The critical reception of Daniel Pennac’s novel of 2012, Journal d’un corps, has displayed a surprising blindness to the faecal nature of the text’s originary scene, omitting it in accounts of the work to attend instead to other corporeal phenomena and frame the work as a meditation on mortality. In this article, I examine the disavowed faeces of this originary scene. This faecal matter, rather than something to be sanitized, should be treated as the site of a clear articulation of an excremental poetics, which, in positing writing as excrement, takes up the question of literary representation, informed by the paradoxical relationship of faeces to the propre, in the sense both of cleanliness (propreté) and of property (propriété). Through attending to the significant scatological dimension of Journal d’un corps, I show how Pennac’s work acts as a call to democratize literature: the universal nature of faecality models the way literature can be transformed from a site of propriété and propreté into something impropre that belongs to all.
In Unbecoming Language, Annabel L. Kim examines a corpus of French writing against difference. Inaugurated by Nathalie Sarraute and sustained in the work of Monique Wittig and Anne Garréta, this corpus highlights three generations of the twentieth and recent twenty-first centuries and the direct chain of influence between them. Kim considers these writers, and the story of literature’s political potential, as a way of rereading and reinterpreting each writer’s individual corpus—rearticulating the strain of anti-difference feminist thought that has been largely forgotten in our (Anglo-American) histories of French feminisms.
Kim’s close readings ultimately enliven the current conversation in French studies by serving as a provocation to return to reading literary texts deeply and closely, without subordinating literature to a pre-existing ideological framework—to let literature speak, to let it theorize. Tracking the influence of these writers on each other, Kim provides a new, original French feminist poetics and demonstrates that Sarraute, Wittig, and Garréta’s work allows for a hollowing out of difference from within, allowing writers and readers to unbecome—to break free of identity and exist as subjectivities without subjecthood. In looking at these writers together, Kim provides a defense of literature as liberatory— capable of effecting personal and political change—and gives readers an experience of literature’s revolutionary possibilities.
Pas un jour, the 2002 novel by the French writer Anne Garréta, is a polemic against autofiction, the popular contemporary genre that experiments with the boundaries between autobiography and fiction. Garréta lures the reader with the promise of access to some part of her real self and her lived experience by mimicking the conventions and tone of autofiction, only to reveal that the auto in autofiction is an empty concept and to insist that there is no real subject to be found in the fiction. Pas un jour’s infiltration of autofiction puts this subject into crisis and challenges readers to consider that who we think we are is as fictive as the novels that we read.
This article examines Sphinx, the debut novel of the French novelist Anne Garréta, which was recently published in English translation in 2015.The reception of Sphinx in both French and English has focused primarily on Garréta’s virtuosic removal of gender from a love story, passing over a caricatural and crude rendering of racial difference that is at odds with the novel’s impelling ethos of “Fuck difference.” By attending to what Garréta describes as her debt to Monique Wittig, I show that Sphinx, far from being an exemplar of a second-wave feminism marked by a blindness to or instrumentalization of race, actually builds up racial difference as a Trojan Horse to combat difference in all its identitarian forms. Sphinx, in its radical anti-identitarianism, demonstrates the political potentiality of the novel form and challenges its readers to imagine an indeterminate existence outside all identity categories.
Marie Darrieussecq's Clèves (2011) shocked readers with the vulgarity of its language and spurred controversy over its status as a literary text. In this article, I show how the novel's "bad" language is a foil for Darrieussecq's larger project of rewriting the adolescent female body, removing it from the sexualized and objectified optic through which it is usually viewed in order to stage it instead as a body in process, as a situation. For this body in process, gender and sexuality are not givens, but deeply unfamiliar experiences that resist the social order’s dominant framing narratives, its scripts for normal and normative subjectivation. The novel, through a Wittigian universalization of the particular point of view of the female adolescent, gives readers access to the experience and the knowledge provided by her body in process.