Monique Wittig Anna Balakian - Essay

Anna Balakian

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Monique Wittig's tremendous power over words comes through unimpeded [in The Opoponax]…. The vivid canvas of colors, forms, and movements conveys an immediacy of sensation in which every attempt has been made to avoid perception. Everything happens in the present tense from the time the group of children first enter primary school until we find them lodged in a boarding school….

The assumption which underlies the uninterrupted flow of words is that children see but do not judge, feel nothing save sensory states…. The "you" by which the French on is translated has a disconcerting tendency to involve the reader. You are asked to believe … that youngsters can be exposed to a series of funerals of persons close to them, and yet not shed a tear …, that they can constantly observe actions in the most minute and vivid manner without feeling the need to put some meaning into them, that to them nature is as impersonal as the fossilized fauna and flora scrutinized by a geologist.

I am willing, sadly, to accept The Opoponax as the world of a particular, arid conscience. But what is disturbing is the implication that this is the way youth sees the world….

It must have been difficult for Monique Wittig to stay on the surface of consciousness; it is to be hoped that in the future which stretches before her so promisingly she will cease to distort her obvious talent for writing, and, by providing richer sustenance to her keen powers of observation, steer clear of the literary wastelands.

Anna Balakian, "Child's World without Wonder," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1966 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XLIX, No. 27, July 2, 1966, p. 33.