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Colette, Leduc, Despentes: The Ordinary, the Failed, and the Abject

  • Author(s): Phillips, Marion
  • Advisor(s): Lucey, Michael
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation explores how the concepts of the ordinary, of failure, and of abjection shape the works of three French women writers across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. I engage with theories of the quotidian, queer and affect theory, feminist literary criticism and work on life-writing, and sexuality studies. Each of the writers under investigation here demands a reorientation to their texts from readers, as styles and subject matter shift to challenge patriarchal discourse.

I focus on the last two original works of Colette (1873-1954), which experiment with her short forms and observational style. I connect her insistence on material objects to the everyday existence and corporeal realities of an aging writer. I then turn to Violette Leduc (1907-1972), a little-known protégée of Simone de Beauvoir whose writings on love and sex between women were censored by her publishers. Finally, I connect Colette’s fashioning of feminine identity to that which is systematically dismantled by Virginie Despentes. Despentes (1965- ), a punk rocker and lesbian activist, tests the limits between cinema and pornography in her films and between feminist theory, philosophy, autobiography, and noir fiction in her writing. She portrays a postcolonial, multiracial, and fractured contemporary French society in her sweeping literary frescoes.

This study prioritizes descriptions of embodied experience and challenges representations of female desires and sexualities. It also considers failure as a strategy for critiquing systems of power that invalidate, silence, and objectify women and women’s writing. After discussing the difficulties in expressing written accounts of the ordinary and the abject, I explore potential ruptures and continuities for Cixous’s écriture féminine as well as the category of women’s writing.

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