Hélène Cixous and the mysteries that beat in the heart
of the world
Writing the body
A ‘religious writer’
In my reflections upon the work of Kristeva and Irigaray I have sought to make
evident the way in which both contribute to new understandings of the relation between literary creativity and the sacred which are resonant for the feminist religious reader. It is this sustained emphasis upon the relations between
literature and theology which distinguishes my interrogation of their work
from the many other commentaries offered elsewhere. For
This book generates a critical framework through which to interrogate the way in which religious feminists have employed women's literature in their texts. This is in order that both the way we read literature and the literature we read might be subject to scrutiny, and that new reading practices be developed. Having both the critical and constructive agenda, this is a book in two parts. The first part locates the study of the use of women's writing by religious feminists in a much wider frame than has previously been attempted. In the past individual religious feminists have been criticised, often publicly and loudly, for the use they have made of particular literary texts. Having critically surveyed previously unacknowledged constraints under which religious feminists read women's literature, the second part of the book explores how the work of women poststructuralist thinkers and theorists can enrich the reading practices. It offers alternative models for an engagement between literature and theology. Julia Kristeva is best known within the academy for her unorthodox application of Lacanian theory to contemporary culture. Her work challenges religious feminists to reassess the utilitarian approaches to literary texts and enquire into whether these might have a more powerful political role when their status as literature is recognised and affirmed. The book elucidates Luce Irigaray's thinking on sexual difference and also demonstrates its significance for feminist religious readers.
the work of Kristeva, Irigaray and Cixous have
demonstrated that these women point towards ways in which the traditionally
gendered relationship between literature and theology can be reinscribed and
re-visioned. From their work we can begin to construct an agenda for feminist
religious reading that takes us beyond the conventions that now regulate the uses
of literature in feminist theology and into a wilder and more dangerous place.
Literature at last
For feminist religious reading begins when the dangerous power of literature is
recognised and affirmed.
significance of gendered cultural forms and to accord to literature a more
powerful feminine voice – which is not only that of everywoman, or those who
are marginal to culture, but also an echo of the divine. Helene Cixous develops
these themes further, explicitly claiming writing as a ‘divine force’ but also wrestling with the problem discussed in chapter 1 – namely how to work at writing
literature with a full awareness of the challenges human suffering poses for all
forms of artistic production. As Maurice Blanchot (1995) frames this question:
how do we work at writing
achievement recalls the poppy, the flower of death
and dreaming which lifts the senses to heaven.
Better get in touch with Heaven, again …
Little drops – of blood?
Think of the opium poppy, wounded, scratched, oozing its white then black blood,
scraped off in tiny harvests. (1984: 158)
In a similar manner to Cixous she affi rms the courage of the woman writer
who has struggled to attain the power to focus upon the source of knowledge:
‘Gazing on one tree, one apple’ (1984: 155).
Smart’s choice of distinctive shape for her work represents in textual form
the situation of
interpretative categories and emancipatory objectives. Jardine describes the challenge thus:
Feminism, as a concept, as inherited from the humanist and rationalist eight eenth
century, is traditionally about a group of human beings in history whose identity is
defined by that history’s representation of sexual decidability. And every term of that
definition has been put into question by contemporary French thought. (1985: 20)
63 For a discussion of how Kristeva, Irigaray and Cixous came to be nominated as the representatives of ‘French feminism’ by those outside France see
his audience (Gallop 1982: 37). Moreover, one should bear in mind that
both psychoanalysis and continental philosophy are renowned for their
opaque style (Macey 1988: 8). Within the French context, many writers
including Derrida, Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva combine literature,
philosophy, psychoanalysis and poetry. In comparison with them,
Irigaray’s style is in fact not exceptionally strange or complex (see Duchen
1988; Halsema 1998).
A further crucial respect in which Irigaray’s style should be situated in
relation to Lacan is with regard to their ideas
’s surprise that, on overhearing her speak to a ‘Bobbie’ she can actually speak English ‘as though it belonged / To you’, indicates that despite the apparent friendliness she is both patronising and affronted by the girl’s use of the imperial language. The question locates the point of conflict at that juncture where speaking, writing, oppression and language meet, and foreshadows French feminist Hélène Cixous’s commentary of fifty years later that ‘Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history.’ 129 The poem thus speaks volumes for the years
chapters that follow I shall argue that there
are resources in the work of women poststructuralist theorists that enable religious feminists to stand in awe before literary texts. I shall set out the configurations of the literary and the sacred that are presented in the work of Kristeva,
Irigaray and Cixous which I consider offer ways of reading which both reinscribe the ‘femininity’ of literary texts and leave us open to the mystery they
carry. However, before attempting this task I take a step back and enquire as
to why religious feminists have been so cautious about
, Bewitching of Anne Gunter , pp. 5, 98–106.
23 S. Clark, ‘Inversion, misrule and the meaning of witchcraft’, Past and Present 87 (1980), pp. 98–127.
24 Sandra Gilbert, ‘Introduction’ to Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, The Newly Born Woman , trans. Betsy Wing (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), p. xii.
25 Nicholas Breton, The Good and the Badde, or Descriptions of the Worthies, and Unworthies of this Age (London, 1616), cited in N. H. Keeble (ed.), The Cultural Identity of