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.
Often people say that Cixous is difficult . Challenges to intelligibility come at the start. Here are four recent book-openings:
This is not a dead object but an underground explosion whose seismic, personal, and literary consequences still continue to make themselves felt. ( Manhattan ) 1
I was anointing my mother. ‘I am skinning Mummy’ I tell myself, doing her skin. ( Hyperdream ) 2
I passed in front of Olivier de Serres which saddens me you say I try to recapture exact details in the flesh but I can’t picture the place
✂ Cixous cuts also have to do with the desire for no cut. This is even what she most aspires to, what she loves best: the experience of no-cut, the sense of a book ‘without transition’, a book that ‘begins inside, in the body’ and the desire that it might stay there. 1 It is akin to the appeal of a dream – not being transported to another world but rather: ‘you are already in the other world’. 2 Following in the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty (inventor of the ‘portmanteau’), she proposes a neologism to encapsulate this special sense of being
✂ Hélène Cixous cuts. Her writing makes incisions, severs and divides. It wounds.
✂ Quick, she passes through.
✂ More intensively than any other contemporary writer, she practises the art of cutting. ‘When I write I do nothing on purpose, except stop. My only voluntary intervention is interruption. Breaking. Cutting. Letting go. Cutting is an art I have acquired.’ 1
Her books manifest the sound and fury of this art in the most visible fashion. Words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters can just stop in the midst of
To read ‘Cixous cuts’ you have to be ready for swerves between sentences, between one word and another, and even within a word , within the sound of a word. Or its silence.
She takes the ‘H’ of ‘Hélène’ as a cutting instrument, slicing off her name in the process. It cannot be heard: the ‘H’ is silent. The ‘combat against ourselves’ is already underway. 1 The capital letter ‘H’ in its resemblance to a ladder forms the sight of the first rung, the opening words of Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing :
H: you see the
-pute . Cutting is everywhere – in remembering amputating and dismembering (17, 67, 74), midwifery and cutting cords (33), ‘throat-cutting dreams’ (68), the ‘bizarre radical cut’ of anti-semitism (70), the ‘excision ( ablation )’ of ‘the Algerian being’ (70/124), cutting the throat of a pigeon (79) and so on – all in the voice of a narrator, a Cixous double, who tells us of her powerlessness: ‘I was cut off from my brother, our inner life cut into two outer lives, and cut off from myself ’ (80).
Encore une coupure . Cixous holds back the most dreadful cut until almost
Four words to end – forwards, for the mighty force of Cixous!
All the homophones herded together, heard together, alone and otherwise.
Oh all to wend.
Four words for her work, for reading her now, off to the side and all wards, for years to come. Four falling or flying words for the love of her writing, for her love for writing.
‘Four’ that can sound a forewarning, as in the dangerously wayward striking of a golf ball: Fore!
‘Four’ that might also meow or snuffle, in French: fors (with a silent ‘s’). ‘Fors
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.
Hélène Cixous: the very name can be unnerving, at least to Anglophone speakers. The ‘H’ is silent; and then the surname is ‘pronounced “seek-soo” ’, as classroom-minded editors feel driven to say. 1 Cixous’s œuvre in turn is intimidating and immense: she seems to have assimilated everything – she is as much at ease writing about Foucault, Lacan, Deleuze or Derrida, as about Shakespeare, Stendhal, Joyce or Lispector. She has written dozens of works of fiction, criticism, plays and innumerable other texts, as well as given many in-depth interviews
event, reading Hélène Cixous reading Jacques Derrida reading each other reading themselves reading us. 2
What is the point? ‘No point in writing’. In a chapter of her Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint entitled ‘Point of Honour/Point Donor [ Point Donneur ]’, with the subtitle ‘In which there is no mourning’, Cixous writes of Derrida:
Now, the fundamental axiom of everything he says everywhere is the divisibility of the point .
Everything he writes, everything he thinks is a protest against the point as indivisible. He