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Gentile, J. (2016). Naming the Vagina, Naming the Woman. DIVISION/Rev., 14:23-29.

(2016). DIVISION/Review, 14:23-29


Naming the Vagina, Naming the Woman

Jill Gentile

An adapted version of this essay appears in the author's new book, Feminine Law: Freud, Free Speech, and the Voice of Desire, with M. Macrone (London, UK: Karnac Books, 2016).

Naming entails a risk; but with that risk comes power. In her celebrated novel The Flamethrowers (2013, p. 76), Rachel Kushner illustrates this point through the character Lonzi, who speaks “of this essential female part, and it turned out he was speaking specifically of a woman's vulva. A good example of how it was Lonzi had come to be leader. He was willing to think to extremes and name them.” Who is Lonzi, and how was he named? Kushner answers (Owens, 2013): “He's a fictionalized futurist of sorts … he's the leader of this avant garde little gang in Rome around 1910, and they ride motorcycles and romanticize machinery, speed, war, violence, the future. … I named him after the radical and great Italian feminist, Carla Lonzi, who wrote We Spit on Hegel. He has contempt for women but he invokes a really cool one every time someone says his name.”

Untitled, Sapa, 1996

Though in the novel Carla herself is just a cool hidden historical reference, it is she who—her name that—underwrites Lonzi's strength. In this meta-story of naming, the fictional macho Lonzi doesn't just silently and enigmatically etch the name of a celebrated feminist, evocatively naming her; he also boldly and explicitly names what defies naming. He names the female genital. Kushner's choice here isn't arbitrary.

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