Academic journal article The Romanic Review

My Friend Monique

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

My Friend Monique

Article excerpt

Monique Wittig and I met in November 1984 shortly before Thanksgiving, at Michael Riffaterre's annual poetics colloquium. That year, the colloquium was devoted not to structural or semiotic issues but to poetics of gender. Nancy K. Miller and Michael were the moderators. Besides Monique, participants included leading women scholars such as Mary Ann Caws, Sandra Gilbert, Jane Gallop, Carolyn Heilbrun, Alice Jardine, Naomi Schor, Elaine Showalter, Catharine Stimpson, and Domna Stanton. Monique and I were seated next to each other and we began picking holes in some of the goings-on. In other words, we bonded.

That evening, Monique's paper "The Mark of Gender" made the point over and over, in different ways, that gender marking in language occurs through pronouns rather than nouns. For example, many references to the female body are masculine, and some of the references to the male body, feminine. I was struck by the brilliance and elegance of her formulations, not to mention her impressive command of humor and irony. We had great fun critiquing the various papers. I asked Monique if she would come lecture at Hunter College--I had just been elected chair of the Department of Romance Languages and had been part of a pilot Women Studies project--and she graciously accepted.

She made an excellent impression on everyone at Hunter. Her visits to my Hunter office dazzled my colleagues, some of whom were familiar with her works, in particular Bettina Knapp, Hanna Charney, and the Argentinian novelist Juan Ventura Agudiez. She was very charismatic, and all of us in the romance languages departments, colleagues from French, Italian, and Spanish alike, fell under her spell. …

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