Monique Wittig John Sturrock - Essay

John Sturrock

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Lesbian Body" is] interestingly ill-conceived…. It comes under the heading of "lesbian texts" produced, so Miss Wittig's ranting foreword has it, "in a context of total rupture with masculine culture, texts written by women exclusively for women, careless of male approval…." "The Lesbian Body" is a rupture with something, certainly, not least the homelier conventions of femininity. "Say your farewells …," the narratrix cautions her lesbian lover in the very first line, "to what they, the women, call affection tenderness or gracious abandon," which is a rare understatement, because no sooner is it goodbye to all that than it's hello to "yellow smoking intestines spread in the hollow of your hands" and to "the green strings of bile flowing over your breasts." (pp. 18-20)

This very literally misanthropic novel is a series of short, violent invocations of a female body, or fantasies of how one lesbian body might possess and be possessed by another. (p. 20)

This rabid, monotonous book has more to do with intellectual chic than with the women's movement it claims to speak for. "The body of the text subsumes all the words of the female body," declares Wittig, as though the obsessive naming of parts could end by creating an actual body; but that is just playing at superstition. The body that is so lovingly itemized is not in any case a lesbian body, but a female body named and imagined to give lesbian satisfactions. "The Lesbian Body" is lesbian only because we know it is by a woman, and the author has to try to keep us in mind of that all the way through. (pp. 20, 22)

John Sturrock, "'The Lesbian Body'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 23, 1975, pp. 18, 20, 22.