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Sexual Indifference and Lesbian Representation

Author(s): Teresa de Lauretis

Source: Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 (May, 1988), pp. 155-177
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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Sexual Indifferenceand Lesbian
Teresa de Lauretis

Ifitwerenotlesbian,thistextwouldmakeno sense
-Nicole Brossard,

Thereis a sense inwhichlesbianidentity couldbe assumed,spoken,and articulated

conceptuallyas politicalthroughfeminism-and,currentdebatesto wit,againstfem-
inism;in particularthroughand againstthefeminist critiqueoftheWesterndiscourse
on love and sexuality,and therefore,to beginwith,therereadingof psychoanalysis
as a theoryofsexualityand sexual difference.Ifthefirstfeministemphasison sexual
difference as gender(woman's difference fromman) has rightlycome underattack
forobscuringthe effectsof otherdifferences in women's psychosocialoppression,
neverthelessthat emphasis on sexual differencedid open up a criticalspace-a
conceptual,representational,and eroticspace- inwhichwomencouldaddressthem-
selves to women. And in the veryact of assumingand speakingfromthe position
of subject,a woman could concurrently recognizewomen as subjectsand as objects
of femaledesire.
It is in such a space, hard-wonand daily threatenedby social disapprobation,
censure,and denial, a space of contradiction requiringconstantreaffirmation and
painfulrenegotiation,thatthe verynotionof sexual difference could thenbe put
intoquestion,and its limitations be assessed, both vis-a-vis
the claimsof other,not
strictlysexual, differences, and withregardto sexualityitself.It thus appears that
"sexual difference" is the termof a conceptualparadoxcorrespondingto what is in
effecta real contradiction in women's lives: the term,at once, of a sexual difference
(women are, or want, somethingdifferent frommen) and of a sexual indifference
(women are, or want, the same as men). And it seems to me thatthe racistand
class-biasedpracticeslegitimatedin thenotionof "separatebut equal" reveala very
similarparadox in the liberalideologyof pluralism,where social difference is also,
at the same time,social indifference.

Teresade Lauretis,ProfessoroftheHistoryofConsciousness at theUniversity

Cruz,is theauthorofAlice Doesn't: Feminism,Semiotics,Cinema and theeditorofFeminist
Studies/CriticalStudies. She is also generaleditoroftheseries"Theoriesof Representation
"forIndiana University
Difference Press.Her mostrecent
bookisTechnologies of Gender: Essays
on Theory,Film,and Fiction.


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156 / Teresade Lauretis

The psychoanalyticdiscourseon femalesexuality,wroteLuce Irigarayin 1975,

outliningthetermsofwhathereI willcallsexual(in)difference, tells"thatthefeminine
occursonly within and
models laws devised
by malesubjects.Which impliesthatthereare
notreallytwosexes,butonlyone. singlepracticeand representation ofthesexual."'
Withintheconceptualframeofthatsexualindifference, femaledesirefortheself-same,
an otherfemaleself,cannotbe recognized."That a woman mightdesirea woman
'like' herself,someone of the 'same' sex, thatshe mightalso have auto-and homo-
sexual appetites,is simplyincomprehensible" in the phallicregimeof an asserted
sexual difference betweenman and woman whichis predicatedon thecontrary, on
a completeindifference forthe "other"sex, woman's. Consequently,Irigaraycon-
tinues,Freud was at a loss withhis homosexualfemalepatients,and his analyses
ofthemwerereallyaboutmalehomosexuality. "The objectchoiceofthehomosexual
woman is [understoodto be] determinedby a masculine desireand tropism"- that
is, precisely,theturnof so-calledsexual difference intosexual indifference,a single
practice and representation of the sexual.

in whichwomanwill
justa hommo-sexuality
So therewillbe no femalehomosexuality,
be involved thedesirefor
thesamethatmanhas,andwillensureatthesametime,elsewhere andincomplementary
and contradictory
fashion, in thecoupleofthepoleof"matter."2

With the term hommo-sexuality[hommo-sexualite] -at times also written

hom(m)osexuality -Irigaray puns on the French word for man,
homme, fromtheLatinhomo(meaning"man"),and theGreekhomo(meaning"same").
In takingup herdistinction (orhomo-sexuality) and "hommo-
sexuality"(or"hom(m)osexuality"),I wanttoremarktheconceptualdistancebetween
theformerterm,homosexuality, by whichI mean lesbian(or gay) sexuality,and the
diacritically whichis the termof sexual indifference, the
I wanttore-mark
term(infact)ofheterosexuality; boththeincommensurable distance
between themand the conceptualambiguitythatis conveyedby the two almost
identicalacousticimages. Anotherparadox--oris it perhaps the same?

forsodomyfoundin theteaching
Thereis no validation oftheancient
-Michael Bowers,PetitionersBriefin Bowersv. Hardwick.

To attemptto answerthatquestion,I turnto a veryinteresting readingof Plato's

Symposium by David Halperin which (1) richly resonateswith Irigaray'snotionof
sexual indifference
(see also her reading of "Plato's Hystera" Speculum),(2) em-
phasizes theembarrassing ignoranceof the presentAttorneyGeneraloftheStateof

1LuceIrigaray"Costfan tutti,"in ThisSex WhichIs Not One, trans.CatherinePorter(Ithaca: Cornell

UniversityPress, 1985), 86. The phrase "sexual indifference"actually appeared in Luce Irigaray,
SpeculumoftheOtherWoman[1974],trans.Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell UniversityPress, 1985), 28.
2Irigaray, Speculum,101-103.

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Georgiain mattersof classicalscholarship,whichhe neverthelessinvokes,3and (3)

tracestherootsoftheparadoxesherein questiontotheveryphilosophicalfoundation
ofwhat is called Westerncivilization,Plato's dialogues. Forin thosemastertextsof
hommo-sexuality, as Halperin proposes, it is the female,reproductivebody that
paradoxicallyguaranteestrueeros betweenmen, or as Plato calls it, "properpaed-

"WhyIs Diotimaa Woman?,"Halperinargues,is a questionthathas been answered

only tautologically:because she is not or cannot be a man. It would have been
indecorousto implythatSocratesowed his knowledgeof eroticdesireto a former
paederasticlover.Butthereis a reasonmorestringent thandecorumwhySocrates's
teachershould have been a woman. Plato wanted to prescribea new homoerotic
ethos and a model of "properpaederasty"based on the reciprocity of eroticdesire
and a mutualaccess to pleasureforbothpartners,a reciprocity of eroswhose philo-
sophicalimportfoundultimateexpressionin thedialogueform.His project,however,
ran against the homoeroticsexual ethos and practicesof the citizensof classical
Athens,"locked as theywere intoan aggressive,phallicsexualityof domination-
and, consequently,intoa rigidhierarchy ofsexual rolesin theirrelationswithmales
and femalesalike." Foran adultmale citizenofAthenscould have legitimatesexual
relationsonly withhis social inferiors:
boys, women, foreigners, and slaves. Plato
repudiatedsuch eroticasymmetry in relationsbetweenmen and boys and, through
theteachingofSocrates/Diotima, soughtto erase "thedistinction betweentheactive
and the passive partner--according to Socrates,both membersof the relationship
become active,desiringlovers;neitherremainsa merelypassive objectof desire."

Hence theintellectual
and mythopoetic functionofDiotima:herdiscourseon erotic
desire,unlikea man's,could appear directlygroundedin theexperiential knowledge
of a non-hierarchical,
mutualisticand reproductivesexuality,i.e., femalesexuality
as the Greeksconstruedit. It is indeed so groundedin the text,both rhetorically
(Diotima's language systematicallyconflatessexual pleasure withthe reproductive
or generativefunction)and narratively, in the presumed experienceof a female
character,sinceto theGreeksfemalesexualitydiffered frommale sexualityprecisely
in thatsexualpleasureforwomenwas intimately boundup withprocreation. Halperin
forexample,"therelationofmantowifeas a domesticformofcultivation homologous
to agriculturewherebywomen are tamed,mastered,and made fruitful. . . . [I]n the
absence ofmen, women's sexual functioning is aimlessand unproductive,merelya
formof rottennessand decay,but by the applicationof male pharmacyit becomes
at once orderlyand fruitful."

3See Petitioner'sBriefin Bowersv. Hardwick,cited by Mary Dunlap, "BriefAmicusCuriaefor the

Lesbian RightsProjectet al.," ReviewofLaw and Social Change14 (1986): 960.
4David M. Halperin, "Why Is Diotima a Woman?," in Halperin, One HundredYearsofHomosexuality
and OtherEssayson GreekLove (forthcoming);subsequent referencesto this work, which is stillin
manuscriptform,will have no page number. See also Halperin, "Plato and Erotic Reciprocity,"
ClassicalAntiquity5:1 (1986): 60-80.

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158 / Teresade Lauretis

Afterremarkingon the similarity betweenthe Greekconstruction and the con-

temporarygynaecological discourses on femaleeroticism,Halperinraises the ques-
tion of Plato's politicsof gender,notingthat"the interdependenceof sexual and
reproductive capacitiesis in facta featureofmale,notfemale,physiology,"and that
male sexualityis theone in which"sexualpleasureand reproductive function cannot
be separated (to the chagrinof Augustineand others)."His hypothesisis worth
quotingat length:
Plato,then,wouldseemtobe interpreting as feminine
and allocating tomena formof
sexualitywhichis masculinetobeginwithandwhichmenhadpreviously alienatedfrom
themselvesbyconstructing itas feminine.In otherwords,itlooksas ifwhatliesbehind
Plato'sdoctrineis a doublemovement whereby menprojecttheirown sexuality onto
womenonlytoreabsorb itthemselves in theguiseofa feminine character.Thisis par-
intriguingbecauseitsuggeststhatin ordertofacilitate
ofthefeminine menhaveinitially constructedfemininity
according toa maleparadigm
whilecreatinga socialand political
idealofmasculinitydefined bytheability toisolate
whatonlywomencan actually isolate-namely, and reproduction,
sexuality recreative

Let me restatethe significance ofHalperin'sanalysisformyown argumenthere.

Plato's repudiationof asymmetrical paederastyand of the subordinatepositionin
whichthatplaced citizenboys who, afterall, were the futurerulersof Athens,had
the effectof elevatingthe statusof all male citizensand thus of consolidatingmale
citizenrule. It certainlywas no favordone to women or to any "others"(male and
femaleforeigners, male and femaleslaves). But his move was yetmoremasterful:
theappropriation ofthefemininefortheeroticethosofa male socialand intellectual
elite(an ethosthatwould endurewell intothe twentiethcentury,ifin the guise of
"hereticalethics"or in the femininity ["devenir-femme]claimedby his most decon-
structivecritics)5had theeffect
notonlyofsecuringthemillenary exclusionofwomen
fromphilosophicaldialogue,and theabsoluteexcisionofnon-reproductive sexuality
fromtheWesterndiscourseon love. The construction and appropriation
in Westerneroticethos has also had the effectof securingthe heterosexualsocial
contractby whichall sexualities,all bodies, and all "others"are bonded to an ideal/
ideologicalhierarchyof males.6
ofsexual (in)difference
The intimaterelationship where-
by, forinstance,the defenseof the mothercountry and of (white)womanhood has
servedto bolstercolonialconquestand racistviolencethroughout Westernhistory,
is nowheremoreevidentthanin "the teachingof the ancientGreekphilosophers,"
pacethe AttorneyGeneral. Hence the ironicrewritingof history,in a female-only

'I am thinkingin particularof JuliaKristeva,"Stabat Mater" (originallypublished as "Herethique

de l'amour") in TalesofLove,trans.Leon Roudiez (New York:Columbia UniversityPress 1987), and
Jacques Derrida, Spurs: Nietzsche'sStyles,trans. Barbara Harlow (Chicago: Universityof Chicago
Press, 1979).
6Fora related reading of Aristotleand theatre,see Sue-Ellen Case, "Classic Drag: The Greek
Creation of Female Parts," TheatreJournal37:3 (1985): 317-327. I have developed the notion of
heterosexualcontract(originallysuggested in Monique Wittig,"The StraightMind," FeministIssues
1:1 [1980]:103-111) in my "The Female Body and Heterosexual Presumption,"Semiotica 67:3/4(1987):

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worldofmothersand amazons,byMonique Wittigand Sande Zeig in LesbianPeoples:

Material And hence,as well,thecrucialemphasisin currentfeminist
fora Dictionary.7
theoryon articulating, and historicizing
specifying, the positionofthe femalesocial
subject in the intricateexperientialnexus of (oftencontradictory) heterogeneous
differences,across discoursesof race,gender,cultural,and sexual identity,and the
politicalworkingthroughthose differences toward a new, global, yet historically
specificand even local, understandingof community.8

Pardonme,I mustbe going!

-Djuna Barnes,TheLadiesAlmanack

Lesbianrepresentation, orrather,itsconditionofpossibility,
dependson separating
out the two contraryundertowsthatconstitutetheparadoxof sexual (in)difference,
on isolatingbutmaintainingthetwo senses ofhomosexuality and hommo-sexuality.
Thus the criticaleffortto dislodge the eroticfromthe discourseof gender,withits
indissolubleknotof sexualityand reproduction, is concurrentand interdependent
witha rethinking of what, in mostculturaldiscoursesand sociosexualpractices,is
still,nevertheless,a genderedsexuality.In the pages thatfollow,I will attemptto
workthroughthese paradoxesby consideringhow lesbianwritersand artistshave
soughtvariouslyto escape gender,to deny it, transcendit, or performit in excess,
and to inscribethe eroticin cryptic,allegorical,realistic,camp, or othermodes of
representation,pursuingdiversestrategiesofwritingand ofreadingtheintransitive
and yetobduraterelationof referenceto meaning,of fleshto language.
GertrudeStein,forexample,"encrypted"her experienceof the body in obscure
coding,her "somagrams"are neithersexuallyexplicitor conventionally erotic,nor
"radically visceralor visual," CatharineStimpsonargues.9Stein's effort
was, rather,
to develop a distinguished"anti-language"in whichto describesexual activity,her
"'delightin the femalebody" (38) or herambivalenceabout it,as an abstractthough
intimaterelationshipwhere"thebody fuseswithwritingitself"(36), an act "at once
richlypleasurableand violent"(38). ButifSteindoes belongto thehistoryofwomen
writers,claimsStimpson,who also claimsherforthehistoryoflesbianwriters,it is
not because she wrote out of femaleness"as an elementalcondition,inseparable
fromthe body" (40), the way some radicalfeministcriticswould like to think;nor
because herwritingsprungfroma preoedipal,maternalbody,as otherswould have
it. Her languagewas not "female"but quite thecontrary, "as genderlessas an atom
of platinum"(42), and stroveto obliteratethe boundariesof genderidentity.

7Monique Wittigand Sande Zeig, LesbianPeoples:Materialfora Dictionary(New York:Avon Books,

8See Biddy Martin and Chandra Mohanty, "FeministPolitics:What's Home Got to Do with It,"
in FeministStudies/Critical
Studies,ed. Teresa de Lauretis (Bloomington:Indiana UniversityPress,
1986),191-212,and Teresa de Lauretis,"EccentricSubjects:FeministTheoryand HistoricalConscious-
ness," forthcomingin PoeticsToday.
'Catharine R. Stimpson,"The Somagrams ofGertrudeStein," in TheFemaleBodyin Western Culture:
Contemporary ed. Susan Suleiman (Cambridge: Harvard UniversityPress, 1986), 34.

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160 / Teresade Lauretis

Djuna Barnes's Nightwood, which Stimpsoncalls a "parable of damnation,"10 is

readbyothersas an affirmation ofinversionas homosexualdifference.In her"Writing
TowardNightwood: Djuna Barnes'sSeductionStories,"CarolynAllenreads Barnes's
"littlegirl"storiesas sketchesorearliertrialsofthesustainedmeditationon inversion
thatwas to yield in the novel the most suggestiveportraitof the invert,the third

In thatportrait
we recognize
theboyin thegirl,thegirlin thePrince,nota mixing
gendered butthecreation
behaviors, ofa newgender,"neither oneandhalftheother"
.... Intheir
loveofthesamesex[Matthew,NoraandRobin]admire their

Thatdifference, whichforthelesbianincludesa relationto theself-same("a woman

is yourselfcaughtas you turnin panic; on her mouthyou kiss your own," says
Nora), also includes her relationto the child, the "ambivalenceabout mothering
one's lover,"the difficult
and inescapableties of femalesexualitywithnurtureand
withviolence.In thislight,Allen suggests,may we read Barnes'spersonaldenial
of lesbianismand her aloofnessfromfemaleadmirersas a refusalto acceptand to
live by the homophobiccategoriespromotedby sexology:man and woman, with
theirrespectivedeviant forms,the effeminateman and the mannishwoman-a
refusalthatin thetermsofmyargumentcould be seen as a rejectionof thehommo-
sexual categoriesof gender,a refusalof sexual (in)difference.
Thus the highlymetaphoric,oblique, allusive language of Barnes's fiction,her
"heavilyembedded and oftenappositional"syntax,her use of the passive voice,
indirectstyle,and interiormonologuetechniquesin narrativedescriptions,which
Allen admirablyanalyzes in anotheressay, are motivatedless by the modernist's
pleasure in formalexperimentation than by her resistanceto what Nightwood both
thematizesand demonstrates, thefailureoflanguagetorepresent,grasp,and convey
her subjects:"The violation[ofreader'sexpectation]and the appositionalstructure
permitBarnesto suggestthatthenamingpower of languageis insufficient to make
Nora's love forRobinperceivableto the reader."12

"Dr.Knox,"Edwardbegan,"myproblemthisweekis chiefly

Ironically,since one way of escaping genderis to so disguise eroticand sexual

experienceas to suppress any representation of its specificity,
anotheravenue of

"0CatharineR. Stimpson, "Zero Degree Deviancy: The Lesbian Novel in English," CriticalInquiry
8:2 (1981): 369.
"Carolyn Allen, "WritingToward Nightwood:Djuna Barnes' Seduction Stories," forthcomingin
Silenceand Power:A Reevaluationof Djuna Barnes,ed. M. L. Broe (Carbondale: Southern Illinois
UniversityPress, 1987).
12Carolyn Allen, " 'Dressing the Unknowable in the Garmentsof the Known': The Styleof Djuna
Barnes' Nightwood,"in Women'sLanguageand Style,ed. Butturftand Epstein (Akron: L&S Books,
1978), 116.

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escape leads the lesbian writerfullyto embracegender,ifby replacingfemaleness

withmasculinity, as in the case of StephenGordonin TheWellofLoneliness, and so
risk to collapse lesbian homosexualityinto hommo-sexuality. However, represen-
tationis relatedto experienceby codes thatchange historically and, significantly,
reach in both directions:the writerstrugglesto inscribeexperiencein historically
availableformsof representation, the readeraccedes to representationthroughher
own historicaland experientialcontext;each readingis a rewriting of the text,each
writinga rereadingof(one's) experience.The contrasting readingsofRadclyffe Hall's
novelbylesbianfeminist criticsshow thateach criticreads froma particularposition,
experientialbut also historically availableto her,and, moreover,a positionchosen,
or even politicallyassumed, fromthe spectrumof contemporary discourseson the
relationshipoffeminismto lesbianism.The contrastofinterpretations also shows to
what extentthe paradox of sexual (in)difference operatesas a semioticmechanism
to produce contradictory meaningeffects.
The pointofcontentionin thereceptionofa novel thatby generalagreementwas
the single most popular representation of lesbianismin fiction,fromits obscenity
trialin 1928to the1970s,is thefigureofitsprotagonist StephenGordon,the"mythic
mannishlesbian" of the titleof EstherNewton's essay, and the prototypeof her
more recentincarnation,the working-class butch.13Newton's impassioneddefense
of the novel restson the significanceof thatfigureforlesbian self-definition,not
onlyin the 1920sand 1930s,when thesocial gains in genderindependenceattained
by theNew Womanwerebeingreappropriated via sexologicaldiscourseswithinthe
practicesofheterosexuality,butalso in the1970sand 1980s,whenfemale
sexualityhas been redefinedby a women's movement"thatswears it is the enemy
of traditionalgendercategoriesand yetvalidateslesbianismas theultimateformof
Newton argues historically, takinginto accountthe thenavailable discourseson
sexuality which asserted that "normal" women had at best a reactiveheterosexual
desire, while female sexual deviancyarticulateditselfin ascending categoriesof
inversionmarkedby increasingmasculinization, from rectifiable--sex-
ual orientation
(or"homosexuality" for Havelockdeviant--but
Gender crossingwas at once a symptomand a sign of sexual degeneracy.14In the
termsof the culturalrepresentations available to the novelist,since therewas no
image offemale sexual desireapart fromthemale,Newtonasks, "Justhow was Hall
to make the woman-lovingNew Womana sexual being? To become avowedly

13EstherNewton, "The MythicMannish Lesbian: RadclyffeHall and the New Woman," Signs9:4
(1984): 557-575. See also Madeline Davis and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy, "Oral Historyand the
Study of Sexualityin the Lesbian Community:Buffalo,New York, 1940-1960,"FeministStudies12:1
(1986): 7-26; and JoanNestle, "Butch-FemRelationships:Sexual Courage in the 1950s," Heresies12
(1981): 21-24, now reprintedin Joan Nestle, A Restricted Country(Ithaca: FirebrandBooks, 1987),
1"See the discussion of Krafft-Ebing, Ellis, and others in George Chauncey, Jr.,"From Sexual
Inversion to Homosexuality: Medicine and the Changing Conceptualization of Female Deviance,"
Salmagundi58-59 (1982-83): 114-146, and in Carroll Smith-Rosenberg,"The New Woman as
Androgyne,"in Disorderly Conduct:VisionsofGenderin VictorianAmerica(New York:OxfordUniversity
Press, 1985), 245-349.

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162 / Teresade Lauretis

sexual, the New Womanhad to enterthe male world,eitheras a heterosexualon

male terms(a flapper)or as-or with-a lesbianin male body drag (a butch)"(572-
73). Genderreversalin the mannishlesbian,then,was not merelya claimto male
socialprivilegeor a sad pretenseto male sexualbehavior,but representedwhatmay
be called,in Foucault'sphrase,a "reversediscourse":an assertionof sexual agency
and feelings,butautonomousfrommen,a reclaiming oferoticdrivesdirectedtoward
women, ofa desire forwomen that is not to be confusedwithwomanidentification.
While otherlesbiancriticsof TheWellofLoneliness read it as an espousal of Ellis's
views, couched in religiousromanticimageryand marredby a self-defeating pes-
simism,aristocratic and inevitabledamnation,what Newton reads in Ste-
phen Gordonand in Radclyffe Hall's textis theunsuccessfulattemptto representa
femaledesirenotdeterminedby "masculinetropism,"in Irigaray'swords,or,in my
own, a femaledesirenot hommo-sexualbut homosexual.If Radclyffe Hall herself
couldnotenvisionhomosexuality as partofan autonomousfemalesexuality(a notion
that has emerged much later,with the feministcritiqueof patriarchyas phallic
symbolicorder),and ifshe therefore did notsucceed in escapingthehommo-sexual
categories gender ("Unlike Orlando, Stephenis trappedin history;she cannot
declaregenderan irrelevant game,"as Newtonremarks[570]),nevertheless thefigure
of the mannishfemaleinvertcontinuesto stand as the representation of lesbian
desire againstboth the discourseof hommo-sexuality and the feministaccountof
lesbianismas woman identification. The contextof Newton's readingis thecurrent
debateon therelationshipoflesbianismto feminismand thereassertion,on theone
hand, of the historicaland politicalimportanceof genderroles (e.g., butch-femme)
in lesbian self-definition
and representation, and on the other,of the demand fora
separateunderstandingof sex and genderas distinctareas of social practice.
The latterissue has been pushed to the top of the theoreticalagenda by the
polarizationof opinionsaround the two adverse and widelypopularizedpositions
on the issue of pornographytakenby WomenAgainstPornography(WAP) and by
S/Mlesbians(Samois). In "ThinkingSex,"a revisionofherearlierand veryinfluential
"The Traffic in Women,"Gayle Rubinwants to challengetheassumptionthatfem-
inismcan contribute verymuchto a theoryofsexuality,for"feminist thoughtsimply
lacks angles of vision whichcan encompass the social organizationof sexuality."15
While acknowledgingsome (thoughhardlyenough) diversityamong feministson
the issue of sex, and praising"pro-sex"feministssuch as "lesbian sadomasochists
and butch-femme dykes,"adherentsof"classicradicalfeminism,"and "unapologetic
heterosexuals"fornot conforming to "movementstandardsof purity"(303), Rubin
nonethelessbelieves thata "theoryand politicsspecificto sexuality"mustbe de-

"SGayleRubin, "ThinkingSex: Notes fora Radical Theoryof the Politicsof Sexuality,"in Pleasure
and Danger:Exploring FemaleSexuality,ed. Carole S. Vance (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984),
309; "The Trafficin Women: Notes on the 'PoliticalEconomy' of Sex," in Towardan Anthropology of
Women,ed. Rayna R. Reiter(New York:MonthlyReview Press, 1975), 157-210. On the feminist"sex
wars" of the 1970s and 1980s, see B. Ruby Rich, "Feminismand Sexualityin the 1980s," Feminist
Studies12:3 (1986): 525-561. On the relationshipof feminismto lesbianism, see also Wendy Clark,
"The Dyke, the Feministand the Devil," in Sexuality:A Reader,ed. FeministReview(London: Virago,
1987), 201-215.

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veloped apartfromthetheoryofgenderoppression,thatis feminism.Thus she goes

back over her earlierfeministcritiqueof Lacan and L vi-Straussand readjuststhe
angle of vision:
"The Traffic
in Women"was inspiredby theliterature on kin-basedsystems of social
It appearedto me at thetimethatgenderand desireweresystematically
in suchsocialformations. Thismayormaynotbe an accurateassessment
oftherelationshipbetweensexand genderintribal Butitis surelynotan
adequateformulationforsexualityin Western
In spiteof Rubin'srhetoricalemphasis(whichI underscoregraphicallyin the above
passage), her earlierarticlealso had to do with gender and sexualityin Western
industrialsocieties,whereindeedRubinand severalotherfeminists werearticulating
the critiqueof a theoryof symbolicsignificationthatelaboratedthe verynotionof
desire (frompsychoanalysis)in relationto genderas symbolicconstruct(froman-
thropology)-a critiquethathas been crucialto thedevelopmentof feminist theory.
Butwhereas"The Traffic in Women"(a titledirectlyborrowedfromEmmaGoldman)
was focusedon women,hereherinteresthas shiftedtowarda non-genderednotion
of sexualityconcerned,in Foucault's terms"with the sensationsof the body, the
qualityof pleasures,and the natureof impressions."''6
Accordingly,the specificityof eitherfemaleor lesbian eroticismis no longera
question to be asked in "ThinkingSex," where the term"homosexual"is used to
referto both women and men (thus slidinginexorably,it seems, intoits uncanny
hommo-sexualdouble), and whichconcludesby advocatinga politicsof"theoretical
as well as sexual pluralism"(309). At the opposite pole of the debate, Catharine
is thedominant
gendered form in a society
ofsexuality wheregender
oppresseswomenthrough and heterosexuality
sex,sexuality are essentiallythesame
thing.Thisdoes noterasehomosexuality,
it merely
meansthatsexuality in thatform
maybe no lessgendered.17
I suggest that,despite or possiblybecause of theirstarkmutual oppositionand
commonreductivism, bothRubinand MacKinnoncollapsethetensionofambiguity,
thesemanticduplicity,thatI have triedto sortout in thetwo termshomosexualand
hommo-sexual,and thusremaincaughtin theparadoxof sexual (in)difference even
as theyboth,undoubtedly,verymuch want to escape it, one by denyinggender,
the otherby categoricallyassertingit. As it was, in anothersense, withRadclyffe
Hall, Newton's suggestivereadingnotwithstanding. I willreturnto her suggestions

16Michel (NewYork:Pantheon,1978),106,citedbyRubin,"Think-
ing Sex," 307. For a criticalreading of the relevance and limitationsof Foucault's views with regard
to female sexuality,see Biddy Martin,"Feminism,Criticism,and Foucault," New GermanCritique27
(1982):3-30,and Teresade Lauretis,Technologies
ington:Indiana UniversityPress, 1987), chapters 1 and 2.
A. MacKinnon,Feminism
17Catharine Discourses
Unmodified: onLifeandLaw(Cambridge:
UniversityPress, 1987), 60.

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164 / Teresade Lauretis

A theory
in theflesh
-Cherrie Moraga, ThisBridgeCalledMy Back

It is certain,however,as Rubinnotes,that"lesbiansare alsooppressedas queers

and perverts"(308, emphasisadded), not only as women; and it is equally certain
thatsome lesbiansare also oppressedas queers and perverts,and alsoas women of
color.Whatcannotbe elidedin a politically responsibletheoryofsexuality,ofgender,
or of cultureis thecriticalvalue of that"also," whichis neithersimplyadditivenor
exclusivebut signals the nexus, the mode of operationof interlocking systemsof
gender,sexual,racial,class, and other,morelocal categoriesofsocialstratification.18
Justa fewlines fromZami,Audre Lorde's "biomythography," will make the point,
betterthanI can.

ButthefactofourBlacknesswas an issuethatFeliciaand I talkedaboutonlybetween

EvenMurielseemedtobelievethatas lesbians,we wereall outsiders
equalin ouroutsiderhood.
"We'reall niggers,"
sheusedto say,andI hatedtohearher
sayit.Itwaswishful basedonlittle
thinking fact;thewaysinwhichitwastruelanguished
in theshadowofthosemanywaysin whichitwouldalwaysbe false.

Itwas hardenoughtobe Black,tobe Blackandfemale, tobe Black,female,and gay.To

be Black,female,gay,and outoftheclosetin a whiteenvironment, evento theextent
ofdancing intheBagatelle,
wasconsideredbymanyBlacklesbianstobe simply suicidal.
Andifyouwerefoolenoughtodo it,you'dbetter comeon so toughthatnobodymessed
withyou.I oftenfeltputdownbytheirsophistication,
cars,and theirfemmes.19
If the black/white
divide is even less permeablethan the gay/straight
one, it does
notalone sufficeto self-definition:
"BeingBlackdykestogetherwas notenough. We
were different.. . . Self-preservationwarned some of us that we could not affordto
settleforone easy definition, one narrowindividuationof self" (226). Neitherrace
norgendernorhomosexualdifference alone can constituteindividualidentityor the
basis fora theoryand a politicsof social change. What Lorde suggestsis a more
compleximageofthepsycho-socio-sexual subject("our place was theveryhouse of
difference rather[than]the securityof any one particulardifference") which does
not deny gender or sex but transcendsthem.Read togetherwith the writingsof
otherlesbiansof coloror those committedto antiracism(see note8 above), Lorde's
image ofthehouse ofdifference pointsto a conceptionofcommunity not pluralistic
but at once global and local-global in its inclusiveand macro-politicalstrategies,
and local in its specific,micro-political
I want to propose that,among the latter,not the least is the practiceof writing,
particularlyin that formwhich the que'becoise
feministwriterNicole Brossardhas

"A BlackFeminist
18Combahee in ThisBridge
Statement," CalledMyBack:Writings
Women ed.Cherrie
ofColor, andGloria
Moraga (NewYork:
Anzalduia Table:Women
"1AudreLorde, Zami: A New SpellingofMy Name (Trumansburg,New York: The Crossing Press,
1982), 203 and 224.

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called "unefiction
thdorique," a formally
fiction/theory: experimental, criticaland lyri-
and theoretically
cal, autobiographical conscious,practiceofwriting-in-the-feminine
thatcrossesgenreboundaries(poetryand prose,verbaland visual modes, narrative
and culturalcriticism),
and instatesnew correlationsbetweensigns and meanings,
incitingotherdiscursivemediationsbetween the symbolicand the real, language
and flesh.20And forall its specificcultural,historical,and linguisticvariation-say
betweenfrancophoneand anglophonecontemporary Canadian writers,or between
writerssuch as Gloria Anzaldia, Michelle Cliff,CherrieMoraga, Joanna Russ,
Monique Wittig,or even the VirginiaWoolfof ThreeGuineasand A RoomofOne's
Own--theconceptof fiction/theory does make the transferacross borderlinesand
coversa significantrange practicesof lesbian (self-)representation.

-MoniqueWittig, Mind"

In a superbessaytracingtheintertextualweave ofa lesbianimaginationthroughout

Frenchliterature,thekindofessay thatchangesthelandscapeofbothliterature and
readingirreversibly,Elaine Marksproposes thatto undomesticatethe femalebody
one mustdare reinscribeit in excess-as excess-in provocativecounterimagessuf-
ficientlyoutrageous,passionate,verballyviolentand formally complexto both de-
stroythe male discourseon love and redesignthe universe.21 The undomesticated
femalebody thatwas firstconcretely imaged in Sappho's poetry("she is suggesting
equivalencesbetweenthe physicalsymptomsof desireand the physicalsymptoms
of death, not betweenEros and Thanatos,"Markswrites[372]) has been read and
effectivelyrecontainedwithinthe male poetic tradition-withthe very move de-
scribedby Halperinabove-as phallicor maternalbody. Thereafter, Marks states,
no "sufficiently
challengingcounterimages" were produced in Frenchliterature
the adventof feminismand the writingof a lesbianfeminist, Monique Wittig.
"Only the women's movement,"concurredthe writerin her prefaceto the 1975
Englisheditionof TheLesbianBody,"has proved capable of producinglesbian texts

20"Writing. It's work. Changing the relationshipwith language. ... Women's fictionsraise theo-
reticalissues: women's theorizingappears as/in fiction.Women's writingdisturbsour usual un-
derstandingof the termsfictionand theorywhich assign value to discourses.
has been the dominantmode of feministwritingin Quebec formore than a decade," .... Fiction/theory
states Barbara
Godard forthe editorialcollectiveof Tesserano. 3, a Canadian feminist,dual-language publication
that has appeared annually as a special issue of an already established magazine ("Fiction/Theory:
Editorial,"CanadianFictionMagazine57 [1986]: 3-4). See Nicole Brossard,L'Amerou Le Chapitreeffrite
(Montreal:Quinze, 1977) and TheseOur MothersOr: TheDisintegrating Chapter,trans.BarbaraGodard
(Toronto:Coach House, 1983). On Brossardand otherCanadian writersof fiction/theory, see Shirley
Neuman, "ImportingDifference,"and other essays in A Mazing Space: WritingCanadian Women
Writing,ed. Shirley Neuman and Smaro Kamboureli (Edmonton: Longspoon Press and NeWest
Press, 1986).
21ElaineMarks, "Lesbian Intertextuality,"in Homosexualitiesand FrenchLiterature,ed. George Stam-
bolian and Elaine Marks (Ithaca: Cornell UniversityPress, 1979), 353-377.

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166 / Teresade Lauretis

in a contextof totalrupturewithmasculineculture,textswrittenby women exclu-

sivelyforwomen,carelessofmaleapproval."22 Ifthereis reasontobelievethatWittig
would no longer accept the designationlesbian-feminist in the 1980s (her latest
published novelin the
English, more
Acheron, than suggestsas much),Marks's
criticalassessmentof TheLesbianBodyremains,to myway of seeing,correct:

In Le corpslesbienMoniqueWittig
has created,throughtheincessantuse ofhyperbole
and a refusaltoemploytraditional
body codes,imagessufficiently towithstand
culture.. . . The J/eofLe corpslesbien
intomale literary
reabsorption is themostpowerful
lesbianinliterature shereexamines
becauseas a lesbian-feminist and redesigns

LikeDjuna Barnes's,Wittig'sstruggleis withlanguage,to transcendgender.Barnes,

as Wittigreads her,succeeds in "universalizingthe feminine"because she "cancels
out thegendersby makingthemobsolete.I finditnecessaryto suppressthem.That
is the point of view of a lesbian."23 And indeed, fromthe impersonalon [one] in
L'Opoponax, tothefeminine pluralelles[they]replacingthegenericmasculineils[they]
in Les gue'rill'res, impossiblej/e [I], lover and writing
to the divided, linguistically
subjectofTheLesbianBody,Wittig'spersonalpronounsworkto "lesbianize"language
as impudentlyas her recastingsof both classicaland Christianmythand Western
literarygenres(theHomericheroesand Christ,TheDivineComedy and Don Quixote,
the epic, the lyric,the Bildungsroman, the encyclopaedicdictionary)do to literary
Whatwillnotdo, forherpurposes,is a "feminine
history.24 writing"[ecriturefiminine]
which,forWittig,is no morethan"thenaturalizingmetaphorofthebrutalpolitical
factof the dominationof women" (63) and so complicitin the reproductionof
femininity and of the femalebody as Nature.
Thus, as I read it, it is in the garbagedump of femininity, "In thisdark adored
adornedgehenna,"thattheodysseyofWittig'sj/e-tu in TheLesbianBodybegins:"Fais
tes adieux m/atresbelle," "say your farewellsm/yverybeautiful. . . strong...
indomitable. . . learned. .. ferocious. . . gentle. .. best beloved to what theycall
affectiontendernessor graciousabandon. No one is unaware of what takes place
here,ithas no name as yet."25Here where?--inthisbook, thisjourneyintothebody
of Westernculture,this season in hell. And what takes place here?-the dismem-
bermentand slow decompositionof thefemalebody limbby limb,organby organ,
secretionby secretion.No one willbe able to standthe sightofit, no one willcome
to aid in thisawesome, excruciating and exhilarating laborof love: dis-membering

22MoniqueWittig,The LesbianBody,trans. David LeVay (New York: William Morrow, 1975), 9,

cited by Marks, 373.
23MoniqueWittig,"The Point of View: Universal or Particular,"FeministIssues3:2 (1983): 64.
24SeeHlelne Vivienne Wenzel, "The Text as Body/Politics:An Appreciationof Monique Wittig's
Writingsin Context," FeministStudies7:2 (1981): 264-287, and Namascar Shaktini,"Displacing the
PhallicSubject:Wittig'sLesbian Writing,"Signs8:1 (1982): 29-44, who writes:"Wittig'sreorganization
of metaphoraround the lesbian body representsan epistemologicalshiftfromwhat seemed until
recentlythe absolute, centralmetaphor-the phallus" (29).
25Monique Wittig,Le corpslesbien(Paris: Minuit, 1973), 7. I have revised the English translation
thatappears in TheLesbianBody,15.

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and re-membering, the body in a new eroticeconomy,relearningto

it withinvert/
know it ("it has no name as yet") by anothersemiotics,reinscribing
inwarddesire,rewriting a
it otherwise,other-wise: lesbianbody.
The project,the conceptualoriginalityand radicalimportof Wittig'slesbian as
subjectofa "cognitivepractice"thatenablesthereconceptualization ofthesocialand
of knowledgeitselffroma positioneccentricto the heterosexualinstitution, are all
A "subjectivecognitivepractice"and a
therein the firstpage of Le corpslesbien.26
practiceof writingas consciousnessof contradiction ("the language you speak is
made up ofwords thatare killingyou," she wrotein Lesgue'rillbres); a consciousness
of writing,living,feeling,and desiringin the noncoincidenceof experienceand
language,in theintersticesofrepresentation, "in theintervalsthatyourmastershave
not been able to fillwith theirwords of proprietors."27Thus, the strugglewith
language to rewritethe body beyondits precoded,conventionalrepresentations is
not and cannot be a reappropriation of the female body as it is, domesticated,ma-
ternal,oedipallyor preoedipallyen-gendered,but is a struggleto transcendboth
genderand "sex" and recreatethebody other-wise:to see it perhapsas monstrous,
or grotesque,or mortal,or violent,and certainly also sexual,butwitha materialand
thatwillresistphallicidealizationand renderitaccessibletowomen
in anothersociosexual economy.In short,if it were not lesbian,thisbody would
make no sense.

Replacing theLacanianslashwitha lesbianbar

-Sue-EllenCase, "Towardsa Butch-Femme Aesthetic"

At firstsight,thereaderofTheLesbianBodymightfindin itslinguistically impossible

subjectpronounseveraltheoretically possible valences thatgo fromthe morecon-
servative(the slash in j/erepresentsthe divisionof the Lacanian subject)to the less
conservative(jle can be expressedby writingbut not by speech, representing Der-
rideandiffirance), and to theradicalfeminist("j/eis the symbolof thelived,rending
experiencewhichis m/ywriting,of thiscuttingin two whichthroughoutliterature
is the exerciseof a language whichdoes not constitutem/eas subject,"as Wittigis
reportedto have said in MargaretCrosland'sintroduction to the Beacon paperback
editionI own). Anotherreader,especiallyifa readerof sciencefiction,mightthink
ofJoannaRuss's brilliantlesbian-feminist novel, TheFemaleMan, whose protagonist
is a femalegenotypearticulatedacrossfourspacetimeprobabilities in fourcharacters
whose names all beginwithJ-Janet,Jeannine,Jael,Joanna-and whose sociosexual
practicescover the spectrumfromcelibacyand "politicallycorrect"monogamyto

26The concept of "subjective, cognitive practice" is elaborated in Wittig,"One Is Not Born a

Woman," FeministIssues 1:2 (1981): 47-54. I discuss it at some length in my "EccentricSubjects"
(note 8 above).
27MoniqueWittig,Les Gudrilleres,trans. David LeVay (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), 114.

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168 / Teresade Lauretis

live toys and the 1970s equivalent of s/m.28 What Wittig actually said in one of her
essays in the 1980s is perhaps even more extreme:
The bar in thej/eof TheLesbianBodyis a signof excess. A sign thathelps to imaginean
excess of "I," an "I" exalted."I" has become so powerfulin TheLesbianBodythatit can
attackthe orderof heterosexuality in textsand assault the so-calledlove, the heroesof
love,and lesbianizethem,lesbianizethesymbols,lesbianizethegods and thegoddesses,
lesbianizethemen and thewomen. This "I" can be destroyedin theattemptand resus-
citated.Nothingresiststhis"I" (orthistu[you],whichis itsname,itslove),whichspreads
itselfin the whole worldof thebook, likea lava flowthatnothingcan stop.29

Excess, an exaltation of the "I" through costume, performance, mise-en-scene, irony,

and uttermanipulation of appearance, is what Sue-Ellen Case sees in the discourse
of camp. If it is deplorable that the lesbian working-class bar culture of the 1950s
"went into the feministcloset" during the 1970s, when organizations such as the
Daughters of Bilitis encouraged lesbian identificationwith the more legitimatefem-
inist dress codes and upwardly mobile lifestyles,writes Case, "yet the closet, or the
bars, with theirhothouse atmosphere [have] given us camp - the style,the discourse,
the mise-en-scene of butch-femmeroles." In these roles, "recuperating the space of

the butch-femme couple inhabitthe subjectpositiontogether.... These are not split

subjects,suffering the tormentsof dominantideology.They are coupled ones thatdo
not impale themselveson the poles of sexual difference or metaphysicalvalues, but
constantly seduce thesignsystem,throughflirtation intothelightfondle
and inconstancy
replacingthe Lacanian slash witha lesbianbar.30
of artifice,

The question of address, of who produces cultural representations and forwhom

(in any medium, genre, or semiotic system, from writing to performance), 4nd of
who receives them and in what contexts, has been a major concern of feminismand
other critical theories of cultural marginality. In the visual arts, that concern has
focused on the notion of spectatorship,which has been centralto the feministcritique
of representation and the production of differentimages of difference,for example

28JoannaRuss, TheFemaleMan (New York:Bantam,1975).See also CatherineL. McClenahan,

"TextualPolitics:The Uses of Imagination in JoannaRuss's TheFemaleMan," Transactions ofthe
WisconsinAcademy ofSciences,ArtsandLetters 70 (1982):114-125.
29Monique Wittig, "The MarkofGender,"Feminist Issues5:2 (1985):71.
-3Sue-EllenCase, "Towards a Butch-Femme Aesthetic," in Feminist Perspectiveson Contemporary
Women's Drama,ed. LyndaHart(AnnArbor:University ofMichigan Press,forthcoming). Thebutch-
femmecouple,likeWittig's jle-tuand likethe s/m lesbian couple--all ofwhom, in theirrespective
are one thenameand thelove oftheother-proposea dual subjectthatbringsto
mindagainIrigaray's ThisSexWhich Is NotOne,thoughtheyall wouldadamantly denythelatter's
suggestionthata non-phallic eroticismmaybe tracedto thepreoedipalrelationto themother. One
has towonder,however,whether thedenialhas moreto do withthecommittedly heterosexual bias
ofneo-Freudian psychoanalysis and objectrelations theory, withtheirinability toworkthrough the
paradox of sexual(in)differenceon which they are founded but perhaps not destined to, or with
ourrejectionofthematernal bodywhichphallicrepresentation has utterlyalienatedfromwomen's
love,fromour desirefortheself-same, by colonizingit as the"darkcontinent" and so rendering
itat oncepowerlessand inaccessible to us and to all "others."

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in women's cinema.31 Recentwork in both filmand performancetheoryhas been

elaboratingthe film-theoretical
notionof spectatorshipwithregardto what may be
thespecificrelationsofhomosexualsubjectivity, in severaldirections.ElizabethElls-
worth,forone, surveyingthe receptionof PersonalBest(1982), a commercialman-
made filmabout a lesbianrelationshipbetweenathletes,foundthatlesbianfeminist
reviews of the filmadopted interpretive strategieswhich rejectedor altered the
meaningcarriedby conventional(Hollywood)codes ofnarrativerepresentation. For
example,theyredefinedwho was thefilm'sprotagonist or "objectofdesire,"ignored
the sectionsfocusedon heterosexualromance,disregardedthe actual ending and
speculated,instead,on a possible extratextual futureforthe charactersbeyond the
ending. Moreover, "some reviewers named and illicitlyeroticizedmomentsof the
film's'inadvertentlesbian verisimilitude'[in PatriceDonnelly's performance]. . .
codes of body language,facialexpression,use of voice, structuring and expression
ofdesireand assertionofstrength in thefaceofmale dominationand prerogative."32
While recognizinglimitsto this"oppositionalappropriation"of dominantrepre-
sentation,Ellsworthargues that the struggleover interpretation is a constitutive
process formarginalsubjectivities,as well as an importantformof resistance.But
when the marginalcommunityis directlyaddressed, in the contextof out-lesbian
performancesuch as the WOW Cafe or the SplitBritchesproductions,the appro-
priationseems to have no limits,to be directly"subversive,"to yield not merelya
site of interpretive
work and resistancebut a representation that requiresno in-
terpretiveeffortand is immediately,univocallylegible,signalling"the creationof
new imagery,new metaphors,and new conventionsthatcan be read, or givennew
meaning,by a veryspecificspectator."33
The assumptionbehind this view, as statedby Kate Davy, is thatsuch lesbian
performance "undercut[s]theheterosexualmodelby implyinga spectatorthatis not
the generic,universalmale, not the culturalconstruction'woman,' but lesbian-a
subjectdefinedin termsof sexual similarity . . . whose desirelies outside the fun-
damentalmodel or underpinningsof sexual difference" (47). Somehow,thisseems
too easy a solutionto the problemof spectatorship,and even less convincingas a
representation of"lesbiandesire."For,ifsexualsimilaritycould so unproblematically
replacesexualdifference,whywould thenew lesbiantheatreneed toinsiston gender,
ifonlyas "the residueof sexual difference"thatis, as Davy herselfinsists,wornin
the "stance,gesture,movement,mannerisms,voice, and dress" (48) of the butch-

31See,forexample, JudithMayne, "The Woman at the Keyhole: Women's Cinema and Feminist
Criticism,"and B. RubyRich, "FromRepressiveToleranceto EroticLiberation:Maedchenin Uniform,"
in Re-vision:Essaysin FeministFilmCriticism, ed. Mary Ann Doane, PatriciaMellencamp, and Linda
Williams(Frederick,Md.: UniversityPublicationsof Americaand the AmericanFilmInstitute,1984),
49-66 and 100-130; and Teresa de Lauretis, "RethinkingWomen's Cinema: Aestheticsand Feminist
Theory," in TechnologiesofGender,127-148.
32ElizabethEllsworth, "Illicit Pleasures: Feminist Spectators and PersonalBest," WideAngle 8:2
(1986): 54.
33KateDavy, "Constructingthe Spectator:Reception, Context,and Address in Lesbian Perform-
ance," Performing ArtsJournal10:2 (1986): 49.

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170 / Teresade Lauretis

femmeplay? Why would lesbian camp be taken up in theatricalperformance, as

Case suggests,to recuperatethatspace of seductionwhichhistorically
has been the
lesbian bar, and the LeftBank salon beforeit-spaces of daily-lifeperformance,
masquerade,cross-dressing, and practicesconstitutive
ofbothcommunity and sub-
In an essay on "The Dynamicsof Desire" in performance and pornography,Jill
Dolan assertsthatthereappropriation ofpornography in lesbianmagazines("a visual
space meantat leasttheoretically to be freeofmale subordination")offers"liberative
fantasies"and "representations of one kind of sexualitybased in lesbian desire,"
addingthatthe"maleforms"ofpornographic representation"acquirenew meanings
when theyare used to communicatedesire forreadersof a different gender and
sexual orientation."34 Again, as in Davy, the question of lesbian desire is begged;
and again the ways in which the new contextwould produce new meaningsor
"disrupttraditional meanings"(173) appear to be dependenton thepresumptionof
a unifiedlesbian viewer/reader, giftedwithundividedand non-contradictory sub-
jectivity,and everybit as generalizedand universalas the femalespectatorboth
Dolan and Davy impute(and rightly so) totheanti-pornography feminist
art. For,if all lesbians had one and the same definitionof "lesbian desire,"there
would hardlybe anydebateamongus, oranystruggleoverinterpretations ofcultural
images,especiallythe ones we produce.
What is meantby a termso crucialto the specificity and originality claimedfor
theseperformances and strategies is notan inappropriate
ofrepresentation, question,
then. When she addresses it at the end of her essay, Dolan writes:"Desire is not
necessarilya fixed,male-ownedcommodity,but can be exchanged,with a much
differentmeaning,betweenwomen" (173). Unless it can be takenas the ultimate
camp representation,thisnotionoflesbiandesireas commodityexchangeis rather
disturbing.For,unfortunately--or as the case may be--commodityex-
change does have the same meaning"betweenwomen" as betweenmen, by defi-
nition-thatis,byMarx'sdefinition ofthestructureofcapital.And so, ifthe"aesthetic
differencesbetweenculturalfeministand lesbianperformance art" are to be deter-
minedbythepresenceorabsenceofpornography, and todependon a "new meaning"
ofcommodityexchange,itis no wonderthatwe seem unableto getitoff(ourbacks)
even as we attemptto take it on.

Thekingdoes notcountlesbians
-Marilyn Frye,ThePoliticsofReality

The difficultyin definingan autonomousformof femalesexualityand desirein

thewake of a culturaltraditionstillPlatonic,stillgroundedin sexual (in)difference,
stillcaughtin the tropismof hommo-sexuality, is not to be overlookedor willfully

Dolan, "The Dynamics of Desire: Sexualityand Gender in Pornographyand Performance,"

TheatreJournal39:2 (1987): 171.

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WNBP 9~~
Nt. ~ i

...... .


Lois Weaverand SheilaDabneyin SheMustBe SeeingThings


bypassed. It is perhaps even greaterthan the difficulty in devisingstrategiesof

representation which will,in alter
turn, thestandard of vision,theframeofreference
of visibility,of whatcan be seen. For, undoubtedly,that is the projectof lesbian
performance, theatreand film,a projectthathas alreadyachieveda significantmea-
sureofsuccess,notonlyat theWOW Cafebutalso, to mentionjust a fewexamples,
in CherrieMoraga's teatro,GivingUp theGhost(1986), Sally Potter'sfilmTheGold
Diggers(1983), or Sheila McLaughlin'sShe Must Be SeeingThings(1987). My point
hereis thatredefining theconditionsofvision,as well as themodes ofrepresenting,
cannot be predicatedon a single,undivided identityof performer and audience
(whetheras "lesbians"or "women"or "people ofcolor"or any othersinglecategory
constructedin oppositionto its dominantother,"heterosexualwomen," "men,"
"whites,"and so forth).
ConsiderMarilynFrye'ssuggestiveBrechtianparableabout our culture'sconcep-
tual reality("phallocraticreality")as a conventionalstage play, where the actors--
those committedto the performance/maintenance of thePlay, "the phallocraticloy-
alists"-visibly occupy the foreground, while stagehands-who providethe neces-
sary laborand framework forthe material (re)production ofthePlay--remaininvisible
in the background.What happens, she speculates,when the stagehands(women,
feminists) beginthinkingofthemselvesas actorsand tryto participatevisiblyin the
performance, attentionto theiractivitiesand theirown role in the play?
The loyalistscannotconceivethatanyone in the audience may see or focustheir
attentionon thestagehands'projectsin thebackground,and thusbecome "disloyal"

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172 / Teresa de Lauretis


SheilaDabneyin SheMustBe SeeingThings


to the Play, or, as AdrienneRich has put it, "disloyalto civilization."35

Well, Frye
suggests,thereare some people in the audience who do see what the conceptual
systemofheterosexuality, thePlay's performance, attemptsto keep invisible.These
are lesbian people, who can see it because theirown realityis not representedor
even surmisedin the Play, and who therefore reorienttheirattentiontoward the
background, spaces, activities
and figures women elidedby theperformance.
But "attentionis a kind of passion" that"fixesand directsthe applicationof one's
physicaland emotionalwork":
If thelesbiansees thewomen,thewomanmaysee thelesbianseeingher.Withthis,
thereis a floweringofpossibilities.The woman,feelingherselfseen, maylearnthatshe
can be seen; she may also be able to know thata woman can see, thatis, can author
perception..... The lesbian'sseeingundercutsthemechanismby whichthe production
and constantreproduction of heterosexuality
forwomen was to be renderedautomatic.

And thisis wherewe are now, as thecriticalreconsideration

of lesbianhistorypast
and presentis doingforfeministtheorywhat Pirandello,Brecht,and othersdid for
the bourgeoistheatreconventions,and avant-gardefilmmakers have done forHol-

35"To Be andBeSeen,"inMarilyn
New York:The CrossingPress,1983),166-173;AdrienneRich,"Disloyalto Civilization: Feminism,
Racism, Gynephobia," in On Lies, Secrets,and Silence:SelectedProse 1966-1978 (New York: Norton,

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lywood cinema;thelatter,however,have notjust disappeared,muchas one would

wish theyhad. So, too, have the conventionsof seeing,and the relationsof desire
and meaningin spectatorship, remainedpartiallyanchoredor containedby a frame
thatis stillheterosexual,or hommo-sexual,and just as persistently
For instance,what are the "things"the Black/Latina protagonistof McLaughlin's
filmimaginesseeing, in her jealous fantasiesabout her white lover (althoughshe
does not "really"see them),ifnot thoseveryimages whichour culturalimaginary
and the whole historyof cinemahave constructedas the visible,what can be seen,
and eroticized?The originality of SheMust Be SeeingThingsis in its representing the
questionoflesbian desire in theseterms, as it engages thecontradictionsand complic-
itiesthathave emergedsubculturally, in bothdiscoursesand practices,throughthe
feminist-lesbian debateson sex-radicalimageryas a politicalissue ofrepresentation,
as well as real life.It may be interestingly contrastedwitha formallyconventional
filmlike Donna Deitch's DesertHearts(1986), where heterosexuality remains off
screen,in the diegeticbackground(in the character'spast), but is activelypresent
nonethelessin the spectatorialexpectationsset up by the genre(thelove story)and
thevisualpleasureprocuredbyconventionalcasting,cinematicnarrative procedures,
and commercialdistribution. In sum, one filmworkswithandagainsttheinstitutions
of heterosexuality and cinema,the otherworkswiththem.A similarpointcould be
made about certainfilmswithrespectto the novels theyderivefrom,such as The
ColorPurpleor Kiss oftheSpiderWoman,where the criticaland formalwork of the
novels againstthe social and sexual indifference builtintothe institution of heter-
osexuality altogethersuppressed and rendered invisibleby the films'compliance
with the apparatus of commercialcinema and its institutional drive to, precisely,
So whatcanbe seen? Even in feminist filmtheory,thecurrent"impasseregarding
femalespectatorship is relatedtotheblindspotoflesbianism,"PatriciaWhitesuggests
in her readingof UlrikeOttinger'sfilmMadameX: An AbsoluteRuler(1977).36 That
film,she argues,on thecontrary, displaces theassumption"thatfeminismfindsits
audience 'naturally'"(95); it does so by addressingthe femalespectatorthrough
specificscenariosand "figuresof spectatorialdesire"and "trans-sexidentification,"
throughfiguresof transvestismand masquerade. And the positionthe filmthus
constructsforits spectatoris not one ofessentialfemininity or impossiblemasculin-
ization(as proposedbyMaryAnnDoane and Laura Mulvey,respectively), butrather
a positionofmarginality or "deviance"vis-a-vis thenormativeheterosexualframeof
Once again, what canbe seen? "When I go intoa store,people see a blackperson
and only incidentallya woman," writesJewelleGomez, a writerof science fiction

36PatriciaWhite, "Madame X of the China Seas," Screen28:4 (1987): 82.

"3The two essays discussed are Mary Ann Doane, "Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the
Female Spectator,"Screen23:3-4 (1982): 74-87, and Laura Mulvey, "Afterthoughtson 'Visual Pleasure
and Narrative Cinema' Inspired by Duel in the Sun," Framework 15/16/17(1981): 12-15. Another
interestingdiscussion of the notion of masquerade in lesbian representationmay be found in Sue-
Ellen Case, "Toward a Butch-FemmeAesthetic."

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174 / Teresade Lauretis

and authorof at least one vampirestoryabout a blacklesbian blues singernamed

Gilda. "In an UpperWestSide apartmentbuildinglateat nightwhen a whitewoman
refusesto get on an elevatorwithme, it's because I am black.She sees a muggeras
describedon thelate nightnews, notanotherwoman as nervousto be out alone as
she is.""38Ifmysuspicionthatsocialand sexualindifference are neverfarbehindone
fromtheotheris notjust an effectofparanoia,itis quitepossiblethat,in thesecond
setting,the elevatorat night,what a whitewoman sees superimposedon theblack
image of themuggeris the male image of the dyke,and bothof these togetherare
whatpreventsthewhitewomanfromseeingtheotherone likeherself.Nevertheless,
Gomez pointsout, "I can pass as straight,ifby some bizarreturnofeventsI should
want to . . . but I cannotpass as whitein this society."Clearly,the veryissue of
passing,acrossany boundaryof social division,is relatedquite closelyto the frame
of vision and the conditionsof representation.

"Passing demandsquiet. And fromthatquiet-silence," writesMichelleCliff.39It

is "a dual masquerade--passingstraight/passinglesbian [that]enervatesand con-
tributesto speechlessness--tospeak mightbe to reveal."40However,and paradox-
icallyagain, speechlessnesscan onlybe overcome,and her "journeyinto speech"
begin,by "claimingan identitytheytaughtme to despise"; thatis, by passingblack
"againsta historyof forcedfluency,"a historyof passing white.41The dual mas-
querade, her writingsuggests,is at once the conditionof speechlessnessand of
overcomingspeechlessness,forthe latteroccursby recognizingand representing
thedivisionin theself,thedifferenceand thedisplacementfromwhichany identity
thatneeds to be claimedderives,and hence can be claimedonly,in Lorde's words,
as "the veryhouse of difference."
Those divisionsand displacementsin history,memory,and desireare the "ghost"
thatMoraga's characterswant to but cannotaltogethergive up. The divisionof the
Chicana lesbian Marisa/Corky fromthe Mexican Amalia, whose desire cannot be
redefinedoutside the heterosexualimaginaryof her culture,is also the divisionof
Marisa/Corky fromherself,thesplitproducedin the girlCorkyby sexual and social
indifference,and byherinternalizationofa notionofhommo-sexuality whichMarisa
now lives as a wound, an infinitedistancebetweenher femalebody and her desire
forwomen. If "the realizationof shared oppressionon the basis of being women
and Chicanas holds the promiseof a communityof Chicanas, both lesbians and
heterosexual,"YvonneYarbro-Bejarano states,nevertheless"thestructure
does not move neatlyfrompain to promise,"and the divisionswithinthemremain

38Jewelle Gomez, "Repeat AfterMe: We Are Different.We Are the Same," ReviewofLaw and Social
Change14:4 (1986): 939. Her vampire storyis "No Day Too Long," in WorldsApart:An Anthology of
Lesbianand GayScienceFictionand Fantasy,ed. Camilla Decarnin, EricGarber,and Lyn Paleo (Boston:
Alyson Publications,1986), 215-223.
39"Passing,"in Michelle Cliff,TheLand ofLookBehind(Ithaca: FirebrandBooks, 1985), 22.
40MichelleCliff,"Notes on Speechlessness," SinisterWisdom5 (1978): 7.
41MichelleCliff,"A JourneyintoSpeech" and "Claiming an IdentityThey Taught Me to Despise,"
both in The Land of LookBehind,11-17 and 40-47; see also her novel No TelephoneTo Heaven (New
York: E. P. Dutton, 1987).

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unresolved.42The characterMarisa, however,I would add, has moved away from

the hommo-sexuality of Corky(her youngerself at age 11 and 17); and with the
ambiguous characterofAmalia,who loved a man almostas ifhe were a woman and
who can love Marisa only when she (Amalia) is no longerone, the play itselfhas
movedaway fromany simpleoppositionof "lesbian"to "heterosexual"and intothe
conceptualand experientialcontinuumofa female,Chicanasubjectivity fromwhere
the question of lesbian desire must finallybe posed. The play ends with that
question-which is at once its outcomeand its achievement,its dxito.

Whatto do withthefeminine

Surveyingthe classic literatureon inversion,Newton notes thatRadclyffe Hall's

"visionof lesbianismas sexual difference and as masculinity," and her "conviction
thatsexual desire must be male," both assented to and soughtto counterthe so-
ciomedicaldiscoursesoftheearlytwentieth century."The notionofa feminine lesbian
contradicted thecongenitaltheorythatmanyhomosexualsin Hall's era espoused to
counterthe demands thattheyundergopunishing'therapies'" (575). Perhapsthat
counter-demand led the novelistfurther to reduce the typologyof femaleinversion
(initiallyput forth by Krafft-Ebing comprisedoffourtypes,thenreducedto three
by Havelock Ellis) two:theinvertand the"normal"woman who misguidedlyfalls
in love withher. Hence the novel's emphasis on Stephen,while her loverMaryis
a "forgettable and inconsistent" characterwho in theend getsturnedoverto a man.
However, unlike Mary,Radclyffe Hall's real-lifeloverUna Troubridge"did not go
backto heterosexuality evenwhen Hall, latein herlife,tooka secondlover,"Newton
pointsout. Una would thenrepresentwhat The WellofLoneliness elided, the third
type of female invert, and the most troublesome forEllis: the "womanly"women
"to whom theactivelyinvertedwoman is mostattracted.These women differin the
firstplace fromnormalor averagewomenin that... theyseem topossess a genuine,
thoughnotpreciselysexual,preference forwomen overmen."43Therefore, Newton
concludes, "Mary's real story has yet to be told" (575), and a footnote after this
sentencerefersus to "twoimpressivebeginnings"ofwhatcouldbe Mary'srealstory,
told fromthe perspectiveof a self-identified, contemporary femme.44
The discourses,demands,and counter-demands thatinformlesbianidentityand
representation in the 1980sare morediverseand sociallyheterogeneousthanthose

42YvonneYarbro-Bejarano,"Cherrie Moraga's Givingup theGhost:The Representationof Female

Desire," ThirdWoman3: 1-2 (1986): 118-119. See also CherrieMoraga, GivingUp theGhost:Teatroin
Two Acts (Los Angeles: West End Press, 1986).
43HavelockEllis, "Sexual Inversion in Women," Alienistand Neurologist16 (1895): 141-158, cited
by Newton, "The MythicMannish Lesbian," 567.
44JoanNestle, "Butch-FemRelationships"(see note 13 above) and AmberHollibaugh and Cherrie
Moraga, "What We're Rollin' Around in Bed With," both in Heresies12 (1981): 21-24 and 58-62.

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176 / Teresade Lauretis


. r i

;-" ' ii?


LoisWeaverin SheMustBe SeeingThings


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of the firsthalfof thecentury.Theyinclude,mostnotably,the politicalconceptsof

oppressionand agencydeveloped in the strugglesof social movementssuch as the
women's movement,the gay liberationmovement,and thirdworld feminism,as
well as an awarenessoftheimportanceofdevelopinga theoryofsexualitythattakes
into account the workingof unconsciousprocesses in the constructionof female
subjectivity.But, as I have triedto argue, the discourses,demands, and counter-
demandsthatinform lesbianrepresentation
arestillunwittinglycaughtin theparadox
of socio-sexual(in)difference, oftenunable to thinkhomosexualityand hommo-
sexualityat once separatelyand together.Even today,in mostrepresentational con-
texts,Marywould be eitherpassinglesbianor passingstraight, her (homo)sexuality
beingin thelastinstancewhatcan notbe seen. Unless,as Newtonand otherssuggest,
she enterthe frameof visionas or witha lesbianin male body drag.45

manyof theideas developedin thisessay,I am indebtedto theotherparticipants

45For of the
seminaron LesbianHistoryand Theorysponsoredby the Boardin Studiesin
Historyof Consciousnessat theUniversityof California,
SantaCruz in Fall 1987.Forsupportof
variouskinds,personaland professional,
I thankKirstieMcClure,Donna Haraway,and Michael
Cowan,Dean ofHumanitiesand Arts.

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