The Roly-Polys by Monique Wittig


The inhabitants of this town have the propensity to think themselves the centre of the world and that everyone has their eyes trained upon them. They are of the sort that encourages each and every person to quickly curl up in a ball in the name of the body’s ideal state, of which all its contours show a tendency towards rolling up: the roundness of the shoulders, the rotundity of the buttocks, the head, the curve of the back. Obligatory rolling-up is thus the order of the day – what  they call roly-polying – and which is done with the most ease in the world by staring at one’s belly button. It is indeed true that in this position, when the face is at the level of the belly button and remains stuck there, the legs tend to rise up over the head and fold themselves back again. One couldn’t really call it comfortable, but since we’re talking about an ideal state no one complains. Those who walk on their feet cross themselves now and salute one another as if they were the sole survivors of a disaster. The followers of rotundity propagate. They head towards the carnival in a prodigious tumult, producing a chant of victory, with an assuredly slow rhythm, which is heard in bursts as the heads disengage in the descending movement of the Roly-Polys. Ah, what a marvellous sight, all those small and large bottoms that show themselves in the air whilst the tumbling movement hides the face between the legs. Pubic tendrils develop, some reach all the way to the ground. Hair falls loose. Mouths shrivel up. They begin to eat directly through the anus. Never before in any carnival have such delightful figures been seen.

Originally published as ‘Les mises en boule’ in Paris-la-politique et autres histoires (P.O.L. Paris 1999.) This translation appeared in Chroma Journal, Issue 7, Summer 2008.

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