The Tangible Word

by France Theoret, Barbara Godard,
161 pages,
ISBN: 092071756X

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A Concert of Voices
by Eileen Manion

IN THIS BOOK, Barbara Godard has collected and translated four important texts -"Bloody Mary," "A Voice for Odile," "Vertigoes," and "Of Necessity a Whore" - France Theoret, all of which were published in French between 1977 and 1983. Since very little of Theoret's work has previously been available in English, The Tangible Word, with Godard's lucid preface, will make a useful introduction to Theoret's work for English readers.

All these texts engage with the problem of how a woman writer can find her own voice in a world where women are either silenced by direct prohibition ("Girls were made to wash diapers") or blocked by icons of Woman ("Holy Mary ... Monument to the glory of the son") "Bloody Mary" makes Theoret's project clear: she must break with the voice of the good little girl taught to forget the bloody manifestations of her body; and she must transgress conventional grammar and syntax in order to construct and assert her own reality. This must be done despite the pain, the confusion: "as if it were possible for sentences to begin at the end as if there were a gap like there's a hole in my body from where I could turn my skin inside out."

In "A Voice for Odile," the longest of the four texts, the narrator struggles to move from object ("Even the female body is to be kept looked at until death!') to subject ("Happily everybody says I but almost nobody hears I"). Despite her fear of madness, she begins to define her intent:

Neither a script learned by heart, nor pure spontaneity, these are fragments between fiction and theory, and engaged as 1 am with flow, passage, existence, the repressed, unthought, negativity, the near side of the world, our only strength, to express it.

The narrator of "Vertigoes" is plagued by "a concert of voices" - political slogans of the right and left that distract her: "To have them all in the head, each one contradicting the other and slicing through each other's errors." In a world dominated by violence, she insists on her need to "speak alienated dispossessed woman I translate my body from a few generations ago rural and proletarized." " The narrator in "Of Necessity a Whore" speaks of herself as "the old little girl" To escape the servicing roles ascribed to her, she must "try to know what I know. To awaken the active side."

Theoret's texts do not make easy reading, not only because of the abrupt transitions and the departures from conventional rhetorical strategies, but also because her narrators speak so intensely and so bitterly. They speak as women damaged by patriarchy, unsure of themselves, but determined to say what has been unspeakable: "A wild longing compels my life. This longing, wild desire shows me the unthought everywhere."


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