Readings — From the April 2017 issue

Fighting Dirty

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By Anne Garréta, from Not One Day, which was published this month by Deep Vellum. Garréta is a French novelist and a member of the Oulipo. Not One Day chronicles her sexual encounters with women. Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan.

X had a story to tell you. She had found herself one night in a car with a half dozen students. One among them recounted that in the women’s self-defense class at her gym there was a professor, and this professor was incredibly cool, exciting, and French.

You asked the name of your admirer. X didn’t know. It had been a chance meeting. She offered to dig up a name for you. To what end, you said. Such affairs go against professorial honor. X thought you were being rather severe. This unknown woman was silently burning with passion! You protested. What impression would it give, in the middle of a simulated assault, possibly the simulation of a rape attempt, to whisper in her ear: “So you think I’m cool? Shall we do it for real?”

In the class, the women dissected the various situations of aggression they might encounter — analyzed them, invented ways to avoid them. Sometimes they simulated the confrontation. In turns, each woman played the victim and the aggressor. The hand-to-hand strategy was thoughtful and careful, but firm. At the end of the semester, in order to have the class confront more muscular and less considerate adversaries, the sensei invited the university’s football team in to act as the aggressors.

That night in bed, before going to sleep, you mentally reviewed the participants in the class. The sensei was a woman born and living in the Bronx, a black belt in jujitsu, marvelously capable of inspiring combativeness and courage in the most timid of her students.

After X’s story, you went to train with added trepidation and redoubled awareness. Each woman who approached you to offer herself as a victim to your acts of violence you considered as the possible unknown woman — perhaps she would betray herself with a gesture that was a bit too emphatic or a bit too soft. You were conscious in a way you never were before of the weight of bodies, the proximity of faces, the pressure of hands, of limbs, of the abandon or resistance of these women to your efforts.

In your mission to discern which among these bodies felt desire for you, each gesture, movement, contact became eroticized. You assaulted these successive bodies with tenderness, you volunteered your sternum or your pubis to their strikes with curiosity. You walked to class as one goes on a date, with a sensation of physical lightness, a touch of vertigo. And yet the unknown woman did not give herself away. One classmate, taking hold of your head and slamming your face against the tatami, suspended the gesture with incredible gentleness, holding your skull cautiously before dealing the fatal thrust — but then later on, another woman, while you bore down on her with all your weight, didn’t she hesitate, stretch out her resistance, prolong your embrace?

You never discovered who the unknown woman was. The mystery of her identity made that semester of self-defense the most arousing experience of your life. You were driven to pay intense attention not to any one body, but to them all. They were all yours.

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