Mediatized Female Bodies in the Work of Virginie Despentes. Natalie Edwards, University of Adelaide
Batailles Numériques in Durpaire and Boudjellal’s La Présidente Series. Christopher Hogarth, University of South Australia
Techno-orientalisme et femmes bioniques: La représentation des héroïnes asiatiques dans la bande-dessinée franco-belge de science-fiction. Henri-Simon Blanc-Hoang, Defense Language Institute
“Francophone Metronomes” is a website devoted to an unprecedented phenomenon of global diversity among women writers of French. It features filmed interviews conducted in Paris with eighteen authors of various ages who come from locations as different as Algeria and Bulgaria, Senegal and South Korea. While some of these writers have long been renowned names in literature and theory, such as Hélène Cixous, Maryse Condé, Julia Kristeva, and Leïla Sebbar, others like Fatou Diome, Anna Moï, and Shumona Sinha have only recently created a reputation. By placing the expressions of internationally recognized writers alongside those of lesser-known writers, and by bringing together the experiences of women with disparate itineraries, the project opens up to transnational comparative study of Francophone writers that is not limited to pre-established categories of literary analysis.
The website also serves as a powerful pedagogical tool, in the classroom and beyond. Divided into chapters on topics ranging from feminism to immigration, the interviews contribute to fruitful discussion and exchange as they allow students to hear a chorus of eloquent voices explain their personal approaches to topics of particular pertinence to women from around the world who write in French today.
In the last few decades, women writers of French expression have been crossing boundaries, producing literatures that include explicit representations of rape and sexual or domestic violence in their fictions. In contemporary francophone fiction, writers such as Leïla Marouane, Anne Hébert, Gisèle Pineau, and Déwé Gorodé have audaciously included scenes of sexual violence that force the reader to think critically about the implications of reading rape.
For teachers of French and francophone literature, especially those of literature written by women, this sort of boundary-crossing might provoke anxiety when considering whether to include these works in course syllabi. Yet these works are indisputably crucial, as they unveil hard truths not only about real-world social issues, but they can also teach students how to read destabilizing works that resist definitive morals, textual structures, and closure.
In this paper, I will discuss methods for teaching narratives of gendered violence in upper-level literature courses on women writers of French expression. Reading narratives of violence can help students to recognize that there are not always black-and-white answers to complex problems. This paper will consider how teaching (and reading) in these interstices can provide space for nuanced interpretive approaches to contemporary women’s literature of French expression.
Since the 1980’s French underground feminists such as Janic Grillerez-Dionnet, creator of the feminist comic-strip Ah! Nana!, and more recent pro-sex feminists like Virginie Despentes and Morgane Merteuil engage in an intellectual debate that recalls Sadean topics, like gender-bending, a sex-positive attitude, and subversions of hetero-normativity.
This talk focuses on ways to teach firstly artistic and scholarly productions (comics, movies, documentaries, and manifestos) of feminist writers (Grillerez-Dionnet, Despentes, Merteuil) that are often marginalized. Secondly, to incorporate into classwork transnational relationships between French and Anglo-American punk-porn-feminists, such as Lydia Lunch and Kathy Acker who influenced Virginie Despentes’s work, and the use of widely accessible social media, such as youtube videos. In my graduate class The Marquis de Sade: From materialist philosophy to popular culture and feminist theory, I created with my Tech TA a website called sadeandradicalism in collaboration with the Michigan State Library Special Collection and SIRO (Studies in Radicalism Online) that features a data-base on Sade, radicalist movements and feminism. Furthermore, students visit the Special Collection and examine various feminist comic books and writings for their final essay.
Through the study of underground feminist (art)-work in dialogue with radicalist thoughts, I hope to create more awareness of the richness of contemporary feminist topics, as well as their link to a Sadean philosophy that does not stand in contradiction to feminism.
In The Laugh of the Medusa (1975), Hélène Cixous appealed to women: “Write, let no one hold you back, let nothing stop you: not man; not the imbecilic capitalist machinery; and not yourself. » Such non-normative, anti-patriarchal writing from the hands of women became known as “écriture féminine.” This paper argues that écriture féminine, like much of second-wave French feminism, has been misinterpreted by Anglo-American feminists as being solely focused on sexual difference. Although French feminists such as Helene Cixous do intimately treat the female body, interpretations of such texts focused solely on sexual difference fail to recognize the radical arguments within French feminist theory that call for going beyond sexual binaries and promote a genderless world. Teaching works in translation thus poses a particular problem when translated interpretations are misleading or incomplete. How, as teachers, do we promote a more complicated interpretation of a work? Particularly, how can we present second wave French feminist theory as queer and genderless and also grounded in female materiality?
I argue this can be accomplished by teaching écriture féminine using fiction. Two French novels – Monique Wittig’s Les Guérillères (1969) and Assia Djebar’s L’amour, la fantasia (1985) – are exemplars of écriture féminine that promote a theory beyond gender binarism. Formally, the novels deconstruct traditional western reading patterns, and thematically they focus on the act of female writing as a vital tool to destroy the patriarchy. By innovating new types of language, Wittig and Djebar’s novels reveal French and Francophone women’s fiction as a site for imaginative, genderless novelty while also not ignoring the category of “women.” Thus, when teaching French and Francophone female texts, we can look to the creative world of fiction in order to transgress the boundary condition of sexual difference imposed by Anglo-Americans and be cognizant of the call for going beyond gender binaries. Moreover, I argue for the imaginative qualities unique to fiction which demonstrates its usefulness a tool for teaching alternative theories or interpretations more broadly.
The French literary sphere has recently been marked by scandals, accusations and lawsuits. Christine Angot was found guilty of ‘atteinte à la vie privée’ and fined 40,000 Euros for basing characters of Les Petits on identifiable people. Camille Laurens was accused of the same crime by her ex-partner over L’amour, roman, which includes characters whose first names correspond to those of the real-life (ex-)couple. Marcela Iacub’s Belle et bête—replete with a caricature of a pig on the front cover—portrayed the author’s former lover, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, as a man of rapacious sexual appetite and dubious moral values and earned Iacub a fine of 50,000 Euros. Camille Laurens caused further scandal by accusing Marie Darrieussecq of plagiarism over Philippe.
This phenomenon calls into question the commercial success of life writing, and particularly that of autofiction, a label that may be applied to most of the texts at the heart of these scandals. Moreover, while men have been involved in many such scandals (Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, Lionel Duroy and filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin were also sued, for example), many of the authors involved are female. This panel will study the scandals that texts of life writing have engendered, seeking to understand the place of the law in life writing, the limitations that such scandals place upon autofiction, the specificities of ‘atteinte à la vie privée’, the messages that such scandals send to the public, to writers and to the publishing industry, and to the crucial category of gender.
1. « International Feminisms in a French Frame: Global Francophone Women Writers, » Alison Rice, University of Notre Dame
2. « Current Metafeminist Practices in France and Québec, » Marie J. Carrière, University of Alberta
3. « Beards and Breasts: The Performative Protest Politics of La Barbe and Femen, » Michèle Schaal, Iowa State University
4. « ‘New Radicals’: Postfeminism, Queer, and French Women Writers of the 2000s, » Mercédès Baillargeon, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill