1st Edition

The Body in French Queer Thought from Wittig to Preciado Queer Permeability

By Elliot Evans Copyright 2020
    188 Pages 2 Color & 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    188 Pages 2 Color & 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    188 Pages 2 Color & 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The Body in French Queer Thought from Wittig to Preciado: Queer Permeability identifies a common concern in French queer works for the materiality of the body, arguing for a return to the body as fundamental to queer thought and politics, from HIV onwards.

    The emergence of queer theory in France offers an opportunity to re-evaluate the state of queer thought more widely: what matters to queer theory today? The energy of queer thinking in France – grounded in activist groups and galvanised by recent hostility towards same-sex marriage and gay parenting – has reignited queer debates. Examining Paul B. Preciado’s experimentation with theory and pharmaceutical testosterone; Monique Wittig’s exploration of the body through radically innovative language; and, finally, the surgical performances of French artist ORLAN’s ‘Art Charnel’, this book asks how we are able to account for the material body in philosophy, literature, and visual image.

    This is an important work for academics and students in French studies, in Anglophone queer studies, gender and sexuality studies and transgender studies, and will have significant interest for specialists of cultural translation and visual art and culture.

    List of Illustrations



    A new wave of French queer thought

    French politics, gay marriage, and ‘la théorie du genre’

    French theory, praxis, and the particular: a ‘queer made in France’

    Material bodies and queer permeability

    1 Bodies beyond Language or Reason: The legacy of Descartes’s Dualism in Poststructuralist accounts of the body

    Descartes’s disembodied philosophy

    The Cartesian legacy in queer thought? Judith Butler and the ‘linguistic monism’ of French poststructuralism

    Pre- and anti-Cartesian approaches to the philosopher’s body: Jean-Luc Nancy and Michel de Montaigne

    Nancy’s touch/separation and exscription

    2. Queer permeability in Paul B. Preciado’s literature of entanglement: narrating the posthuman self, performing philosophy

    Rethinking performativity

    Performing theory

    Décapiter la philosophie: undoing philosophy, undoing the philosopher-subject

    A literature of entanglement, or ‘posthuman life writing’

    Queer permeability

    3. Writing as a ‘war machine’: Monique Wittig’s textual materialism and bodily metaphor

    Context: reception, reading, and opposition

    From heterosexual society to heterosexual matrix: Butler’s discursivist misreading of Wittig’s textual materialism

    Material language: literature as a ‘Trojan Horse’

    Pronouns as war machines

    The material body: universalism, language, and metaphor in Virgile, Non; Les Guérillères; Le Corps lesbian

    4. The constructed body of ORLAN’s 'Art Charnel'

    ORLAN’s body of work: historical, theoretical, and artistic context

    Cartesianism, bodies, and texts: Femme avec Tête (1996)

    Constructions of sexual difference: Étude Documentaire: La Tête de la Méduse (1978)

    Approaching the Real: the Death’s Head

    Conclusion - Queer Directions: lessons from the French Context

    The lesson of French Republican universalism: the importance of the particular

    Politics and materiality: queer rage

    Rethinking theory: breaking the rules, breaking the ‘law’

    Making space for utopia


    Elliot Evans is a Lecturer in Modern Languages, Gender and Sexuality at the University of Birmingham, UK, and co-organiser of the interdisciplinary seminar series Critical Sexology. Their research considers the meeting points of feminist, queer, and transgender theories explored through the lens of psychoanalysis, literature, and visual culture. They received their PhD from King’s College London in 2017, were nominated for the Malcolm Bowie essay prize in 2018, and were a recipient of the Crompton Scholarship in 2015. Recent publications include ‘"Wittig and Davis, Woolf and Solanas (. . .) simmer within me": Reading Feminist Archives in the Queer Writing of Paul B. Preciado’ for Paragraph (2018); a co-edited volume of essays Plaisirs de femmes: Women, Pleasure and Transgression in French Literature and Culture (2019); ‘Transforming Theory: Innovations in Critical Trans Studies’ for Paragraph (2019); and ‘your blood dazzles m/e: Reading Blood, Sex, and Intimacy in Monique Wittig and Patrick Califia’ in RAW: PrEP, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Barebacking (2019).

    "Tracking the rise of French queer activism in all its specificity, Elliot Evans challenges the Cartesian dualism that has compromised so much of our earlier, influential queer theorizing. In Queer Permeability, human bodies—sticky, porous, febrile, ravaged, ecstatic, abject, and singular—emerge less as objects of queer thought than as its indefatigable agents. A brilliant, necessary book, one that queer and trans thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic will want to read."

    —Tim Dean, James M. Benson Professor, Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    "The Body in French Queer Thought from Wittig to Preciado: Queer Permeability is a timely and lucid exploration of what the French context can teach us about the body. Working across very different media and genres, Elliot Evans proves an excellent guide to the French resonances, and some of the unexamined genealogical roots, of queer thought."

    —J D Prosser, Reader in Humanities, School of English, University of Leeds

    "This book makes a major contribution to queer and transgender studies by drawing on radical French queer thought and practice of the last three decades to develop a new understanding of the entangled interimplication of the material body and language in terms of ‘queer permeability’, a porosity which poststructuralist theory has tended to ignore. The book makes a compelling argument for theory’s transitivity in its material effects on bodies. Elliot Evans persuasively counters Judith Butler’s discursivist misapprehension of Monique Wittig’s textual materialism and presents by far the most substantial critical engagement to date with two pioneering works by Paul B. Preciado, Countersexual Manifesto and Testo Junkie, as well as a considered reappraisal of the political and aesthetic significance of ORLAN’s body art."

    —Oliver Davis, Reader in French Studies, Warwick University

    "The conventional wisdom regarding queer theory is that it derived from the reception of French post-structuralist thought in the United States, had conceptual difficulties dealing with the materiality of the body, and was a poor fit for many of the non-Anglophone contexts to which it was subsequently exported. Elliot Evans turns that received wisdom on its head to offer a persuasive, compelling alternative genealogy for contemporary French queer theory, one rooted not merely in the conversation with its American cousin, but in continental traditions of materialist feminism and the legacies of post-revolutionary universalism."

    —Susan Stryker, Professor of Gender and Women's Studies, University of Arizona