The Infamy of Sappho


Gabrielle Everall is completing her PhD in creative writing at UWA. She is writing her second book of poetry on 'literary lesbians'.

Gabrielle published her first book of poetry in 2007 called Dona Juanita and the love of boys and has been published in numerous anthologies including The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry.


by Gabrielle Everall

They erected my effigies
higher than the mantle of kings
the pope and the conqueror.

In Syracuse
my statue was stolen.
When men speak of me
I decompose
Church leaders and barbarians
burn my books
leaving only my insults
Oversexed, suicidal, lesbian
but I am lifted up to the sunlight.




The 'literary lesbians' Sappho, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West have an ambiguous relationship with light.  Sappho has been judged as 'oversexed', 'suicidal' and 'lesbian' and all her works have been lost or destroyed intentionally and unintentionally over the centuries.  However some of her fragments are saved and lifted up to the light of the reading public. 

The relationship of Virginia Wolf and Vita Sackville-West read through Merleau-Ponty demonstrates a lesbian double vision of the reversibility of the flesh.  The reversibility of the flesh is the movement between visible/seeing, touch/touching that occurs through the 'dehiscence of the flesh'.  The division of visible/seeing also includes that of subject/object.

Two women (Virginia and Vita) communicate across the divide of subject/object instead of the traditional sole authorship of a man and the female as object.  This occurs in both of their literary works when Virginia writes of Vita as Orlando and also in their publishing collaborations.  Orlando is Vita the double vision of Virginia Woolf's complementary vision that she possesses in the reversability of the flesh.

The reversability of the flesh is also the relationship between the visible and the invisible.  Metaphysics is based upon the dichotomy of the visible and the invisible, while Merleau-Ponty's reversability of the flesh disrupts this dichotomy.  For Merleau-Ponty there is visible and invisible light.  While metaphysical light believes it is autonomous of materiality. 

Merleau-Ponty views light as always lived.  Vita Sackville-West is underneath the stars writing love letters to Virginia Woolf in the half-light of a waxing moon.  Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackvile-West bring the traditional invisibility of lesbian relationships to the light of public visibility—and Sappho too is metaphorically lifted up to the light through the discovery of her fragmentary poetry.