved fame with the Prix Medicis in 1964, this important anniversary should be marked by a conference. Many further conversations ensued about how best to pay homage to Wittig's legacy. Eventually the possibility was evoked of questioning what had happened to the once-much-discussed topic of "French Feminism." "Whatever Happened to French Feminism?" was one title we came up with, but we wanted to maintain a literary emphasis, not to attempt any sort of "state of the discipline" event (as the "Poetics of Feminism" had apparently been intended to be, but the discipline and its state had become somewhat more murkily chaotic in the interim). We decided--or, to be entirely accurate, I decided--to focus on three key figures: Beauvoir, Leduc, and Wittig. This came about because from "Whatever Happened to French Feminism?" the topic evolved into "Beauvoir, Wittig, and the Legacies of French Feminism," and yet still I felt something was missing. I was also told that the word "legacy" in a title was a sure turnoff, indicating a tedious adherence to the past rather than a vigorous forward-looking dynamic, but to be honest that was not really why I decided to abandon the concept of legacies. …

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