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How Anne Garréta Wrote a Genderless Love Story in Sphinx


Sphinx by Anne Garréta: A Genderless Love Story




Sphinx is a remarkable debut novel by Anne Garréta, one of the few female members of Oulipo, an influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints. Originally published in 1986, Sphinx tells a beautiful and complex love story between two characters, the narrator, "I," and their lover, A*, without using any gender markers to refer to them. This is a remarkable linguistic feat that has never been accomplished before or since in the strictly-gendered French language. Sphinx is also a landmark text in the feminist and LGBT literary canon that explores the theme of gender ambiguity and fluidity in a subtle and profound way.




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In this article, I will analyze how Garréta achieves this extraordinary challenge and what effects it has on the reader's experience and interpretation of the novel. I will also examine how Garréta incorporates other elements such as race, class, culture, style, and structure into her novel to create a rich and captivating narrative that transcends the boundaries of genre, identity, and expression.


The Oulipo Movement and Its Influence on Garréta




Oulipo stands for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, which means Workshop of Potential Literature. It is a group of writers and mathematicians who use formal constraints as a source of inspiration and creativity for their literary works. Some of the famous members of Oulipo include Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau, Jacques Roubaud, among others. Some of the famous techniques of Oulipo include lipograms (writing without using a certain letter), palindromes (writing words or sentences that can be read backwards), anagrams (rearranging letters to form new words), n+7 (replacing every noun with the seventh one following it in a dictionary), among others.


Anne Garréta (b. 1962) is a lecturer at the University of Rennes II and research professor of literature and Romance studies at Duke University. She joined Oulipo in 2000, becoming the first member to join born after Oulipo was founded. Garréta won France's prestigious Prix Médicis in 2002, awarded each year to an author whose "fame does not yet match their talent," for her novel Pas un jour. Some of her other works include Eros mélancolique, La Décomposition, and Not One Day.


Sphinx reflects the Oulipian spirit of experimentation and constraint by writing a novel without using any gender markers for the main characters. This is a very difficult task in French, which is a highly gendered language that assigns masculine or feminine gender to every noun, pronoun, adjective, and verb. Garréta had to avoid using any possessive adjectives (such as his or her), any pronouns (such as he or she), any adjectives that agree with the gender of the noun (such as handsome or beautiful), and any verbs that indicate the gender of the subject (such as loved or hated). She also had to avoid using any words that imply the gender of the characters, such as titles, professions, clothes, body parts, etc. She had to rely on other linguistic devices, such as synonyms, circumlocutions, metaphors, and ambiguities, to convey the meaning and emotion of the story.


The Narrator and A*: An Ambiguous Relationship




By writing a novel without using any gender markers for the narrator and A*, Garréta creates a sense of ambiguity and mystery that invites the reader to imagine and interpret their relationship in different ways. The reader can never be sure of the gender or sex of the narrator and A*, nor of their sexual orientation or identity. The reader can only rely on the clues and hints that Garréta provides through the descriptions of their physical appearance, personality, behavior, and interaction.


For example, the narrator is a theology student who becomes a DJ in a Parisian nightclub called Apocryphe. A* is a dancer who performs in the same nightclub. The narrator is fascinated by A*'s beauty and grace, and falls in love with them. A* reciprocates the narrator's feelings and they start a passionate affair. The narrator describes A* as having "a slender figure," "a pale complexion," "a narrow face," "a high forehead," "a straight nose," "thin lips," "large eyes," "long eyelashes," "dark hair," and "a deep voice." The narrator also mentions that A* wears "a black tuxedo," "a white shirt," "a black bow tie," "black patent leather shoes," and "a gold watch." The narrator does not reveal any other details about A*'s body or clothing that could indicate their gender or sex.


By avoiding any gender markers for the narrator and A*, Garréta challenges the stereotypes and norms of gender and sexuality that are often imposed by society and language. She shows that love can exist beyond the binary categories of male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, masculine and feminine. She also shows that gender and sexuality are not fixed or essential, but fluid and variable, depending on the context and perspective. She invites the reader to question their own assumptions and expectations about gender and sexuality, and to appreciate the diversity and complexity of human relationships.


The Role of Race, Class, and Culture in Sphinx




While Garréta avoids using any gender markers for the narrator and A*, she does not avoid using other markers that indicate their differences and similarities in terms of race, class, and culture. In fact, she uses these markers to create a contrast and a connection between them, as well as to reflect the social and historical context of France and the US in the 1980s.


The narrator is white, French, educated, and from a privileged background. The narrator has studied theology at the Sorbonne, speaks several languages, reads classical literature, listens to classical music, and travels around Europe. The narrator has a comfortable apartment in Paris, a car, a bank account, and a supportive family.


A* is black, American, uneducated, and from a disadvantaged background. A* has grown up in Harlem, New York, in poverty and violence. A* has never been to school, speaks only English with an accent, reads comic books, listens to jazz music, and has never left the US. A* lives in a small hotel room in Paris with no amenities or belongings. A* has no family or friends.


Garréta portrays these differences between the narrator and A* as sources of attraction, communication problems, understanding, and conflict. She shows how they are drawn to each other by their curiosity, admiration, and desire, but also how they struggle to communicate, understand, and trust each other because of their cultural gaps, prejudices, and insecurities. She also shows how they are affected by the social The Role of Race, Class, and Culture in Sphinx




While Garréta avoids using any gender markers for the narrator and A*, she does not avoid using other markers that indicate their differences and similarities in terms of race, class, and culture. In fact, she uses these markers to create a contrast and a connection between them, as well as to reflect the social and historical context of France and the US in the 1980s.


The narrator is white, French, educated, and from a privileged background. The narrator has studied theology at the Sorbonne, speaks several languages, reads classical literature, listens to classical music, and travels around Europe. The narrator has a comfortable apartment in Paris, a car, a bank account, and a supportive family.


A* is black, American, uneducated, and from a disadvantaged background. A* has grown up in Harlem, New York, in poverty and violence. A* has never been to school, speaks only English with an accent, reads comic books, listens to jazz music, and has never left the US. A* lives in a small hotel room in Paris with no amenities or belongings. A* has no family or friends.


Garréta portrays these differences between the narrator and A* as sources of attraction, communication problems, understanding, and conflict. She shows how they are drawn to each other by their curiosity, admiration, and desire, but also how they struggle to communicate, understand, and trust each other because of their cultural gaps, prejudices, and insecurities. She also shows how they are affected by the social and historical forces that shape their lives and their relationship.


For example, the narrator witnesses the racism and discrimination that A* faces in France, where black people are often stereotyped as immigrants, criminals, or entertainers. The narrator also learns about the history and culture of black Americans through A*'s stories, music, and books. The narrator develops a sense of empathy and solidarity with A*'s struggle for dignity and recognition.


On the other hand, A* discovers the diversity and richness of French culture through the narrator's education, language, and taste. A* also learns about the history and politics of France through the narrator's involvement in the student protests of 1986, which were sparked by a controversial education reform. A* develops a sense of curiosity and appreciation for the narrator's intellectual and artistic pursuits.


However, their differences also create tensions and misunderstandings between them. The narrator sometimes feels guilty and ashamed of their privilege and ignorance, while A* sometimes feels resentful and insecure of their disadvantage and isolation. They also have different expectations and values about their relationship. The narrator wants a stable and exclusive commitment, while A* wants a flexible and open arrangement. They also have different ways of expressing their emotions and coping with their problems. The narrator tends to be rational and analytical, while A* tends to be intuitive and spontaneous.


These conflicts are exacerbated by the external pressures that they face from their respective societies. In France, they have to deal with the hostility and prejudice of some people who disapprove of their interracial and intercultural relationship. In the US, they have to deal with the violence and chaos of Harlem in the 1980s which was plagued by drugs crime and poverty They also have to deal with the cultural shock and adaptation of living in a different country with different norms and customs


Garréta uses these contrasts and connections between the narrator and A* to show how race class and culture influence their identity and their relationship She also uses them to show how France and the US were undergoing social and political changes in the 1980s that affected their relations with each other and with the rest of the world


The Style and Structure of Sphinx




Garréta uses language imagery symbolism and references in Sphinx to create a distinctive style and structure for her novel


She uses language that is precise elegant and poetic She avoids using any gender markers for the narrator and A* but she uses other linguistic devices such as synonyms circumlocutions metaphors and ambiguities to convey the meaning and emotion of the story She also uses words that have multiple meanings or associations such as sphinx apocryphe or eros to create a sense of mystery and complexity


She uses imagery that is vivid sensual and contrasted She describes the physical appearance personality behavior and interaction of the narrator and A* in detail and with nuance She also describes the settings and atmospheres of the novel such as the nightclub the hotel room the streets of Paris and New York the churches and cathedrals the museums and libraries the parks and gardens in a way that evokes their beauty and their darkness


She uses symbolism that is subtle suggestive and meaningful She uses objects colors sounds and gestures that have symbolic value or significance for the narrator and A* such as the gold watch the black tuxedo the white shirt the jazz music the dance moves the cross necklace the ring finger etc. She also uses names that have symbolic or historical references for the reader such as Sphinx, Apocryphe, Eros, Harlem, etc.


She uses references that are diverse, cultured, and intertextual. She refers to various sources of literature, philosophy, theology, art, music, history, and culture that enrich and contextualize the story. She refers to authors such as Plato, Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare, Racine, Baudelaire, Proust, Joyce, etc. She refers to philosophers such as Descartes, Pascal, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, etc. She refers to theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc. She refers to artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, Picasso, etc. She refers to musicians such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, etc. She refers to historical figures such as Napoleon, Lincoln, de Gaulle, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.


She organizes the novel into five chapters that correspond to the five stages of their relationship: attraction, passion, conflict, separation, and mourning. Each chapter has a different tone, mood, and pace, reflecting the emotional state of the narrator. The first chapter is full of curiosity, admiration, and desire. The second chapter is full of ecstasy, intimacy, and harmony. The third chapter is full of frustration, misunderstanding, and tension. The fourth chapter is full of regret, guilt, and loneliness. The fifth chapter is full of grief, nostalgia, and resignation.


Conclusion




Sphinx is a novel that challenges and fascinates the reader with its linguistic feat, its thematic depth, and its stylistic beauty. It is a novel that explores the theme of gender ambiguity and fluidity in a subtle and profound way, showing that love can exist beyond the binary categories of male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, masculine and feminine. It is also a novel that incorporates other elements such as race, class, culture, style, and structure into its narrative, creating a rich and captivating story that transcends the boundaries of genre, identity, and expression.


Sphinx is a novel that contributes to the feminist and LGBT literary canon by offering a unique and innovative perspective on gender and sexuality. It is also a novel that reflects the social and historical context of France and the US in the 1980s, showing how they were undergoing changes that affected their relations with each other and with the rest of the world.


Sphinx is a novel that is relevant and important for contemporary readers because it invites them to question their own assumptions and expectations about gender and sexuality, and to appreciate the diversity and complexity of human relationships. It is also a novel that inspires them to explore their own identity and expression through language, imagery, symbolism, and references.


FAQs




  • Q: Who is Anne Garréta? A: Anne Garréta is a French author who is one of the few female members of Oulipo, an influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints.



  • Q: What is Sphinx about? A: Sphinx is a novel that tells a love story between two characters, the narrator and A*, without using any gender markers to refer to them.



Q: How did Garréta write Sphinx without using any gender markers?


  • Q: How did Garréta write Sphinx without using any gender markers? A: Garréta wrote Sphinx without using any gender markers by avoiding any possessive adjectives (such as his or her), any pronouns (such as he or she), any adjectives that agree with the gender of the noun (such as handsome or beautiful), and any verbs that indicate the gender of the subject (such as loved or hated). She also avoided using any words that imply the gender of the characters, such as titles, professions, clothes, body parts, etc. She used other linguistic devices, such as synonyms, circumlocutions, metaphors, and ambiguities, to convey the meaning and emotion of the story.



  • Q: What is the main theme and message of Sphinx? A: The main theme and message of Sphinx is gender ambiguity and fluidity. Garréta shows that love can exist beyond the binary categories of male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, masculine and feminine. She also shows that gender and sexuality are not fixed or essential, but fluid and variable, depending on the context and perspective. She invites the reader to question their own assumptions and expectations about gender and sexuality, and to appreciate the diversity and complexity of human relationships.



  • Q: What are some of the other elements that Garréta incorporates into Sphinx? A: Some of the other elements that Garréta incorporates into Sphinx are race, class, culture, style, and structure. She uses these elements to create a contrast and a connection between the narrator and A*, as well as to reflect the social and historical context of France and the US in the 1980s. She uses language, imagery, symbolism, and references to create a distinctive style and structure for her novel.



  • Q: How can I download Sphinx by Anne Garréta in PDF format? A: You can download Sphinx by Anne Garréta in PDF format from various online sources. One of them is OceanofPDF.com , which provides free download links for many books in PDF and EPUB formats. You can also buy the ebook from Amazon.com or other online retailers.



  • Q: Why should I read Sphinx by Anne Garréta? A: You should read Sphinx by Anne Garréta because it is a novel that challenges and fascinates the reader with its linguistic feat, its thematic depth, and its stylistic beauty. It is a novel that explores the theme of gender ambiguity and fluidity in a subtle and profound way. It is also a novel that incorporates other elements such as race, class, culture, style, and structure into its narrative. It is a novel that contributes to the feminist and LGBT literary canon. It is also a novel that reflects the social and historical context of France and the US in the 1980s. It is a novel that is relevant and important for contemporary readers.



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