Hélène Cixous

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Hélène Cixous
Hélène Cixous par Claude Truong-Ngoc 2011.jpg
Hélène Cixous, Sept. 2011.
Born (1937-06-05) 5 June 1937 (age 81)
Oran, French Algeria
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Continental philosophy
French feminism[1]
Institutions University of Paris VIII
European Graduate School
Cornell University
Doctoral students Frédéric Regard
Main interests
Literary criticism

Hélène Cixous (French: [elɛn siksu]; born 5 June 1937) is a professor, French feminist writer, poet, playwright, philosopher, literary critic and rhetorician.[2] Cixous is best known for her article ''The Laugh of the Medusa'',[3] which established her as one of the early thinkers in poststructuralist feminist theory. She founded the first centre of feminist studies at a European university at the Centre universitaire de Vincennes of the University of Paris (today's University of Paris VIII).[4]

She holds honorary degrees from Queen's University and the University of Alberta in Canada; University College Dublin in Ireland; the University of York and University College London in the UK; and Georgetown University, Northwestern University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA. In 2008 she was appointed as A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University until June 2014.

Life and career[edit]

Cixous was born in Oran, French Algeria to Jewish parents.[5] She earned her agrégation in English in 1959 and her Doctorat ès lettres in 1968. Her main focus, at this time, was English literature and the works of James Joyce. In 1968, she published L'Exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement (The Exile of James Joyce, or the Art of Displacement) and the following year she published her first novel, Dedans (Inside), a semi-autobiographical work that won the Prix Médicis. She is a professor at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland and the University of Paris VIII, whose center for women's studies, the first in Europe, she founded.

She has published widely, including twenty-three volumes of poems, six books of essays, five plays, and numerous influential articles. She published Voiles (Veils) with Jacques Derrida and her work is often considered deconstructive. In introducing her Wellek Lecture, subsequently published as Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, Derrida referred to her as the greatest living writer in his language (French). Cixous wrote a book on Derrida titled Portrait de Jacques Derrida en jeune saint juif (Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint). Her reading of Derrida finds additional layers of meaning at a phonemic rather than strictly lexical level.[6] In addition to Derrida and Joyce, she has written monographs on the work of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, on Maurice Blanchot, Franz Kafka, Heinrich von Kleist, Michel de Montaigne, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, and the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva.

Along with Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, Cixous is considered one of the mothers of poststructuralist feminist theory.[7] In the 1970s, Cixous began writing about the relationship between sexuality and language. Like other poststructuralist feminist theorists, Cixous believes that our sexuality is directly tied to how we communicate in society. In 1975, Cixous published her most influential article "Le rire de la méduse" ("The Laugh of the Medusa"), which was revised by her, translated into English by Paula Cohen and Keith Cohen, and released in English in 1976.[8] She has published over 70 works; her fiction, dramatic writing and poetry, however, are not often read in English.

Influences on Cixous' writing[edit]

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

Sigmund Freud[edit]

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[edit]

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."[9] 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, Derrida said 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 than many a French author. We are more rooted in the French language than those with ancestral roots in this culture and this land."[10]

The Bibliothèque nationale de France[edit]

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.

Major works[edit]

The Laugh of the Medusa (1975)[edit]

Cixous' critical feminist essay "The Laugh of the Medusa", originally written in French as Le Rire de la Méduse in 1975, was (after she revised it) translated into English by Paula Cohen and Keith Cohen in 1976.[11] In the essay, Cixous issues an ultimatum: that women can either read and choose to stay trapped in their own bodies by a language that does not allow them to express themselves, or they can use the body as a way to communicate. She describes a writing style, Écriture feminine, that she says attempts to move outside of the conversational rules found in patriarchal systems. She argues that Écriture feminine allows women to address their needs by building strong self-narratives and identity. This text is situated in a history of feminist conversations that separated women in terms of their gender and women in terms of authorship.[12] The "Laugh of the Medusa"[13] addresses this rhetoric, writing on individuality and commanding women to use writing and the body as sources of power and inspiration. Cixous uses the term the Logic of Antilove to describe her understanding of the systematic oppression of women by patriarchal figures. She defines the Logic of Antilove as the self-hatred women have, “they have made for women an antinarcissism! A narcissism which loves itself only to be loved by what women haven’t got”, this idea persecutes women by defining them by what misogynistic tradition believes makes the female sex inferior.[14] Cixous commands women to focus on individuality, particularly the individuality of the body and to write to redefine self-identity in the context of her history and narrative. The essay includes the argument that writing is a tool women must use to advocate for themselves in order to acquire the freedom women have historically been denied.

"The Laugh of the Medusa"[15] is an exhortation and call for a "feminine mode" of writing that Cixous calls "white ink" and "écriture féminine" in the essay. Cixous builds the text using the elements of this mode and fills it with literary allusions. She instructs women to use writing as a means of authority. Cixous explores how the female body is closely connected to female authorship. She conveys this message by employing a conversational dialogue in which she instructs her audience directly. She urges her audience to write using many direct conversational statements such as “Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it”.[16] Cixous' repetition in her message that women must write for themselves and claim their bodies bridges the gap between the physicality of the female body and their authorship. In doing so she challenges the distinctions between theory and practice expanding on the feminist rhetorical tradition.[17] "The Laugh of the Medusa"[18] is successful in its creation of a writing style that allows women to claim authority because it was created on the foundation of the woman’s claim to herself and her body, therefore eliminating the oppressive effects of patriarchal control of rhetoric.[19] This text is also a critique of logocentrism and phallogocentrism, because it de-prioritizes the masculine form of reason traditionally associated with rhetoric, having much in common with Jacques Derrida's earlier thought.[20] 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.

In homage to French theorists of the feminine, Laughing with Medusa was published by Oxford University Press in 2006.

Publications[edit]

Published in English[edit]

Selected books[edit]

Plays[edit]

  • "The Conquest of the School at Madhubai," trans. Carpenter, Deborah. 1986.
  • "The Name of Oedipus," trans. Christiane Makward & Miller, Judith. In: Out of Bounds: Women's Theatre in French. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1992.

Published in French[edit]

Criticism[edit]

  • L'Exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement (The Exile of James Joyce, or the Art of Displacement). 1969 (1985).
  • Prénoms du personne. Seuil. 1974. 
  • Un K. incompréhensible: Pierre Goldman. Christian Bourgois. 1974. 
  • La jeune née. U.G.E. Collection 10/18. 1974. 
  • La venue à l'écriture. U.G.E. Collection 10/18. 1977. 
  • Entre l'écriture. Des femmes. 1986. 
  • L'heure de Clarice Lispector, précédé de Vivre l'Orange. Des femmes. 1989. 
  • Hélène Cixous, Photos de Racines. Des femmes. 1994. 
  • Portrait de Jacques Derrida en jeune saint juif [Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint]. Paris: Galilée. 2001. ISBN 978-2-718-60556-2. 

Books[edit]

Theater[edit]

  • La Pupulle, Cahiers Renaud-Barrault, Gallimard, 1971.
  • Portrait de Dora, Des femmes, 1976.
  • Le Nom d'Oedipe. Chant du corps interdit, Des femmes, 1978.
  • La Prise de l'école de Madhubaï, Avant-scène du Théâtre, 1984.
  • L'Histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk, roi du Cambodge, Théâtre du Soleil, 1985.
  • Théâtre, Des femmes, 1986.
  • L'Indiade, ou l'Inde de leurs rêves, Théâtre du Soleil, 1987.
  • On ne part pas, on ne revient pas, Des femmes, 1991.
  • Les Euménides d'Eschyle (traduction), Théâtre du Soleil, 1992.
  • L'Histoire (qu'on ne connaîtra jamais), Des femmes, 1994.
  • "Voile Noire Voile Blanche / Black Sail White Sail", bilingual, trad. Catherine A.F. MacGillivray, New Literary History 25, 2 (Spring), Minnesota University Press, 1994.
  • La Ville parjure ou le Réveil des Érinyes, Théâtre du Soleil, 1994.
  • Jokasta, libretto to the opera of Ruth Schönthal, 1997.
  • Tambours sur la digue, Théâtre du Soleil, 1999.
  • Rouen, la Trentième Nuit de Mai '31, Galilée, 2001.
  • Le Dernier Caravansérail, Théâtre du Soleil, 2003.
  • Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir, Théâtre du Soleil, 2010.

Selected essays[edit]

  • L'Exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement (doctoral thesis), Grasset, 1969.
  • Prénoms de personne, Le Seuil, 1974.
  • The Exile of James Joyce or the Art of Replacement (translation by Sally Purcell of L'exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement). New York: David Lewis, 1980.
  • Un K. Incompréhensible : Pierre Goldman, Christian Bourgois, 1975.
  • La Jeune Née, with Catherine Clément, 10/18, 1975.
  • La Venue à l'écriture, with Madeleine Gagnon and Annie Leclerc, 10/18, 1977.
  • Entre l'écriture, Des femmes, 1986.
  • L'Heure de Clarice Lispector, Des femmes, 1989.
  • Photos de racines, with Mireille Calle-Gruber, Des femmes, 1994.
  • Lettre à Zohra Drif, 1998
  • Portrait de Jacques Derrida en Jeune Saint Juif, Galilée, 2001.
  • Rencontre terrestre, with Frédéric-Yves Jeannet, Galilée, 2005.
  • Le Tablier de Simon Hantaï, 2005.
  • Insister. À Jacques Derrida, Galilée, 2006.
  • Le Voisin de zéro : Sam Beckett, Galilée, 2007
  • Défions l'augure (on the quote 'we defy augury' from Hamlet), Galilée, 2018

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kelly Ives, Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva: The Jouissance of French Feminism, Crescent Moon Publishing, 2016.
  2. ^ "Hélène Cixous". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2014-01-17. 
  3. ^ "The Laugh of the Medusa", by Hélène Cixous, revised by Cixous and translated into English by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 June 2016. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 
  5. ^ "Hélène Cixous". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 2014-01-17. 
  6. ^ Not the same as puns, which play on the varied means of a word or phrase or the homonyms thereof.
  7. ^ "How many of these great female thinkers have you heard of?". Daily Post (Liverpool). 11 December 2007. p. 12. 
  8. ^ "The Laugh of the Medusa", by Hélène Cixous, translated into English by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen/
  9. ^ "Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint - Description of Cixous's Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint". Columbia University Press. Retrieved 4 September 2014. 
  10. ^ Derrida, Jacques; Hélène Cixous; Aliette Armel; Ashley Thompson (Winter 2006). "From the Word to Life: A Dialogue between Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous". New Literary History: Hélène Cixous: When the Word Is a Stag. 37 (1): 1–13. JSTOR 20057924. 
  11. ^ "The Laugh of the Medusa", by Hélène Cixous, revised by Cixous and translated into English by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen
  12. ^ Jarrat (Winter 1992). "Performing Feminisms, Histories, Rhetoric" (22): 1–5. 
  13. ^ "The Laugh of the Medusa", by Hélène Cixous, revised by Cixous and translated into English by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen
  14. ^ Cixous. The Rhetorical Tradition. Bedford/ St. Martins. pp. 1524–1536. 
  15. ^ "The Laugh of the Medusa", by Hélène Cixous, revised by Cixous and translated into English by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen
  16. ^ Cixous. The Rhetorical Tradition. Bedford/ St. Martin's. pp. 1524–1536. 
  17. ^ Conley. Hélène Cixous: Writing the Feminine. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 1–11. 
  18. ^ "The Laugh of the Medusa", by Hélène Cixous, revised by Cixous and translated into English by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen
  19. ^ Buchanan. A Dictionary of Critical Theory. Oxford University Press. 
  20. ^ Enos. Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition. Garland Pub. pp. 262–265. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Blyth, Ian; Sellars, Susan (2004). Hélène Cixous : live theory. New York London: Continuum. ISBN 9780826466808. 
  • Conley, Verena Andermatt (1984). Hélène Cixous: writing the feminine. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803214248. 
  • Dawson, Mark; Hanrahan, Mairéad; Prenowitz, Eric (July 2013). "Cixous, Derrida, Psychoanalysis". Paragraph, special issue: Cixous, Derrida, Psychoanalysis. Edinburgh University Press. 36 (2): 155–160. doi:10.3366/para.2013.0085. 
  • Garnier, Marie-Dominique; Masó, Joana (2010). Cixous sous X: d'un coup le nom. Saint-Denis: Presses universitaires de Vincennes. ISBN 9782842922405. 
  • Ives, Kelly (1996). Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva: the Jouissance of French feminism. Kidderminster: Crescent Moon. ISBN 9781871846881. 
  • Penrod, Lynn (1996). Hélène Cixous. New York: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 9780805782844. 
  • Puri, Tara (2013), "Cixous and the play of language", in Dillet, Benoît; Mackenzie, Iain M.; Porter, Robert, The Edinburgh companion to poststructuralism, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 270–290, ISBN 9780748653713. 
  • Williams, Linda R.; Wilcox, Helen; McWatters, Keith; Ann, Thompson (1990). The body and the text: Hélène Cixous: reading and teaching. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312057695. 
  • Wortmann, Simon (2012). The concept of ecriture feminine in Helene Cixous's "The laugh of the Medusa. Munich: GRIN Verlag GmbH. ISBN 9783656409229. 

External links[edit]