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Hélène Cixous’ Partie: Interpreting “Otherness” through Readings

From: Women in French Studies
Special Issue, 2012
pp. 167-183 | 10.1353/wfs.2012.0024

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reading, intertextuality, interpreting, re-adapting, shaping and experimenting play a crucial role in Hélène Cixous’ own concept of reading and writing as all her texts attest. Her interpretations of prominent writers appear in all her work as philosophical reactions to her extensive readings and dialogue on creativity. Cixous herself calls this intensive re-working “une poétique du revenir” when alluding to her rereading and critique of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories (Critique 299). This creative process produces the specific character and approach of a “theory-fiction” that Cixous recognizes in Poe and uses in her own writing (Critique 326). Literally translated as “poetics of the come back,” those re-readings return as “revenants” i.e. as ghosts with its French double-entendre. Those ghosts form an integral part of her thought since they are included as intertexts of her own fiction; they are often presented in a subversive manner in order to question the established order.

Cixous’ writing strategies will be briefly examined in regard to Cixous’ path of resistance to patriarchal traditions and her practice of “otherness,” through her re-readings of theoreticians such as Freud. Links between Cixous and writers such as James Joyce and Lewis Carroll will be emphasized, leading to the detailed study of one particular Cixousian text, Partie. Almost no critic, so far, has looked in depth at this crucial poetic piece when concentrating on her subversive aesthetic around reading as a path to experimentation and presentation of the creative mode.

Freud or Fraud

Cixous’ discourse on feminine writing, her stand on Freudian theories and details on Cixous’ place within the feminist community of authors are now very well-known and have been discussed extensively by critics on both sides of the Atlantic for forty years: Andermatt-Conley, Clément, Dobson, Jenson, Makward, Miller, Rye, Santoro, Zupancic, just to name a few. With Cixous’ continued prolific output, a renewed interest in her works has happened this last decade; after a feminist lull, a new generation of women and critics has rediscovered her texts. Numerous articles and books, blogs and internet sites (of varied quality) on Cixous are to be found. Interviews, opinions, conversations, collective essays and students’ readers have been published.

Hélène Cixous is well acquainted with Freud’s theories, as seen in her Portrait de Dora and Partie, both published in 1976. Cixous reacts against Freudian and Hegelian dialectics by emphasizing difference or “differance” (according to Derrida’s theory with Cixous’ own displacements). In Portrait de Dora, Cixous re-examines Dora, one of Freud’s patients since the case was considered Freud’s greatest failure in psychoanalysis. In defining a female libidinal economy, Cixous looks also at Kant, Hegel, Jean-François Lyotard, Derrida and Lacan. In the play, the character Dora is caught in a complex web of adult desires. The reader can apprehend, on stage, the young girl’s stand in the sexual ballet of the grown-ups. Tagged as a hysterical, Dora might not have been so, after all, when Freud tackled her case on his couch. In 1900, Dora walked out of her regular sessions, thus never allowing Freud to “solve” her case. For the reader and spectator of Cixous’ play, the protagonist Freud is no longer an omnipotent personage but a man judged on his frailties. Cixous’ aim is to probe the mystery and shed a different light on the story. Because of Freud’s presence as an actor in the drama, Dora is looked upon as a person with desires engaged and is absolved in the spectators’ eyes when demonstrating her female libidinal economies. The “voice of the play,” which introduces Portrait de Dora, as in a Greek chorus, makes clear the writer’s intent. The problem is not solved: nobody will really ever know what Dora thought, but through Cixous’ text, the readers have another point of view, a female point of view, and another option than that demonstrated by Freud on female hysteria.

Cixous’ play unfolds as a dream. The characters become real through the fiction but still manage to escape reality. The voice in the play announces from the start:

Ces événements s’annoncent, comme une ombre...

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