Dangerous and Endangered: Female Bodies in Contemporary French Studies
Bostow, Raquelle Kathleen
This study explores the depiction of female bodies in three works of francophone literature in the late 20th and 21st centuries: Standard (2014) by Nina Bouraoui, Sitt Marie Rose (1977) by Etel Adnan, and La répudiée (2000) by Eliette Abécassis. The specific thesis of my work is that the main characters of study—Marlène, Marie-Rose, and Rachel—are portrayed as both dangerous and endangered, a characterization that is intrinsically tied to societal expectations for female anatomy and feminine gender. Through this dangerous/endangered paradigm, I assert that their imagined capacity to cause harm ultimately places them in figurative and literal states of danger. While the novels under study address vastly different narratives about sexual relations, each furthers the exploration of the dangerous/endangered paradigm through the myth of Medusa. I use the Roman account of the Medusa myth, and French author Hélène Cixous’s poetic rewriting of it, while critically examining how other layers of identity, including race, religion, and nationality, inform the depiction of the mythical Medusa and these “dangerous” female characters in their respective textual environments. Using primarily the lenses of Hélène Cixous’s writing on sexual difference from 1975 to 2015 and Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytic notion of the “abject,” I examine the dangerous/endangered paradigm in various contexts: a contemporary Parisian suburb, the postcolonial intra-state war of Lebanon, and an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Israel. By emphasizing the Medusa myth and Cixous’s rehabilitation of it, I insist on the contemporary pertinence of Medusa as a representation of death that continues to pose a danger to masculine identities. Through Cixous’s writings on sexual difference, which I also explore as “queer,” I argue that the female characters in this dissertation challenge rigid, patriarchal conceptualizations of sexual difference. Ultimately, I accentuate that Medusa’s resilience has roots within her etymology, which Cixous highlights in a 2015 interview: in the M-E-D, there is a female body that demands justice, and that thinks, criticizes, and meditates.