Monique Wittig John Weightman - Essay

John Weightman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mlle. Wittig [in L'Opoponax] certainly manages to render the sensation of childhood as a kaleidoscopic flurry of incident, devoid of any general principles and which the child, inevitably, sees as it were from the underside, since the process of growing up consists precisely in getting one's head, to some slight extent at least, above events. Catherine Legrand makes no overall sense of her experiences…. My reservation about L'Opoponax … is that the jumble of vivid, physical descriptions of childhood is not enough, because I seem to remember that, in childhood, plotlessness on one level was accompanied by a constant endeavor to create a plot on another level. Mlle. Wittig's child does not live with one foot in a mythic dream, which, I imagine, is the normal childhood practice. She is too positivistic. All the penumbra of childhood emotion, which is so difficult to describe, has been removed from these bright little sentences, which become rather tedious when one realizes that they are not going to have any further dimension. Actually, poetic overtones do occur during adolescence, a homosexual crush develops, and the word opoponax … is used as a kind of numinous term, possibly to signify the terror and delight of sexual desire. But what is faintly sketched in at this late stage ought to have been present from the beginning. I am sure most of us have numinous experiences from the age of three…. However, Mlle. Wittig, like most "New Novelists," is afraid of tackling traditional emotions head-on, so she removes them altogether by the systematic use of a technical device. This is "interesting," like deciding to paint only in one color or to draw using only straight lines, but the interest soon wears thin. Although we are indeterminate, the truth of this indeterminacy cannot be rendered by amputation. (pp. 24-5)

John Weightman, "The Indeterminate I," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1966 Nyrev, Inc.), Vol. VII, No. 9, December 1, 1966, pp. 24-6.∗