Hélène Cixous


Hélène Cixous : biography

5 June 1937 –

Dense with literary allusions, "[https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:2ejPblYQ8IcJ:www.dwrl.utexas.edu/~davis/crs/e321/Cixous-Laugh.pdf+%22laugh+of+the+medusa%22&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESj4eAASbB4kJn89mWZNdze7a5GTBQtSAVzgJenWQKFPFOQr2XC0mxOSmiboiNN928ynkRGZNGf_85hzF4o8YDEtBzkMmTXZo7Xusj6WBzzszBF8Ufwe4g4JJF0PsXPkii9Oa10l&sig=AHIEtbTu7rPsB-ocVIXGsrIiVQBUTmKACQ The Laugh of the Medusa]", is an exhortation to a "feminine mode" of writing; the phrases "white ink" and "écriture féminine" are often cited, referring to this desired new way of writing. It is a critique of logocentrism and phallogocentrism, having much in common with Jacques Derrida’s earlier thought. The essay also calls for an acknowledgment of universal bisexuality or polymorphous perversity, a precursor of queer theory’s later emphases, and swiftly rejects many kinds of essentialism which were still common in Anglo-American feminism at the time. The essay also exemplifies Cixous’s style of writing in that it is richly intertextual, making a wide range of literary allusions. In homage to French theorists of the feminine, Laughing with Medusa was published by Oxford University Press in 2006.

One critic Mandelker, Steven (1994). , Reason Papers Issue 19. has suggested that Cixous’s arguments in "[https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:2ejPblYQ8IcJ:www.dwrl.utexas.edu/~davis/crs/e321/Cixous-Laugh.pdf+%22laugh+of+the+medusa%22&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESj4eAASbB4kJn89mWZNdze7a5GTBQtSAVzgJenWQKFPFOQr2XC0mxOSmiboiNN928ynkRGZNGf_85hzF4o8YDEtBzkMmTXZo7Xusj6WBzzszBF8Ufwe4g4JJF0PsXPkii9Oa10l&sig=AHIEtbTu7rPsB-ocVIXGsrIiVQBUTmKACQ The Laugh of the Medusa]", rather than liberating women, give ammunition to traditional sexist arguments that women are incapable of rational thought.

Influences on Cixous’ writing

Some of the most notable influences on her writings have been Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan and Arthur Rimbaud.

Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud established the initial theories which would serve as a basis for some of Cixous’ arguments in developmental psychology. Freud’s analysis of gender roles and sexual identity concluded with separate paths for boys and girls through the Oedipus complex, theories of which Cixous was particularly critical.

Jacques Derrida

Contemporaries, lifelong friends, and intellectuals, Jacques Derrida and Cixous both grew up as French Jews in Algeria and share a "belonging constituted of exclusion and nonbelonging"—not Algerian, rejected by France, their Jewishness concealed or acculturated. In Derrida’s family "one never said ‘circumcision’ but ‘baptism,’ not ‘Bar Mitzvah’ but ‘communion.’" Judaism cloaked in Catholicism is one example of the undecidability of identity that influenced the thinker whom Cixous calls a "Jewish Saint."http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/023112/023112824X.HTM Her book Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint addresses these matters.

Through deconstruction, Derrida employed the term logocentrism (which was not his coinage). This is the concept that explains how language relies on a hierarchical system that values the spoken word over the written word in Western culture. The idea of binary opposition is essential to Cixous’ position on language.

Cixous and Luce Irigaray combined Derrida’s logocentric idea and Lacan’s symbol for desire, creating the term phallogocentrism. This term focuses on Derrida’s social structure of speech and binary opposition as the center of reference for language, with the phallic being privileged and how women are only defined by what they lack; not A vs. B, but, rather A vs. ¬A (not-A).

In a dialogue between Derrida and Cixous, this is one of the many good things that Derrida has to say about Cixous: "Helene’s texts are translated across the world, but they remain untranslatable. We are two French writers who cultivate a strange relationship, or a strangely familiar relationship with the French language– at once more translated and more untranslatable then many a French author. We are more rooted in the French language than those with ancestral roots in this culture and this land."

The Bibliothèque nationale de France

In 2000, a collection in Cixous’ name was created at the Bibliothèque nationale de France after Cixous donated the entirety of her manuscripts to date. They then featured in the exhibit "Brouillons d’écrivains" held there in 2001.

In 2003, the Bibliothèque held the conference "Genèses Généalogies Genres: Autour de l’oeuvre d’Hélène Cixous". Among the speakers were Mireille Calle-Gruber, Marie Odile Germain, Jacques Derrida, Annie Leclerc, Ariane Mnouchkine, Ginette Michaud, and Hélène Cixous herself.