Les Guérillères (pt. 2)
Oppression & technology
The previously mentioned example is not the only instance of the co-existence of both a lack of, and a distinct awareness of, knowledge regarding a particular object or subject. For example, there’s also how technology is treated in these prose tales.
Initially there’s the occasional reference to commonplace technology, although sometimes the tools described are fanciful extrapolations on current reality. Sometimes these tech and tools work just fine, and we have scenes of marketplaces, riverside ports, decorative toys, and some dwelling places… but other times the tools make mistakes which are simply acknowledged and ignored, or indifferently worked around.
Later, however, trades or industrial artifacts are revealed as something the women collect and burn, celebrating their destruction as a metaphorical annihilation of the cultures of men. Puzzlingly (at least in regards to the knowledge/ lack of knowledge/ destruction of technical tools), there is later an appearance of clearly industrially produced weaponry, just in time for the war against the men.
Some of the weapons are science fictional in nature, as are some of the actions of the warring women. Other times the women are referred to as mythic or legendary warriors defeating their dreadful (but never demonic) foes. On occasion the women advance as phalanxes of fierce and determined kite flyers across a grassy field, or bow-armed cavalry holding sheer mountainous passes.
These obviously hard-fought wars, however, seem to have curiously little consequence, at least in terms of any real blood, death, or destruction. There are occasional references to bodies or bleeding wounds, but it’s almost absently described, practically in passing. Indeed, some of the battles appear to be fought and won by the women entirely through nothing more than aggressive dance and chanting!
It’s noteworthy the women are careful not to battle men who aren’t their enemies, and they mourn the fallen men as they bury them. There are no references to dark Kali dancing in the entrails of those fallen to her power — the book’s deific references are much tidier, and in a way much less difficult or complex. The deities of choice here are all bright sun beings, or fierce warrior women who do not deign to stoop to the degrading tactics of their often confused or wretched and pitiably insecure male enemies.
Young men: child-like, or spoils of war?
Later verses reveal the “young men” happily rejoicing with the women post-battle, helping them in the solemn clean up and burial of the dead, entertaining and being romanced at parties, and so on. This would appear to imply the enemy is not men in general — just older men.
I was somewhat uncomfortable with this. Did the author mean to say only young men are mentally flexible enough to join in the bright, passionate correctness of the victorious women? Was she implying all male culture had no value or wisdom to learn from it? Did she think wrinkled old women are beautiful, but wrinkled old men are just ugly?
Perhaps she simply meant young men are more easily driven by their gonads, or that men are too insipid to provide the united front the women provided in battle. I don’t know… but I hope all these uncomfortable thoughts are wrong.
The book concludes with one last all-caps, free-form poem, which appears to sternly exhort violence against current understanding and meaning, and to re-write symbol and act in overthrow. Then, abruptly, the very last prose paragraph shifts pronoun tense from ‘they’ to ‘we,’ with ‘we’ women celebrating/mourning the fallen now the war is finally over.
The myth of the Trickster
The coexistent knowledge/lack of knowledge on several subjects in this book reminded me oddly of another mythic figure: Loki. In the ancient Norse myths he is a sort of helpful but hapless trickster, often caught and punished for his thoughtless pranks — and at the same time, in other stories, he is a malicious and malevolent agent for the destruction of all the worlds.
Until the tale of the Flyting of Loki, he spends far more time trying to be helpful to the big bruisers of Norse myth, and appreciated for his smarts, than he does working for wicked ends. He’s just a bit careless sometimes, acting before he thinks — and the consequences keep (sometimes literally) biting him in the end.
There are those who refer to the physically weak but clever tricksters as eternal sacrifices to brawny ignorance. If that is the case, it gives a fascinating perspective on Wittig’s story. Does she present the women as the trickster equivalent, trying to be helpful and liked at the same time as they are thoughtlessly disdained and scorned — until, driven by fury, they turn to attack and destroy that ignorance which they used to constantly fruitlessly attempt to appease?
I have read there are those who feel logic and rationality is a patriarchist tool. I do not agree; to state such is to generalize insultingly about how women — and men — are capable of thinking. Just as strongly, I feel there is a place for myth, art, mystery, and poetry in our lives, and these can speak on a different intellectual or emotional level than logic or spoken/written language. Indeed, in some cases I know various arts (such as music, for example) can speak far more powerfully, deeply, and lastingly than simple speech.
That being said, I personally differentiate between real myth and modern fairy tale. A true myth speaks to something deep within us, exploring the fearsome and beautiful potential within us all. Glories won are commensurate with the personal sacrifices of mythic heroines.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a really mythic feel from this book. There were many references to myth, true, and some sensual/dreamy prose poetry, which is a classic form for some myths. However, the book read more like a modern fairy tale to me; real sacrifice appeared to be almost superfluous to the story. The women won the war, true, but it felt rather deux et machina; of it being a foregone conclusion and we all lived happily ever after the end isn’t that nice.
With no real sacrifice, how can there be any true victory? I think this is why the flow and the ending of the story felt hollow and artsy to me. I believe it is significant that the two verses which really sang to me were both descriptions of the conflict — not of its conclusion.