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literature

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Cixous, Hélène (b. 1937)  
 
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In 1977, a crisis in Cixous's personal life led her to write Angst (1977), which not only chronicled the painful breakup of a love relationship but which also proved a definitive departure from what she later termed "the heterosexual scene."

Even prior to this time, Cixous's growing awareness of the relationship between feminism and "sexuality difference" as well as the perceived need to refocus her energies on relations between women, led her to begin a series of creative collaborations with other women writers.

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With Catherine Clément, the author of the groundbreaking Opera, or the Undoing of Women (1979), Cixous wrote The Newly Born Woman (1975), whose title in French puns on "Là-je-nais" ("There I am being born") and La Genet, a female version of the famous twentieth-century French gay author, Jean Genet.

In this text, "born" of a collaboration between two women as well as the writings of a male homosexual author, Cixous and Clément argue that the desire for recognition should be replaced by that for alterity, which journeys toward the "other" and produces empathetic identification without the destructive fusion of opposites.

Cixous exhorts women to break their complicit silence and write of their bodies and desires in a distinctive language she terms "feminine writing." This interest in a specifically female pleasure and language that has been denied to women is also central to Coming to Writing (1977), in which Cixous traces the origin of women's writing to the mother's voice and body.

In the following years, Cixous's work appeared principally under the imprint of the French feminist publishing house Des Femmes, where she enjoyed a close association with Antoinette Fouque, the cofounder of the Movement for the Liberation of Women.

Cixous's prose became more lyrical and erotic and less marked by ironic polemic as she turned her attention to relationships among women. Cixous not only continued her explorations of the relations between literature, opera, and painting, but also discovered an influential inspiration in the Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, whose surrealistic writings focus on women whose lives are inscrutable to the larger culture.

Cixous's exploration of the creative potentials of female homoeroticism reaches its height in The Book of Promethea (1983). The action of this text, which combines philosophy and myth and is seductively ironic and erotic in tone, is divided among three characters: the narrator H, the subject "I," and the semimythic Promethea.

H, in a manner reminiscent of but not identical with the author Cixous, describes herself as struggling for years to find in theoretical discourses the means to understand the world but has now concluded that they are all disappointing illusions. Promethea, as her name suggests, embodies the Promethean will to transgression, which enables her to produce erotic and creative fire.

Promethea is not only the narrator's lover but also her inspiration: She constantly challenges H to risk more as a writer and lover. Promethea is a force of Dionysian transformation who embodies the virtues of innocence and simplicity along with the propensity for excess and violence that Cixous had earlier celebrated in Penthesilea, the Amazon of Homeric epic.

The drama focuses on the conflict between a total identification that threatens the subject with annihilation and a separation that leads to unbearable grief, but the ironic distance of the text is maintained by humorous interludes in which Promethea suggests, for example, defrosting the refrigerator or cooking a meal.

In this text, Cixous demonstrates that female creative powers are sustained and nourished by women's erotic and imaginative bonds with other women, both real and semimythical.

In recent years, Cixous has increasingly turned her attention to drama and history as well as to collaborations with the stage director Ariane Mnouchkine.

Although Cixous cannot be termed a self-identified "lesbian" writer, this is principally because she, like other contemporary French literary theorists such as Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze have abandoned the concept of unified identity, as well as the opposition between heterosexuality and homosexuality, on which they argue such identities are grounded.

Though Cixous is known in the United States principally for her feminist and theoretical writings, her lyrically erotic and experimental fictions celebrating female homoeroticism and feminist solidarity are now becoming increasingly well known thanks to the work of her fine translators.

Corinne E. Blackmer

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    Bibliography
   

Cixous, Hélène. The Book of Promethea. Trans. and Intro. Betsy Wing. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

_____. Coming to Writing and Other Essays. Deborah Jenson, ed. Trans. Sarah Cornell, Deborah Jenson, Ann Liddle, and Susan Sellers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

_____. Inside. Trans. Carol Barko. New York: Schocken, 1986.

_____. "The Laugh of the Medusa." Trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen. Signs 1 (Summer 1976): 875-899.

_____. Readings: The Poetics of Blanchot, Joyce, Kleist, Kafka, Lispector and Tsvetayeva. Ed., trans., and intro. Verena Andermatt Conley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics. London: Methuen, 1985.

Shiach, Morag. Hélène Cixous: A Politics of Writing. New York: Routledge, 1991.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Blackmer, Corinne E.  
    Entry Title: Cixous, Hélène  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 20, 2013  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/cixous_h.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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