Monique Wittig Naomi Bliven - Essay

Naomi Bliven

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Opoponax"] is a charming feat of virtuosity—a little girl's own view of her unremarkable life from nursery school to high school…. Catherine does not impart abstract sense—and certainly no narrative or causal form—to her experiences. She is interested in what she is interested in—the part in the hair of the girl in front of her—and not in the aims or motivations of adults, teachers and parents, who seem to her more like forces of nature than fellow-beings. But these technical procedures, which look like innovations, are really instances of a traditional artistic virtue—economy of means. The reader has no trouble following Catherine's growth through her studies … or through her extracurricular activities…. Catherine's life is childhood's characteristic, comic mixture—passion and incompetence. She keeps discovering and rediscovering the unmanageability of everything, including oneself…. (pp. 66, 68)

The absence of overt emotion helps the book achieve its splendid effect, which is childhood, in all its grubby innocence, portrayed as silent-screen comedy—kinetic, surprising, and, even in misfortune, carefree. Would it be fair to say that this motion picture of childhood lacks profundity, as it lacks completeness? Or is Miss Wittig's own profundity her implication that there is a lot less profundity in childhood than other writers descry? Or does she exemplify Valéry's remark that clarity and profundity are just two literary effects? I cannot decide. "The Opoponax," at any rate, is wild, giddy fun, the fun of being—or, better, watching—a child, and, of course, the fun of stunning literary bravura. (p. 68)

Naomi Bliven, "Daphne in India, Catherine in France," in The New Yorker (© 1966 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 42, No. 19, June 2, 1966, pp. 66, 68.∗