Monique Wittig Gives Kessler Lecture

Distinguished lesbian writer and theorist Monique Wittig gave the Fourth Annual David R. Kessler Lecture on Friday, December 1,1995, at the The Graduate Center, CUNY. Wittig, who is currently a Professor of French at the University of Arizona, is a foundational thinker in contemporary lesbian theory. Her articlesin particular “The Straight Mind,” “One is Not Born a Woman,” and “The Point of View: Universal or Particular?”- have been vital to current writing in lesbian and queer theory that takes a materialist perspective on social relations. In addition to her theoretical writing, Wittig is an important novelist, whose books Les Guerilleres, Le Corps Lesbien (The Lesbian Body), and Lesbian Peoples: MateriaNor a Dictionary(with Sande Zeig), have captured the imaginations and shifted the politics of generations of readers committed to rethinking social structures. The Kessler lecture event always provides moving tributes prior to the honoree’s presentation by people who know or have been influenced by the person being honored. This year, Erika Ostrovsky, Professor Emerita of French at New York University, and Namascar Shaktini, Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Florida Atlantic University, presented papers on Wittig’s writing. Unfortunately, rather than evoking the spirit of Wittig’s work, their papers were formal presentations that lasted far too long. Judith Butler’s tribute, “Bodies in Parts” (which was read by Ann Pelligrini, since Butler was unable to attend), was more appropriate to the evening’s intent. With humor, grace and, of course, intelligence, Butler demonstrated the influence of Wittig’s work on succeeding generations of lesbian and queer thinkers. In the too brief time remaining, Wittig read excerpts from her most recent work, The Girl. Reading in French, with a simultaneous English translation provided by Barbara Page, Professor of English at Vassar, following each brief selection, Wittig’s charismatic presence delighted the crowd. The reception that followed celebrated the vision, creativity, and revolutionary impact of Monique Wittig’s continuing contribution to international lesbian and gay studies.