Portmanteau
in Hélène Cixous
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For several decades the importance of Cixous’s work In the English-speaking world has been represented primarily in terms of ‘feminism’, ‘feminist theory’ and ‘women’s writing’. This chapter proposes that it might more aptly be construed in terms of ‘the uncanny’, the troublingly strange and/or strangely familiar. This figure, it is argued, also proves crucial for understanding the affinities between Cixous and Derrida. Particular attention is given to Cixous’s reading of Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ in her remarkable essay ‘Fiction and Its Phantoms’ (1972), together with her somewhat later reflections on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. F. W. J. Schelling memorably described the feeling of the uncanny as arising when ‘what ought to have remained secret and hidden … comes to light’. This sense of unveiling links up with Cixous’s reading of Carroll as the author of ‘escaping texts’, where ‘escape’ is understood first of all as literally ‘getting out of one’s cape’. Exposition of another ‘cloak’-word, Humpty Dumpty’s neologistic ‘portmanteau’ (literally, ‘cloak-’ or ‘mantle- carrying’), leads to an account of Cixous’s work as double- or portmanteau-writing. The portmanteau comes to designate an uncanny double logic of the ‘escaping text’ and what ‘escapes text’.

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