This book provides a lucid, wide-ranging and up-to-date critical introduction to the writings of Hélène Cixous (1937–). Cixous is often considered ‘difficult’. Moreover she is extraordinarily prolific, having published dozens of books, essays, plays and other texts. Royle avoids any pretence of a comprehensive survey, instead offering a rich and diverse sampling. At once expository and playful, original and funny, this micrological approach enables a new critical understanding and appreciation of Cixous’s writing. If there is complexity in her work, Royle suggests, there is also uncanny simplicity and great pleasure. The book focuses on key motifs such as dreams, the supernatural, literature, psychoanalysis, creative writing, realism, sexual differences, laughter, secrets, the ‘Mother unconscious’, drawing, painting, autobiography as ‘double life writing’, unidentifiable literary objects (ULOs), telephones, non-human animals, telepathy and the ‘art of cutting’. Particular stress is given to Cixous’s work in relation to Sigmund Freud and Jacques Derrida, as well as to her importance in the context of ‘English literature’. There are close readings of Shakespeare, Emily Brontë, P. B. Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, for example, alongside in-depth explorations of her own writings, from Inside (1969) and ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ (1975) up to the present. Royle’s book will be of particular interest to students and academics coming to Cixous’s work for the first time, but it will also appeal to readers interested in contemporary literature, creative writing, life writing, narrative theory, deconstruction, psychoanalysis, feminism, queer theory, ecology, drawing and painting.
This chapter looks at Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra as a script for performance. It considers the play’s rhetorical ‘signature’, its sources, dramatic structure, scenic writing, characters and casting, and the challenge it offers performance in staging a series of six ‘big’ deaths. It asks: is this play tragedy, comedy, history or farce?
This chapter provides a critical introduction to the voluminous writings of Hélène Cixous, foregrounding her importance in relation to literary studies, creative writing, autobiography and life writing, women’s writing and queer theory, psychoanalysis and deconstruction, poetic thinking and the visual arts. The chapter is organised around four principal motifs: Cixous as dreamer, realist and analyst, and finally (as if caught in the act) ‘writing’. In keeping with her own emphasis on the ‘play of the letter’, the book’s subtitle also provides an acronym: draw. The introduction closes with a discussion of Cixous’s interest in drawing and writing, and especially writing as drawing.
A brief poem about Cixous’s encounter with a feather in the author’s garden. This closing piece picks up motifs of the garden, the secret, and the relation between human and non-human animals (especially birds) developed over the course of the book.
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’.
Josette Bushell-Mingo’s Cleopatra, Royal Exchange, Manchester, 2005; Tarell Alvin McCraney’s ‘radical edit’, Royal Shakespeare Company, The Public and GableStage, 2013
Carol Chillington Rutter
This chapter concludes a discussion that has run through the whole book, beginning with the observation that Shakespeare wrote Cleopatra as a black queen of Egypt, a representation that subsequent performance in Britain has whited out, most obviously since 1953, even as it has recruited black (or blacked-up) bodies to be placed alongside white Cleopatras as if, by juxtaposition, to annex to her elite body atavistic ideas of orientalism, exoticism, ‘hot’ sexuality. While ‘fringe’ theatres in the UK – the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow; the Hackney Empire; University College’s student theatre; the Royal Exchange, Manchester – installed blackness at the centre of their productions (as did numbers of foreign productions), the power centres of UK Shakespeare production – the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre -- cast a blind eye on Shakespeare’s racial writing in Antony and Cleopatra. That changed in 2013 when the Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned Tarell Alvin McCraney to produce a ‘radical edit’ of the play, which he set on the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue at the time of the 1791 slave rebellion. Relocating the play, McCraney mobilised a black history that re-ignited the race politics and recalculated the costs of regime change written into Shakespeare’s original.
This chapter elaborates a theory of side thinking out of Cixous’s work. Side thinking has to do with previously unrecognised ways of thinking centre and margin, the explicitation of a logic of the side and side-effects, supplement and parergon, the effects of a thinking that operates on structures by a certain sideswiping or sidelining within. I develop this argument through a close reading of Cixous’s FirstDays of the Year (starting with its use of the eerie third-person formulation, thought the author, and its pervasive contention that ‘thinking is not what you think’), alongside Jacques Derrida’s H.C. for Life, That Is to Say… ‘Side thinking’ engages with a diverse array of topics, including amphibology, telepathy, literature and psychoanalysis, love and friendship, climate change, Brexit and nationalism. Extensive attention is given to the work of Samuel Beckett (in particular Endgame, Happy Days and Embers) and to Cixous’s book Zero’s Neighbour: Sam Beckett.
One of the (reconstructed) Globe’s early attempts at simulating ‘authentic’ Jacobean performance conditions – its so-called ‘original practices Shakespeare’ – this production put an ‘authentic’ all-male cast on stage in ‘authentic’ early modern costumes. This chapter interrogates the premise of authenticity and critiques performances, particularly Mark Rylance’s as Cleopatra, that registered both textual and semiotic incoherence. If the aim of reconstructing Shakespeare’s Globe was to provide ‘a machine to test … original staging’, what, this chapter wonders, did this production teach audiences about Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra? Answering, it proposes that the great discovery of ‘original practices staging’ was to understand this play as a comedy and Cleopatra as a clown.
This chapter locates Antony and Cleopatra on the Jacobean stage. It contextualises the regime change which the play dramatises to the regime change then occupying England after the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603. It proposes a connection between The Masque of Blackness, ordered by Queen Anna for the Christmas revels in 1605, when she and her female courtiers blacked up to play Egyptian ‘daughters of Niger’, and both Shakespeare’s Othello, staged at court in November 1604, and Antony and Cleopatra, 1606. Like The Masque of Blackness, Shakespeare’s Egyptian play put a black queen on stage. Was Shakespeare’s play a sequel to Anna’s? How was the Jacobean casting managed? No doubt Richard Burbage was Shakespeare’s first Antony. But who first played Cleopatra?
This chapter argues that the writings of Cixous and Derrida offer new ways of thinking about psychoanalysis. Neither was ever ‘in analysis’; both are committed, however, to what Derrida calls the ‘psychoanalytic revolution’, i.e. the only revolution ‘not to rest, not to seek refuge, in principle, in … a theological or humanist alibi’. Both Cixous and Derrida are constantly interested, also, in the ways in which Freud’s thinking at once falters at and illuminates the question of literature. This chapter investigates these issues in particular in terms of the notions of telepathy and magic. As was noted in Chapter 3, Freud is for Cixous ‘the Shakespeare of the night’: attention is here given to what she calls Freud’s ‘cartography of dreams’ and its correspondences with the work of Joseph Popper-Lynkeus (especially ‘Phantasies of a Realist’), as a basis for thinking about realism and hyperrealism, fantasy, dream and what Derrida terms ‘literary hyperconscience’. This leads in turn to a discussion of Cixous’s favourite Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.