Helene Cixous's feminist work is strongly in, the mode of French post- structuralism. One sees in her language the words of Derrida, Lacan, and Barthes (the last two perhaps through the first), whose notion of dissemination Cixous appropriates to her idea of "libidinal feminist" writing. The history of writing, the history of reason, the phallocentric tradition, the dominating syntax and grammar-all these form a chain of relationships that suppress the feminine. The feminine is therefore impossible to define, for definition captures the feminine in the masculine phallocentric order. Cixous acknowledges the impossibility of complete escape: "A little bit of phallus" must remain. But her work deliberately seeks to overthrow the prevailing mode of writing, whether the writing is literary criticism (as in her later essay on Joyce) or a feminist "tract," as in the immensely influential "Laugh of the Medusa," presented here, in which she urges woman to "write herself." This writing is a political act, a writing through the body that would sweep away syntax.
But the "libidinal feminine" is not to be regarded as belonging to women, nor is the libidinal masculine the sole property of men. Cixous finds Heinrich Kleist, the eighteenth-century German poet, and Clarice Lispector, the modern Brazilian writer, both of whom she has studied in her seminar at the University of Paris Vill, feminine in this sense. A feminine libidinal economy is flexible toward the concept of property, tolerates separation, the otherness of the other, and difference; that is to say, it is conducive to freedom. For Cixous, this is not a matter of taking a position between the masculine and the feminine. Rather, it is to be always "on the side with" and on the side of movement. The literary text of the libidinal feminine must tolerate freedom from self-limitation and from neat borders, from beginnings, middles, and ends, from chapters. Such texts will be disquieting. Clearly Joyce's texts interest Cixous by belonging to this class or, as she would surely insist, anticlass.
Cixous strives to go beyond the initial feminist questions of equal rights to radical questions involving deep cultural change. In a recent interview she asks: "Are we going to be the equal of men, are we going to be as phallic as they are? Or do we want to save something else, something more positive, more archaic, much more on the side of jouissance, of pleasure, less socializable? If so, how and at what price?" Of her own writing, she asserts, it is useful only if there is a women's movement.
Several of Cixous's works have been translated into English, including The Exile of James Joyce or the Art of Replacement (1968, trans. 1972) and La Jeune Nee (1975, trans. 1985). See also Boundary 2 I2 (Summer 1984) and Verena Andermatt Conley, Helene Cixous: Writing the Feminine (1984).
Critical Theory Since 1965.
Florida: Florida State University Press. 1986.
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