King Kong Theory (Paperback)
Out of print in the U.S. for far too long, writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes’s autobiographical feminist manifesto is back—in an improved English translation—“blistering with anger, and so precisely phrased that it feels an injustice to summarize it” (Nadja Spiegelman, New York Review of Books).
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.
About the Author
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 the Vernon Subutex Trilogy, Apocalypse Baby, Bye Bye Blondie, Pretty Things, and the essay collection King Kong Theory.
Frank Wynne has translated the work of numerous French and Hispanic authors, including Michel Houellebecq, Patrick Modiano, Javier Cercas, and Virginie Despentes. His work has earned him many prizes, including the Scott Moncrieff Prize, the Premio Valle Inclán, and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award with Houellebecq for The Elementary Particles. Most recently, his translation of Jean-Baptiste Del Amo’s Animalia won the 2020 Republic of Consciousness Prize.
"I can think of almost no book I’ve enjoyed in recent years as much as King Kong Theory – in 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
"Although mostly unknown in the United States, Despentes is something of a legend in contemporary feminist circles, and her 2010 manifesto-cum-memoir King Kong Theory often passed down to millennial women as a recommendation from a cool, not-that-much-older mentor. (Or, if you're un/lucky enough to have experienced a gender studies program at a small liberal arts college, it might have made an appearance on a syllabus.) As my cool, not-that-much-older mentor wrote when she suggested the book to me, King Kong Theory feels "vital and fascinating" on the subject of rape--though, she continued in the email, "only like eight people" have read it.""
—Lauren Oyler, author of Fake Accounts
"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, New York Times
"A manifesto for our times."
— Paris Review
"In an era of moral panic over thongs and online porn, Despentes was the rare voice to critique the confidence of so-called pro-sex feminism without lapsing into nostalgia for conventional married life . . . Despentes writes in the angry tenor of the feminism that galvanized me as a teen-ager . . . Revisiting “King Kong Theory” now, I can see that what I read as a dire lament about the gender binary was rather the testimony of an uncompromising life and its difficulties."
— Emily Witt, The New Yorker
"The feminist movement needs King Kong Theory now more than ever. A must-read for every sex worker, tranny, punk, queer, john, academic, pornographer – and for all those people who dislike them too."
— Annie Sprinkle
"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
"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 radical – and darkly funny – manifesto we need."
— Amelia Abraham, author of Queer Intentions
"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
"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 in the 2010s."
— Paul B. Preciado, author of An Apartment on Uranus
"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
"Despentes writes with brilliance, anger, balance and purpose. In citing her attacked book (Baise-Moi), banned film adaptation and experience as a sex worker, she corroborates her central idea: capitalism "subjugates us all" by devaluing any woman's existence that isn't for men. With striking rhetoric, unabashed fury and resonating convictions, Despentes rallies women excluded from existence to her vision of demolishing broken systems. "
— Shelf Awareness
"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
"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."
"[Despentes] redefined French feminism in her 2006 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, Guardian
"France has a long tradition of writers and artists who have propagated their own challenging visions of sexuality . . . 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 France – the title refers to her contention that she is “more King Kong than Kate Moss.”’
— Elizabeth Day, Observer
“At her best, Despentes is vicious, iconoclastic, filthy-mouthed, and raw . . . 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
"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 . . . 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."
—Hannah Blank, Women's Review of Books
"Virginia Despentes writes as if shouting into a cracking bullhorn...[King Kong Theory is defined by] her sheer verve and spirit, which in addition to being filled with ire, is also rather generous. Sometimes, there's nothing more humanistic than saying, 'Fuck this'."
—Laura Adamczyk, AV Club
“King Kong Theory is all of a piece, cri de cœur and manifesto. Personal experience is woven in throughout -- it is a very personal collection -- with Despentes managing the difficult balancing act of being very relatable even as [her] experience itself is, in many cases, alien to many readers . . . King Kong Theory is notable for its voice--both no holds barred and self-aware, enraged but not too aggressive.”
—M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review