Louise Cotnoir: Dreams for Human Brains

theory-croppedThe Subjecte of Interest [1]

To want a woman-subject is to place oneself in a constant state of provocation and aggression: it is to speak of the future because the present literally kills. For those who manage to escape the massacre, the alternative within the patriarchal order is an absolute choice of either prison or exile. Banishment has “force of law.” The visibility of women can only be achieved by taking action against themselves, against other women. In order to trouble the social body of language, it cannot be otherwise. The parentheses that tentatively mark me inevitably deliver me over to the forceps. Circumscribed brains. How, then, can one achieve a credible identity in this permanent conspiracy in which I have to seek out a reality that would authorize me as “woman”? I am unproven. Put on trial though myself victim, I have to either use the synthesis of refutation or plead the benefit of the doubt. I must pass through the theoretical framing of my defendant body:

To theorize, like a man, or else not to write, like a woman.
&nbsp& Barbara Cassin [2]

Each time “I” speak in her name, she elicits atavistic hatreds, or feels herself to be doubled. Eclipsed, off to the side, in a language seven times returned, she sketches out an outline of “her subjecte of interest” with each new edition (apparition). SheS. But her letters are easily dismissible, and so each time she speaks she has to refuse to cede, to be the first one to nod her head, disobedient:

 I have no other subject that that which gives depth to the subject-woman that I am.
&nbsp&Nicole Brossard [3]

Theory, a story I tell so that the world changes in my favor, so that it swerves before my eyes. But how can I have confidence in myself when I am not even sure of my words? Right now the subjecte’s expression manifests itself in revolt, in an existential protest. Writing becomes the territory where “I” can take place, a strong place, whenever I affirm myself as a representative [répresentante] of the human race. In History I am the unreadable, the shadow, the void. Against the symbolic veneer of the alleged real that grounds male legitimacy, we oppose the force of our resistance:

It turned out that feminism owed it to itself to be resolutely iconoclastic.
&nbsp&Christine Delphy [4]

To explode, to shatter dominant and ossified representations, and at the same time propose something there where everything asserts that there is nothing. A “theorizing” that would be a non-totalizing, non-despotic way of organizing. I see horrifying conceptions of the world, how and why they massacre me. The woman-subject cannot exist without changing the registers and the forms of the real. To invent the language of a knowledge based on de-categorized emotion. May our suffering be vindictive rather than expiatory, may the bets be staked on an imagined reality. A challenge worthy of us. Unthinkable. Signs we have to trace:

A woman’s stance is a political stance (whether or not she wants it to be).
&nbsp&Emmanuèle de Lesseps [5]

I assume the future because there is writing, a way of capturing and transforming reality. Language is not immutable. A dead language would be utterly useless, with no force whatsoever. Thus it should be possible to make language move differently, to create with it a new reality in which the woman-subject takes the form we give her. So I write to take action against myself, because reality will never change itself if WOMAN-I don’t, myself, alter its representation. I never modify the plot: I write the precise scenario of that which I am. My image. Right now I can only see it in profile. There’s no perspective. But nor can I wash my hands of the question of the subject. To appeal, then, to overcoming, to dazzlement:

“Who am I” implies a need. But how does one satisfy this need? If one seeks, it’s because something is missing.
&nbsp&Clarice Lispector [6]

I no longer know what, or how, to think. Even suppose I managed to shake off my thirty-nine years of mental conditioning, suppose I could erase twenty centuries of History, suppose I wanted to walk in my own footsteps¼ I have to apply myself to the study of me, so to speak. But with what words, and what is there to say about it? It’s not enough to just wipe the slate clean; first I have to become adequate to the task. But with what, with whom do I start? Must I build something out of scraps? Make a unified construction out of this fragmented life? An idea scrambled like eggs:

Through their repetition, words gradually lose their
meaning, and the pain they carry within themselves abates.
&nbsp&
Agota Kristof [7]

Omissions, shocks, setbacks. I emerge illegitimate [bâtarde] with a lifelong sorrow that weighs down on me. This daily infirmity. But what is the reality? Whenever I speak woman, it is nightmarish. It’s as if someone put all the atrocities of all the wars in a single photograph. And night falls right in the middle of the page where the questions of writing me, integrating me, going through my life, becoming my own objective, posit themselves as extravagant reflections. Everything is true, provisionally:

I am put in the question. Where I am totally alone. And where it is so cold.
&nbsp&Denise Le Dantec [8]

If I want to reflect on woman (i.e., think, seek, cogitate, concentrate on, deliberate, meditate), I am confronted from the start with a representation (i.e., with that which is painted, sculpted, written) that the hostile environment gives of myself, a woman. Confronted, because this representation is an attack on my woman-integrity by making of me an object, uniquely. To think woman is to want to make oneself believable as a subjecte. I am not a function, I am not a predicated noun. What am I? A subject, a feminist who is looking for herself as SUBJECTE — which requires a credible, verifiable identity. When I go AGAINST the real, against this representation, I am going against sexist propaganda. My action is a form of intervention. I am a pariah, a nomad/e, a rebelle. I have nothing to offer but intuitive parameters to try to grasp the real that is imposed upon me. I have to reject this real, simultaneously resisting with my defendant body the disappearance to which it condemns me. I keep myself in a state of permanent metamorphosis: the being that I am-becoming-mutant/e. I can no longer think of myself as woman (i.e., a legitimate, valid, and positive representation) except in terms of a fictitious intellection of the world.

Writing, because it never completely conforms to reality (just the opposite), is the place where “I” woman can “exist” per s(h)e. The subjecte-object of what I write. I give body to the feminine, a writing of the body’s thinking. In this sense, I am a real fictitious.

 translated by Erica Weitzman

This excerpt from Louise Cotnoir’s “Dreams of Human Brains” in Theory, A Sunday is posted with permission from *belladonna. Watch for excerpts from Theory, A Sunday to come over the next six weeks and save the date, October 16th, for a celebration of Quebec Women’s Writing at Concordia University. More to come, and please, we welcome comments, discussions, elaborations and entanglements below.


[1] Translator’s note: Here and throughout her text, Cotnoir is playing on the French language’s necessity to gender all nouns (and adjectives). For example, the title of Cotnoir’s piece also chooses the feminine “cervelles” in place of the masculine, “cerveaux,” words theoretically interchangeable, but with an obvious difference. Here,”sujet,” the normal word for “subject,” is masculine; “sujète” is thus a feminization of this term. Because nouns in the English language, for better and for worse, generally have no grammatical gender, my own rendering of Cotnoir’s invented word, “subjecte,” is a far more artificial construction.

[2] Cassin, Barbara. “Code code code codé.” Sorcières 12 1978: 7.

[3] Brossard, Nicole. “Prendre la parole quand on est femme.” Québec français 47 Oct. 1982: 31.

[4] Delphy, Christine. “Libération des femmes an dix.” Questions féministes 17 Feb. 1980: 12.

[5] Lesseps, Emmanuèle de. “Le fait féminin : et moi ?” Questions féministes 5 Feb. 1979: 15.

[6] Lispector, Clarice. L’Heure de l’étoile. Paris: Des femmes, 1984. 19.

[7] Kristof, Agota. Le Grand Cahier. Paris: Seuil, 1987. 25.

[8] Le Dantec, Denise. Le Jour, notes pour un scénario imaginaire. Paris: Des femmes, 1975. 35.

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