some cixous pour vous

I am reading White Ink: Interviews on Sex, Text, and Politics which is a collection of interviews with French theorist Hèléne Cixous.  I first encountered Cixous in college, specifically with her essay ‘The Laugh of the Medusa‘ which did a whole bunch of good shit for my brain at the time.  So much so that I still have a well-marked and tattered xerox of it.  It’s a look at, among other things, the ties between l’écriture feminine and psychoanalysis.

She’s an incredible writer and, I’m now realising, speaker.  I got a rush after reading this passage, and so wanted to share it.  This probably won’t be everyone’s cuppa, of course, and it’s a lot of text, but I like handing things round the table anyway.  It’s worth the challenge I reckon.

From Part 1, interview between Cixous and Christa Sevens, trans. Suzanne Dow, entitled ‘The play of fiction’:

…We are all walking on a volcanic earth.  We all of us have a horde of demons hiding behind the bathroom door, in the corridor.  Who are these demons?  Ourselves.  Our countless terrors that we can all foment.  They are those absolutely ridiculous things that bind us all, the stuff of comedy.  The things that trigger wars are totally absurd details, the stuff of village gossip and taxi-ride chit-chat.  And yet they can be enough to kill you.  These are the symptoms of the great primitive stage play that none of us got to see, because we were just babes in arms.  It’s a great primitive massacre scene, the one the Greeks reconstructed in their mytholoy or cosmology: Cronus eats his own children, Jupiter kills his father, a bloodbath ensues, there’s incest, hatred, jealousy and so on….We live alongside our loved ones, our closest friends, our parents, with our children born of the most hideous tragedies, which are tragic love stories.  When there’s love there’s hatred and fear.  What makes all that so hellish is every human being’s terror of the fact that in her or his soul, in the soul of the other, are wild animlas, knives, arrows, etc.  It’s totally intolerable, something we can’t admit.  Which is precisely what our religions, even if we are not religious ourselves, have absolutely forbidden, and which we cannot bring ourselves to deal with.  We deal with all that with silence and by blocking it out.

But there’s also another kind of obscurity that’s there for a different reason.  Obscure because too dazzling to behold.  It’s the lover’s adoration, grand romantic passions.  It’s dazzling because that’s where ecstasy and divination are to be found.  When dazzled by love we see things: we traverse the body of the other, we see her or him almost entirely (“almost”, that is, because we don’t see everything), and certain things become utterly transparent.  And when you’re in that place called love that amazing thing called making love becomes a possibility, and which is really the thing, the time, the moment when human beings are graced with godliness.  In moments of grace, of ecstasy, in the dazzling light of seeing the time the place the body the flesh of the passing into the other; the moment of trans is so bright that we cross over onto the other side.  As The Book of Revelations says, we see too much: we see a moment in a way that’s absolutely incendiary, just like the way we’d see God.  But since God is a seer, we don’t see God; we pass over to the other side.  And in that moment we’re in the darkness generated by the excess of light.  And yet it’s there – at the two extremes, that is – in the darkest and most dazzling of darknesses – all the mysteries that drive us, that govern us, that carry us, that make up our lives and our destinies.  So either you ignore all that, and you’re born like most people, you live until you die and that’s it.  You consume and consume yourself and you are finite.  Or else you have a genuine passion for creation, genesis, for what we are – creations – and you want to get close to the places from which all this stems and to draw pleasure from them, because these are absolutely inexhaustible, unfathomable treasure troves.  But you can only do this under paradoxical conditions, because then you’re heading into territory that is by defnintion beyond us, eludes us.  These are good paradoxes to experience, though.  Does that mean that we are always falling short of something?  Of course not – it’s just that there’s a gap between what we can perceive in moments of enlightenment, and what we are able to get down on paper.  These moments of enlightenment by definition travel faster than we do.  A flash of light moves faster than writing.  Trying to keep up, not to be definitively held at one remove by the phenomenon of revelation is precisely the conflict that writing has to grapple with [le drame de l’écriture], and at the same time the challenge it has to take up…

pp. 5-6

I love the energy she has here, and for something that is so simply honest and to-the-point.  I like watching her negotiate the space between those two exremes. She does it with such grace.

Good for my head, yessir.



8 responses to “some cixous pour vous

  1. The Bearded Traveler

    I find words especially failing with certain environments. The lighting, time of day, weather outside, and environmental noise (and other things, I’m sure) can create a feeling inside me… it’s not merely an emotion, or nostalgia- it is those things and other deep-down soul feelings which can’t be put into words sometimes. I wish I had a word for how it felt at my old childhood home, on a bright sunny day, with lots of lawn equipment noise and airplane noise, and… it’d be comforting but harsh, nostalgia-inducing but a bit too familiar, all at once. It would give me this strange feeling, and there was no word for it. And that’s just one example.

  2. Hey bee ess

    I have been doing some thinking lately about people who make things, and the sorts of people they are, and what lies behind my fierce yet relatively unsubstantiated feeling that there are people who do and people who don’t (make things as a way of existing). This piece of writing you’ve passed around the table is an illuminating contribution to what’s in my head about it. Cheers.

    I’m so glad you blog. Your photos & words are a treat.

    a little invalid.

  3. “A flash of light moves faster than writing”, oh I like to think that imagination can fill in such discrepancies.
    That’s a beauitful read, did she speak this? That would be lovely to hear.

  4. Thanks Ali. That means a lot from such a blogstress as you. I am glad I (intermittently) blog too. Now that you mention your own lines of thinking about those who create and those who do not, I realise that my life is sort of organising itself around that distinction. I didn’t consciously steer it that way, but that’s what’s happening. I find myself more deeply drawn to folks who make, and make more, and share it, and then make some more.

    Bobby: yes, she did speak this, in French. When I read things she’s written in French that have been translated to English, I am always blown away by her use of language and the pictures she makes and how far she can go with a sentence and never lose you because her constructions, though complex, are very solid, concrete, strong. I think you would like this book, you can have it next! I think I’m going to read some more tonight, as soon as I buy myself a pizza.

    x to you both

  5. Hi.

    I really, really would love to find the original source for “The Play of Fiction” but can’t find it anywhere. Is there a journal or some other cite?

    You illuminate my life in so many ways. I appreciate it.

  6. Oh wait, I get it. Is it in White Ink?

  7. Yeah, it appears in White Ink, but here’s the info about the original according to the notes from the editor:

    ‘This interview might also be translated as ‘The fiction-writing game’ or ‘The stakes of fiction’. It originally appeared as ‘Questions à Hélène Cixous’ [Questions for Hélène Cixous], in ‘en(jeux) de la communication romanesque’, Suzan van Dijk & Christa Stevens (eds) 321-2 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994).

    Illuminate? Cool. That’s a wonderful effect to have. I’m glad you enjoy.

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