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Les Guerilleres, Performativity, and Diffraction

Gavi's picture

As I was listening to Judith Butler talk last night about the power of performativity, I was reminded of a passage from a feminist book I'm reading called Les Guerilleres, written in 1969 by Monique Wittig. The novel is made up of many interdependent paragraph-passages, which taken together envision a society where the patriarchy has been bloodily dismantled by a group of warrior women. The following is an early passage from the book:

By the lakeside there is an echo. As they stand there with an open book the chosen passages are re-uttered from the other side by a voice that becomes distant and repeats itself. Lucie Maure cries to the double echo the phrase of Phenarete, I say that that which is is. I say that that which is not also is. When she repeats the phrase several times the double, then triple voice endlessly superimposes that which is and that which is not. The shadows brooding over the lake shift and begin to shiver because of the vibrations of the voice. (Wittig 14)

The guerilleres must create a new society from the wreckage of their warfare. The only way to build a new order is through a new language, a language that builds meaning and form through its very iteration. So the language in Les Gureilleres is echoic, less focused on temporality than intertextuality (in the continued repetition of themes and images between the alinear passages, in the emphasis on folklore and books, etc.).

This passage is, I think, an example of the potential diffractive power of performativity. From the book from which passages are read (a shared, echoic act), a woman, Lucie Maure, is compelled to speak. Her action is driven by the logic of the scene: “there is an echo” by the lake, and therefore whatever is spoken will be amplified and reinforced. This seems to me to be the promise of performativity: language spoken in a public space has the power to will itself and other forms into being. And Lucie, echoing Socrates’ midwife mother, believes something similar: “I say that which is is. I say that which is not also is.” Her voice creates echoes, which gather and “endlessly superimpose” what is real, in her claim, and what is not. The old and the potentially impossible converge through Lucie’s public speaking, and in this diffractive convergence create something new-- a new language, maybe? In any case, Lucie’s voice and its convergences (and the power it is granted by the “they” in the scene, as well as by the deep, echo-inducing lake) have the power to transform the landscape of the book, as the “brooding” shadows “shift and begin to shiver” over the lake.

Lucie and her fellow, militant guerilleres are maybe not the poster children for Butler’s vision of linked precarious communities. But their harnessing of the power of language seems pretty in tune with Butler’s concept of claimed human rights. She talked about public claims being “the right to the right.” I think that, maybe, the claims we make in public spaces don’t merely assert and validate our collective rights, but through diffraction, may create a new order from the old and the previously unspoken.






Kaye's picture

echoes of Barad?

I'm intrigued by how echoes of "that which is" and "that which is not" might diffract with each other to create new patterns.  It brings me back to Barad's ideas about how each apparatus through which we make sense of a  world makes differential cuts.  While one apparatus can dis/cover a particle, another can dis/cover a wave.  By doing this iteratively, we can reconfigure possibilities of inclusion and exclusion.  If I understand her argument, each apparatus is exclusive--we cannot use two apparati simultaneously.   But, if an apparatus leaves traces and can be reworked when positional information is deleted--as in the "which slit" experiments--is that the same as having echoes of "that which is" and "that which is not" diffract with each other? 

Looking forward to reading this novel over the summer!