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.
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.
This chapter offers a critical exploration of Cixous’s Dream I Tell You, alongside Jacques Derrida’s ‘Fichus’, in order to clarify an understanding of ‘dream’ in Cixous’s writings. Dream I Tell You is not a work of fiction, but rather a kind of twilight book of ‘limbo things’ – a seemingly haphazard collection of ‘innocent’ dream-transcriptions, accompanied by a densely poetic and suggestive critical foreword (‘Avertissements’). The chapter shifts from a discussion of Freud (described by Cixous as ‘the Shakespeare of the night’), to her conception of literature as the ‘daughter of Dream’, and finally to Shakespeare’s own work. Particular attention is given to the importance of Antony and Cleopatra (especially Cleopatra’s dream of Antony back from the dead) in Cixous’s writing and poetic thinking. This is illustrated through a reading of the early text ‘Sorties’ (1975) and more recent writings on the subject of ‘Los’, such as Abstracts and Brief Chronicles of the Time (2013) and the companion volume Death Shall Be Dethroned (2014). Dreams bring ‘joys the diurnal world never gives’, above all when they restore to us, alive again, loved ones who have died: the chapter foregrounds the strange and powerful effects of revenance and resurrection in Cixous’s work.
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.
The phrase ‘dream in literature’ can be understood in three distinct but interrelated ways, as 1) the role and importance of dreams in literary works; 2) the impulse or compulsion to dream, to fall into reverie, to lose oneself in a dream or dreamlike state while reading a work of literature, the experience of becoming fascinated, immersed or set adrift in a book; and 3) where ‘dream’ is a speech act, an order, request, plea or desire: dream in literature as one might breathe in the night air, inhale a perfume or a strange gas. The chapter explores Cixous’s ‘writing by dream’ (as Derrida calls it), focusing in particular on the nature of the ‘I’ of the dreamer, and the relationship between ‘realisim’ and ‘telepathy’. It interweaves readings of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Ligeia’, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘The Question’, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, with readings of Cixous’s own writings (including Rootprints, Ayai! The Cry of Literature, Hyperdream, Abstracts and Brief Chronicles of the Time, and Death Shall Be Dethroned).
This chapter discusses the singular beauty and strangeness of Cixous’s writings as a kind of perpetual disruption of the machines of academic professionalisation and enclosure. Her passion is for the edifying strangeness of dreams. Her writings show a constant interest in the relations between dreams and literature, dreams and the supernatural, dreams and secrets, dreams and the more than or other than human. Her work is often about traumatic experiences or events, but there is always also the power of joy and laughter. She writes ‘escaping texts’. Her writing cuts free of all conventional terms, such as ‘critical essay’, ‘creative writing’, ‘novel’, ‘autobiography’, ‘theory’, ‘post-theory’. Readers are invited to go down into a Cixous text in the same way that they might go down into the illuminated darkness of a painting by Rembrandt.
This brief chapter offers a reading of Reveries of the Wild Woman: Primal Scenes. Like other chapters bearing the title ‘Cixous cuts’, this involves a discussion of the multiple senses of ‘cut’ in her work. Like every other book Cixous has published, Reveries of the Wild Woman: Primal Scenes is full of cuts of different kinds. Particular attention is given to the ways in which her ‘primal scenes’ are at once allied with Freud’s conception of this term and discreetly but significantly at odds with it. The chapter focuses above all on the traumatic, traumatised passage in Reveries of the Wild Woman in which Cixous recalls, as a seven-year-old in Algeria, witnessing the terrible fate of a veiled young Muslim girl on a Ferris wheel in 1944. This is announced as the ‘tale of a girl who gets cut in two’ and provides the final, most horrifying ‘primal scene’ in Cixous’s book.
This chapter focuses on Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, launching off from Kafka’s celebrated remark about the need for books ‘to be the axe for the frozen sea inside us’. It starts, as Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing starts, with the ‘H’ at the beginning of Hélène Cixous’s name, pronounced ‘ash’, i.e. ‘hache’ in French, or axe. It explores the relations between writing and trauma in terms of the notion of signature, elaborating on the view of Jacques Derrida (following Jean Genet) that ‘the signature is a wound and there is no other origin of the work of art’. This in turn leads to a discussion of écriture féminine, bisexuality and, finally, the complex and multiple figurations of ‘giving birth’ in the context of Cixous’s work. Through a discussion of Plato’s Theaetetus and philosophy as ‘maieutics’, the chapter proposes the neologistic portmanteau term maiopic writing, which combines ‘giving birth’ with what Cixous calls ‘writing blind’.
This chapter is an extended meditation on the beauty and polyphonic possibilities of the English word ‘away’, specifically in terms of how it enables a critical reading and appreciation of Cixous’s writing as escaping, in flight, going ‘away’, as text – but also as sound or music. This involves a detailed reading of Cixous’s ‘Writing Blind’ and Kafka’s ‘The Departure’, as well as extended discussion of how ‘away’ works in Shakespeare (especially Antony and Cleopatra), Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stevens’s The Man with the Blue Guitar. A critical close reading of Paul de Man on Keats’s ode discloses a new emphasis on the haunting inscription of ‘away’ in the poem. This leads back to a further encounter with ‘dream in literature’, wherein the writings of Cixous, Shakespeare and Keats sound together in the figure of the nightingale.
This chapter takes the openings of four of Cixous’s books (Manhattan, Hyperdream, Love Itself in the Letter-Box and Eve Escapes) as the basis for a discussion of the unconventional, experimental, even violent nature of her writing. Particular emphasis is given to the question of time and the speed of life: as Derrida more than once remarked, ‘Life will have been so short’. In what ways is this future anterior (‘will have’) perhaps especially characteristic of the contemporary world? Cixous’s work helps us think about the extent to which, as Mark Currie puts it in About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time, ‘the present is experienced in a mode of anticipation’. How might writing best engage what Currie calls ‘this anticipatory mode of being’? In quite different ways, both Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida highlight an uncanny sense of speed in Cixous’s work. The chapter develops their work in order to suggest how deeply Cixous’s writing resonates in a time of climate change, mass species extinction and escalating dependence on teletechnologies.