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King Kong Theory

Virginie Despentes; Translated from the French by Frank Wynne

FSG Originals

King Kong Theory Download image

ISBN10: 0374539294
ISBN13: 9780374539290

Trade Paperback

160 Pages



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I write from the realms of the ugly, for the ugly, the old, the bull dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckable, the hysterics, the freaks, all those excluded from the great meat market of female flesh. And if I’m starting here it’s because I want to be crystal clear: I’m not here to make excuses, I’m not here to bitch. I wouldn’t swap places with anyone because being Virginie Despentes seems to me a more interesting gig than anything else out there.

Powerful, provocative, and personal, King Kong Theory is a candid account of how the author of Baise-Moi and Vernon Subutex came to be Virginie Despentes. Drawing from personal experience, Despentes shatters received ideas about rape and prostitution, and explodes common attitudes about sex and gender.

An autobiography, a call for revolt, a manifesto for a new punk feminism, King Kong Theory is Despentes’s most beloved and reviled work, and is here made available again in a brilliant new translation by Frank Wynne.


Praise for King Kong Theory

"Despentes writes not as other people speak but as she speaks, with unbridled brutality . . . There is an almost sacrificial generosity to her voice, a willingness to say it for you that makes any woman want to copy out the phrases as her own . . . King Kong Theory is blistering with anger, and so precisely phrased that it feels an injustice to summarize it."—Nadja Spiegelman, New York Review of Books

"Despentes has become a kind of cult hero, a patron saint to invisible women: the monstrous and marginalized, the sodden, weary and wildly unemployable, the kind of woman who can scarcely be propped up let alone persuaded to lean in."—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

"A manifesto for our times."Paris Review

"Despentes has found an excellent ally for this collection of semi-autobiographical essays in award-winning translator Frank Wynne . . . For Despentes, the choice to look steadfastly at the unpretty, unflattering, unpalatable aspects of women’s experiences is simultaneously an aesthetic and an ethic . . . Like Kathy Acker and in some ways Valerie Solanas, Virginie Despentes grabbed hold of a confrontational avant-garde with a tendency toward brutality because it mirrored both her desire and her experience. Like Acker did until her early death from cancer, Despentes uses punk’s willful engagement with outsiderdom, with trespass, with violence and sex and power, as the basis for an ethics of engagement. It is a principled, gritty contrarianism . . . The world doesn’t need a more perfect Virginie Despentes. It needs more of her refusal to make excuses, her rejection of liberal feminism’s politeness, more insistence that feminism has an obligation to look unblinking at the ugly stuff even though no one, least of all Virginie Despentes, will hold our hand."—Hannah Blank, Women's Review of Books

"Part-memoir, part-critical treatise on masculinity and power, with reference to rape, pornography, and prostitution, King Kong Theory is the kind of book you want to place in the hands of everyone you know. It is arresting from the very first lines; there’s something aggressively incantatory about it, a kind of battle-rap braggadocio."—Lauren Elkin, Harper’s

"King Kong Theory still feels fresh, and it definitely shouldn't fall out of print until its targets lose their stranglehold on women everywhere. Spoiler alert: Despentes will, unfortunately, continue to prove herself a necessary and sustaining voice."—Megan Volpert, PopMatters

"Perhaps the most honest account of gender to have been written in the twenty-first century, King Kong Theory [ . . . ] is a piece of work that has shaped perceptions of femininity globally . . . The book also serves as a sort of prelude to #MeToo; it screamed the need for such a movement before social media did so.’W

"[Despentes] redefined French feminism in her manifesto King Kong Theory . . . Today King Kong Theory, with its account of Despentes’s rape, is the book she is most often asked to sign at events."—Angélique Chrisafis, The Guardian

"Wynne’s translation perfectly captures the radicality of Despentes’s manifesto as she discusses topics such as rape, sex work, and pornography with such confrontational panache that you feel as if the writer herself is screaming her words at you through a megaphone. The manifesto is already a classic but Wynne finally offers us a translation as brash and effortlessly cool as Despentes herself.’—Barry Pierce, Irish Times

"France has a long tradition of writers and artists who have propagated their own challenging visions of sexuality—from the Marquis de Sade’s sadomasochistic reveries to Georges Bataille’s explorations of the ambiguity of sex as a subversive force in Blue of Noon. More recently, Michel Houellebecq’s work has included unsparing descriptions of sexual conquest. But it is only relatively recently that women have felt able to tackle these same themes in public . . . Despentes’s new book, King Kong Theory, gives them a manifesto. Part memoir, part political pamphlet, it is a furious condemnation of the 'servility' of enforced femininity and was a bestseller in Francethe title refers to her contention that she is 'more King Kong than Kate Moss.'"—Elizabeth Day, The Observer

"I can think of almost no book I’ve enjoyed in recent years as much as King Kong Theoryin part for its content, in part for the ferocity of its style. In a world that continues to have difficulty contending with sex work, porn, class, and sexual violence without resorting to tired tropes, Virginie Despentes offers a fresh, necessary, inspiring path forward, just as she has been doing for decades now in a variety of media. This book is a classic, and I’m so grateful for it."—Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts

"The feminist movement needs King Kong Theory now more than ever. A must-read for every sex worker, tranny, punk, queer, john, academic, pornographerand for all those people who dislike them too."—Annie Sprinkle

"I love King Kong Theory. It’s a fuck-you push-back against a blood-sucking patriarchal culture that keeps murdering and raping women till they get the idea (the survivors, ha) that they should be stupidly grateful to serve men, just lucky to even be allowed to play. This is liberatory galloping prose, inhale it now and if you’ve read it before read it again in this new jangling translation, ornery and alive like we need to be. This short fiery book is essential."—Eileen Myles, author of Chelsea Girls

"In the dire age of corporatized and sanitised feminism, King Kong Theory is the radicaland darkly funnymanifesto we need."—Amelia Abraham, author of Queer Intentions

"Despentes is often described as a 'rock-and-roll' Balzac . . . She also resembles, by turns, William Gibson, George Eliot and Michel Houellebecq, with a sunnier attitude."—Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick

"A prequel to #MeToo. A unique queer feminist radical voice that has been crucial to the transformation both of fiction writing and political action."—Paul B. Preciado, author of An Apartment on Uranus

“At her best, Despentes is vicious, iconoclastic, filthy-mouthed, and raw. She is all of those things in this out-of-print collection . . . There is unquestionable bliss to be found in the author’s looseness of style and no-bullshit approach . . . Despentes has always been one of a kind, and her willingness to break apart all kinds of received wisdom remains vital. [King Kong Theory is] rash, blunt, unashamed, and justifiably filled with rage.”Kirkus Reviews


Read an Excerpt


I write from the realms of the ugly, for the ugly, the old, the bull dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckable, the hysterics, the freaks, all those excluded from the great meat market of female flesh. And if I’m...

About the author

Virginie Despentes; Translated from the French by Frank Wynne

Virginie Despentes is a writer and filmmaker. She worked in an independent record store in the early ’90s, was a sex worker, and published her first novel, Baise Moi, when she was twenty-three. She adapted the novel for the screen in 2000, codirecting with the porn star Coralie Trinh Thi. Upon release, it became the first film to be banned in France in twenty-eight years. Despentes is the author of more than fifteen other works, including Apocalypse Baby, Bye Bye Blondie, Pretty Things, and the Vernon Subutex trilogy.

(c) JF Paga

Virginie Despentes

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