Namascar Shaktini: Année du CORPS LESBIEN suivi de "Quelques remarques sur LE CORPS LESBIEN" par Monique Wittig

Celebrating The 2023 French Edition Of THE LESBIAN BODY Followed By "Some Remarks On THE LESBIAN BODY" By Monique Wittig

Namascar Shaktini celebrating 80th birthday

Born: Margaret Clarice Orr
8 January 1939 Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Education: University of California Berkeley; PhD in the History of Consciousness, University of California at Santa Cruz
Occupation(s): Academic, Author, Activist
Known for: 1970-71Activism in the MLF (French women’s liberation movement) and the FHAR (French gay liberation movement)
LIRE MONIQUE WITTIG AUJOURD’HUI Benoît Auclerc, Yannick Chevalier

Presses universitaires de Lyon 2012 (OpenEdition) Présentation des auteur.e.s

Namascar Shaktini, qui portait à l’époque le nom de son ex-mari, Margaret Stephenson, a vécu en France de 1967 à 1971. Elle a étudié à la Sorbonne et à l’École pratique des hautes études où elle a notamment suivi le séminaire de Barthes surS/Z. Elle a milité dès le début du mouvement de libération des femmes. « L’Américaine non identifiée » par la presse lors de l’action devant l’Arc de Triomphe le 26 août 1970, aux côtés de Monique Wittig et de Christiane Rochefort, c’est elle. La fondatrice du groupe des Polymorphes perverses, dédié à l’étude de la « politique sexuelle » à partir des textes de Freud et de Marcuse, c’est encore elle. De retour aux États-Unis, Margaret Stephenson décide de s’identifier autrement que filialement ou maritalement. C’est donc sous le nom de Namascar Shaktini qu’elle entre à l’Université de Californie de Santa Cruz où elle soutient en 1981 son doctorat en histoire de la conscience. Elle a enseigné en Californie, en Oregon et en Floride où elle est actuellement professeur de littérature française à la Florida Atlantic University. Elle a publié de nombreux articles consacrés à Monique Wittig et a notamment dirigé le volumeOn Monique Wittig. Theoretical, Political, and Literary Essays (University of Illinois Press, 2005).

Yannick Chevalier est maître de conférences en stylistique française à l’Université Lumière Lyon 2, pp 306-307

About Namascar Shaktini.

Namascar Shaktini was born Margaret Clarice Orr on January 8, 1939 in Atlanta, GA to Edgar Orr, an Atlanta photographer, and Clarice Orr, on her 32nd birthday.

She is an American academic, professor of French and comparative literature who also played an important role in the creation of the French Women’s Liberation Movement (known as the MLF) as well as the FHAR (French gay liberation movement) while she was carrying out her doctoral research in Paris under the direction of Roland Barthes. Her professional publications, all focused on French lesbian feminist writer Monique Wittig, began with her Ph.D dissertation, The Problem of Gender and Subjectivity Posed by the New Subject Pronoun, “j/e,” in the Writing of Monique Wittig[1]. She published a widely cited collection of critical esssays, On Monique Wittig: Theoretical, Political, and Literary Essays edited by Namascar Shaktini[2]. According to one reviewer, “The achievement of this book is at least twofold. First, it argues convincingly against the previously dominant reading of Wittig that cast her as an essentialist, a humanist, and a lesbian separatist. Second, it successfully demonstrates that Wittig’s subversive writing is fundamentally engaged in a project ‘to investigate and expose the oppressive relation between gender and subjectivity in our shared language and culture (xi)’[3]. In a widely cited article, “Displacing the Phallic Subject: Wittig’s Lesbian Writing”[4], Shaktini claims that “Wittig’s reorganization of metaphor around the lesbian body represents an epistemological shift from what seemed until recently the absolute, central metaphor — the phallus (29).” The article focuses on Wittig’s “lesbianization” of mythical figures, where even the central figure of the “male Christ… is replaced by Christa the much-crucified” (41). Citing Shaktini,  Gillian Townsley claims, “the most striking image of the ‘lesbianized persona of Christ’ is found in poem 82, [of Wittig’s The Lesbian Body] where the setting is a combined Golgotha/Gethsemane scene ‘stripped of its phallic signifiers’.”[5] In addressing the frequent misreading by Anglo-American feminists of Wittig’s experimental book, Townsley says: 

“Finally, it is appropriate to consider the comments of Shaktini, renowned Wittig authority and compeer. She suggests that one reason why Anglo- American feminists have misread Wittig is that they have not paid enough attention to her self acknowledged debt to the French linguist Emile Benveniste and his theory of the speaking subject.[6] In brief, Benveniste considers the way in which the speaker voices their subjectivity as an ‘I’ and posits the indeterminateness of this ‘I’ as follows: There is no concept ‘I’ that incorporates all the Is that are uttered at every moment in the mouths of all speakers…. It is a term that cannot be identified except in … an instance of discourse and that has only a momentary reference. [I and you] do not refer to ‘reality’ or to ‘objective’ positions in space or time but to the utterance, unique each time, that contains them…. 

[They are] ’empty’ signs that are nonreferential with respect to ‘reality’.[7] Shaktini thus makes the connection between Benveniste’s ‘I’ and Wittig’s lesbian in that they are both ’empty signs’ able to be filled only in specific instances of discourse.[8]” (my emphasis)

Education and Personal Life

Margaret Orr began her BA at the U of KY in 1956. She married Rev. Howard Willis Stephenson, III in 1958, changing her name to Margaret Stephenson, and divorcing in Reno, NV in 1961. She studied for the MA in Comp Lit at UC Berkeley, 1964-66 during the Free Speech Movement and Vietnam war protests. She studied in Italy 1966-67 and in France 1967-71. She began doctoral studies at the Sorbonne and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes where she attended Roland Barthes‘s S/Z seminar and researched Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt in the French theater under Barthes’s direction. Discussions there widely accepted Claude Lévi-Strauss‘s view of the exchange of women by men as forming the basic structure of (patriarchal) society[9]. The idea of Emile Benveniste, then a professor at the Collège de France, that the concept of subjectivity is nothing other than subjectivity in language was current there at the very time that Benveniste, ironically, suffered a stroke leaving him without the power of speech for the remainder of his life. Having become radicalized as a militant materialist lesbian feminist, Margaret Stephenson returned to California in 1971, where she lived an itinerate life until 1974 when she changed her name to Namascar Shaktini and entered the History of Consciousness doctoral program at UC, Santa Cruz where she co-founded the “Feminist Subgroup” and, after struggling with the institutional sexism, was finally awarded the Ph.D in 1981.

Activism in Paris

Manifesto and Vincennes demonstration

Manifesto, First Published as “Combat pour la liberation de la femme”

Monique Wittig, in an interview (“Monique Wittig raconte” Prochoix no. 46  Dec. 2008, pp 63-76), refers to her friend’s taken name, Shaktini, as well as her former married name, Stephenson (69), as she recounts the American’s arrival and participation (69-70, 72) in the group of women who would become the French Women’s Liberation Movement (Mouvement de Libération des Femmes, known in France as the MLF). Wittig discusses the origins of the writing and signing of its manifesto, “Pour un Mouvement de Libération des Femmes,” (For a Movement of Women’s Liberation) whose title was changed by the editor to “Combat pour la Libération de la Femme” (Combat for the Liberation of Woman) Idiot International, May 1970 pp 13-16). This first published text of the MLF was signed by herself, her sister Gille, Marcia Rothenberg and Margaret Stephenson (67, 74) — the four who also set their first demonstration at the University of Paris at Vincennes where the Manifesto would be distributed (72). Shaktini later translated and introduced the manifesto in her edited volume (Shaktini, 2005 pp 15-34).[10]  Marie-Jo Bonnet in her book, Mon MLF, also describes Shaktini’s early role in the MLF: “Margaret… is one of the quasi-founders since she signed Wittig’s article… with Gille Wittig and Marcia Rothenberg…. It catalized the mobilisation of the first ones who had a raised consciousness.[11]

Arrest at the Arch of Triumph Demonstration

She also participated in the laying of a wreath ironically dedicated to “The one more unknown than the soldier, his wife” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arch of Triumph. According to Bonnet,

this action marked our solidarity with the women on strike who celebrated in New York the fifty year anniversary of the right to vote…. Christine [Delphy] led the procession [carrying the wreath] ahead of eight other women, Cathy Bernheim, Julie Dassin, Emmanuèle de Lesseps, Christiane Rochefort, Margaret Stephenson, Monique Wittig, Anne Zelensky, Monique Bourroux and Janine Sert.[12][13]

Feminist origins of the French Gay Liberation Movement and Shaktini’s role

After her arrest and subsequent interrogation at the Préfecture, Shaktini withdrew from the ongoing central actions of the MLF, and in late fall 1970 founded a small MLF sub-group, “Perverse Polymorphes,” to study the theories of sexuality of Freud and Herbert Marcuse.[14] Anne-Marie Grélois, and her partner, Maryse Valat, were early members of this group and were also affiliated with the French homophile society, Arcadie (11,000 men, 350 women). Marie-Jo Bonnet, who joined the group the following February, provides a full discussion of the group and its role in forming an alliance between homosexual men and the women of the MLF — an alliance that would lead to the formation of the revolutionary gay liberation movement in France. Anne-Marie Grélois, her partner Maryse Valat, Marie-Jo Bonnet, and Margaret Stephenson organized the first meeting of the women of Arcadie at the end of Feb 1971, attended by some fifty women. The contact made there with a few politicized men, including Pierre Hahn and Guy Hocquenghem led five days later to the first joint action.[15][16][17]

The MLF was calling for protest of a meeting of the anti abortion movement, “Laissez-les vivre” (let them live), to be held at Maubert Mutualité. “The boys want to come with us” writes Bonnet…. “On March 5, 1971 all the women of the MLF are present in the great hall of the Mutualité…. The orators can’t stop the tumult, so the security officers decide to attack them, throwing out the boys, one by one, dragging them outside at the feet of the riot police.”[18]

“To recover from our emotions, we meet in Margaret’s little room which is just above the Mutuality. We toast to the victory while eating our sausages.”[19]

Bonnet cites Hocquenghem giving ample credit to the 1971 Feminist Origins of the French Gay Liberation Movement:

‘It is women,’ Guy Hocquenghem will remember the following year in a remarkable text, ‘The Homosexual revolt targets the patriarchal, capitalist family. It announces itself from the beginning at the side of women.’ He goes on to write ‘It’s no mystery for anyone that women had a predominant role in the creation of the FHAR. The MLF was the inspiration of our movement in its beginnings and perhaps there would never have been a beginning if women had not themselves begun. We copied their style and their functioning.’[20]

Guy Hocquenghem and other leaders of the FHAR published a collection of anonymous texts including a white paper by Shaktini, summarized and discussed at length by Marie-Jo Bonnet:  “Like Margaret, I think that homosexuality is in itself revolutionary…. In June [1971], Margaret published her ‘Some Reflections on Lesbianism as a Revolutionary Position’ in Rapport contre la normalité (report against normality)” (Bonnet, 85-86).[21]  [22]


1.     University of California, Santa Cruz, 1981.

2.     Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005.

3.     Salah Khan, “On Monique Wittig: Theoretical, Political, and Literary Essays ed. by Namascar Shaktini ” (review) Women in French Studies, Vol 15, 2007, Published by Women in French Association, pp. 132-33.” (Project MUSE › article.

4.     SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol 8, No 1, Autumn 1982, pp 29-44. 

5.     “Shaktini, [“Displacing the Phallic Subject”], p 41″ [in] Gillian Townsley, The Straight Mind in Corinth: Queer Readings Across 1 Corinthians 11:2-16Semeia Studies No 88, SBL Press, 2017, p 233.

6.     “Shaktini, 2005,” 156″.

7.     Townsley thus summarizes Benveniste’s concept of subjectivity in Problems, 226, 219.  

8.    Shaktini ([“The Critical Mind and the Lesbian Body” in Shaktini, On Monique Wittig], p 157). Cited in Gillian Townsley, The Straight Mind in Corinth: Queer Readings Across 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, (SBL Press, Atlanta: 2017) p 109.

9.     “The emergence of symbolic thought must have required that women, like words, should be things that were exchanged.” Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (Boston: Beacon, 1969) p 496.

10.  The English manifesto is also accessible online at where she gives her own account of her arrival and participation in the beginning of the MLF with Wittig ( I Met Monique Wittig)

11.  Margaret …. est l’une des quasi-fondatrices puisqu’elle a signé l’article de Monique Wittig, « Combat pour la libération de la femme » avec Gille Wittig et Marcia Rothenberg. Il est paru dans L’Idiot international en avril (sic) 1970 et a catalysé la mobilisation des premières éveillées. (Bonnet, Marie-Jo. Mon MLF (French Edition) Albin Michel. Kindle Edition. « Combat pour la libération de la femme – Par-delà la libération-gadget elles découvrent la lutte de classe », L’Idiot international, avril (sic) 1970, p 23,  Note p 31.

12.  Elle a aussi participé à l’action de l’Arc de triomphe, le 26 août [1970], en hommage à la femme inconnue du soldat inconnu. Il s’agissait de marquer le coup en exprimant notre solidarité avec les Américaines en grève qui célébraient à New York les cinquante ans du droit de vote. « Il y a plus inconnu que le soldat inconnu, sa femme »…. Christine ouvrait la marche devant huit autres femmes: Cathy Bernheim, Julie Dassin, Emmanuèle de Lesseps, Christine Delphy, Christiane Rochefort, Margaret Stephenson, Monique Wittig, Anne Zelensky, Monique Bourroux et Janine Sert. (Bonnet, pp 23-24, 31-32).

13.  Bonnet cites one of the newspaper headlines: “A small commando in skirts did not succeed in laying their flowers under the Arch of Triumph.” (« Un petit commando en jupons n’a pas réussi à déposer ses fleurs sous l’Arc de triomphe », France Soir, 27 août (August 27) 1970, Note p. 31

14.  Bonnet provides a detailed discussion of the study group, Perverse Polymorphes: “Les Polymorphes perverses:
Nous sommes une dizaine de femmes attirées par le thème proposé par Margaret…. Margaret Stephenson est à l’initiative du groupe…. Elle séjourne en France grâce à une bourse d’études de deux ans. Elle… a un goût prononcé pour la théorisation de la révolution sexuelle. C’est son objectif déclaré : lire Herbert Marcuse avec nous, l’auteur de L’Homme unidimensionnel traduit en français par Monique Wittig et l’auteur en 1968…. Margaret a déjà une expérience de plusieurs mois au sein du mouvement…. Comme Margaret a une petite chambre rue Valette, dans le Ve arrondissement, je vais la voir souvent pour discuter « politique sexuelle » (Bonnet, p. 29).

15.  (Vers la fin février, nous accompagnons Anne-Marie à la réunion d’Arcadie réservée aux filles (Bonnet, p. 29).

16.  « On veut venir avec vous. » – « Non, pas aujourd’hui. » Pierre Hahn insiste. Après tout, pourquoi ne pas faire un groupe révolutionnaire avec nos « alliés objectifs »? (Bonnet p. 30)

17.  L’occasion de créer une solidarité « objective » avec les garçons, dans l’action féministe, se présente cinq jours plus tard. Le professeur Lejeune organise un nouveau meeting dans la grande salle de la Mutualité avec des médecins opposés à l’avortement thérapeutique et des autorités morales réactionnaires. Le MLF appelle au boycott. Les garçons veulent venir avec nous. Bonnet, p. 32.

18.  Le 5 mars 1971, les femmes du mouvement sont présentes au grand complet dans la grande salle de la Mutualité. … Les orateurs n’arrivent pas à stopper le chahut, alors le service d’ordre décide de vider les gars un à un en fonçant sur eux… puis en les jetant dehors aux pieds des CRS (Bonnet, pp. 32-33).

19.  Pour se remettre de nos émotions, nous nous retrouvons dans la petite chambre de Margaret qui est juste au-dessus de la Mutualité. Nous trinquons à la victoire en mangeant nos saucissons (Bonnet p. 33).

20.  Car ce sont les femmes qui ont donné l’impulsion du FHAR, comme le rappellera Guy Hocquenghem l’année suivante dans un texte remarquable. « La révolte homosexuelle prend pour cible la famille patriarcale capitaliste. Elle se proclame d’emblée aux côtés des femmes. » Plus loin, il précise : « Ce n’est un mystère pour personne que les femmes ont eu un rôle prédominant dans la création du FHAR. Le MLF a été l’inspirateur de notre mouvement à ses débuts et peut-être n’y aurait-il jamais eu de début si les femmes n’avaient elles-mêmes commencé. Nous en avons copié le style et le fonctionnement’ (Bonnet, p. 56).

21.  (Comme Margaret, je pense que l’homosexualité est en soi révolutionnaire. … En juin [1971], Margaret publie ses « Quelques réflexions sur le lesbianisme comme position révolutionnaire » dans le Rapport contre la normalité. Ce recueil de textes du FHAR, tous anonymes, est publié aux éditions Champ libre, à l’initiative de Françoise d’Eaubonne, Guy Hocquenghem et Alain Prique… )

22.  Rapport contre la normalité, symptôme 3, éd. Champ libre, Paris, 1971, pp 83-88. [in] Bonnet, Note p. 91).

About the Website

This WordPress site is the vision of Namascar Shaktini, in the interest of open sourcing her extensive research on Monique Wittig for future generations.

Where it has made sense, we have tried to employ circles in a nod to Wittig’s motif of the circle.

This site was also made possible with the website development help of Jenny Stoffel of Wired Pinecone.

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