Monique Wittig: Radical philosopher & novelist
Monique Wittig was a French philospher, literary theorist, and avant-garde novelist who made a name for herself in the feminist movement in Europe and the US.
While Monique was cited by a Lambda Book Report in 1990 that she was the most discussed comtemporary lesbian author, she was also noted as the least read.
More importantly, this radical thinker advocated liberating us from the previous concepts of gender and sexuality.
Monique Wittig: Forming the radical
Monique was born on July 13, 1935 in Dannemarie on the Upper Rhine in France located in the Haut-Rhin region of Alsace.
Her parents opposed the Nazis and escaped with Monique to Rouergue in the French Aveyron.
There, she was raised in country surroundings before her family moved to Paris, where she attended university.
She earned a doctorate in languages at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
She then worked in a number of semi-academic positions from the Bibliothèque Nationale and Les Éditions de Minuit.
Becoming involved in feminist protests, she became a founding member of the Mouvement de la Libération Féminine (MLF).
She helped organize as well a separatist group called the Feministes Revolutionnaires.
She also went with a group of radical lesbians to lay a wreath dedicated to “The Wife of the Unknown Soldier” at the Arc de Triomphe.
Monique Wittig: Writing the radical
Deeply influenced by films of Jean-Luc Godard and the nouveau roman of the 1960s, Monique started writing early.
However, it took a while before she was noticed.
It was then that her writing was noticed by Jérôme Lindon of Editions de Minuit, an avant-garde publishing house that published works by Pierre Klossowski, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Jean Echenoz.
Though Lindon gently rejected Monique’s La Méchanique (Mechanics), he took her next novel L’Opoponax, which later won the Prix Médicis in 1964.
Minuit then went on to succeeding works up to 1985: Les Guérillères (“Female Guerrillas”, 1969, later translated as The Guérillères, 1972), Le Corps Lesbien (1973), and Virgile, Non (1985).
Moreover, her work drew praises from Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute, and Robbe-Grillet.
Monique Wittig: Becoming the radical
Disgusted with the MLF because it rejected her ideas, Monique broke from them and went to the US where “Women’s Lib” was in full swing in 1976.
As she said in a very rare interview with Libération in 1999: “For me, there is no ‘feminine literature’– it simply does not exist for me.”
“In literature, I do not separate the women from the men. One is a writer, or one is not a writer. One occupies a mental space in which sex is not the determining factor,” she said.
“It’s absolutely necessary to have the freedom of that mental space to work in. Language allows it– it’s a matter of constructing an ideal neutrality that is liberated from sexual definitions,” she added.
At the University of Arizona in Tucson, she taught French literature and later helped create a department of “Women’s Studies” (which gained full department status in 1997).
At the time, she also became a celebrity in the American women’s movement.
She still continued to write and had her work published, like Lesbian Peoples: Material For A Dictionary (1976), which she did in collaboration with her partner, Sande Zeig.
She also collaborated on a film with Sande, The Girl, in 2001, which The New York Post called “the steamiest lesbian romp in memory.”
Monique died on January 3, 2003 from a heart attack.