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French Forum 26.3 (2001) 111-122
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Cixous's Left and Right Hands of Writing in Tambours sur ladigue and Osnabrück
Hélène Cixous, perhaps best known in this country for her concept of "écriture féminine," has had a flourishing career as a writer of fiction and theater for over thirty years. Her production of fiction and essays has continued unabated since she published her first prose work, Prénom de Dieu, in 1967. 1 Cixous came to writing for the theater a bit later in her career, with her plays, Portrait de Dora and Le Nom d'Oedipe, in the mid seventies. 2 Then, after a decade-long hiatus, she began writing scripts for the troupe the Théâtre du Soleil under the direction of Ariane Mnouchkine. To date, she has written five plays for them and done translations for the cycle of Greek dramas that they staged in the early nineties.
In discussing Cixous's writing, it is usual for critics to do as I have just done, that is, to talk about Cixous's theatre as a block, unrelated to her "poetical fiction," the term that she has used to describe her main prose writing (191). 3 Scholars treating her works in one of these genres may also mention the other, but rarely go into detail on particular texts. Cixous herself, in interviews, speeches and writings seems fascinated by the inherent differences between the two forms and, even more, by what she sees as her particularly divided position in relation to them. She has spoken several times about writing with "one theatrical hand, and one fictional hand, and they are completely different" (126) 4 ; "With my right hand I have been writing a [great deal] of poetical fiction and now I'm using my left hand in order to write plays" (191). 5 She has characterized that left hand as being "awkward" (191). Not only is it less experienced than the right hand; it is also very unlike it in nature, connected as it is to the "other"—in part, to working with others, since the writing that she has done has mainly been in conjunction with Mnouchkine and the Théâtre du Soleil. Cixous's scripts are specifically requested by them and she writes to their needs; she first works with Mnouchkine on the main themes and sometimes part [End Page 111] of the scenario before composing the working text (56). 6 Perhaps because of the more public nature of dramatic writing, especially when it is done for a specific troupe with the certainty of being produced, she feels more bound by the traditions of the genre. In a 1996 interview she stated, "Je me situe dans ce que j'appelle une tradition du théâtre ... [E]n fiction, au contraire, je considère que je ne suis pas dans une tradition, ou que du moins, s'il y en a une, c'est la mienne ... et que je n'ai pas, derrière moi, de référent ou de parent sublime" (74). 7
The author also, though, affirms the complementary and enriching nature of the two activities. She has expressed a preference for writing poetical fiction (207), but she sees drama as possessing advantages that her other writing does not. 8 Whereas the poetical text is both written and read in solitude—by her and her audience—with no "return" or "echo," theater has "a public that provides an echo, that is, a way of sharing ... The reward of theatrical writing is the moment when it translates into many people working together" (37-38). 9 Both poetical fiction—the right hand—and theatre, the left, then, seem integral to her writerly activity. Amazingly, Cixous is able to do them, if not necessarily at the same time, at least one on the heels of the other, her newest books almost consistently coming out at the same time as her most recent play is opening at the Théâtre du Soleil. This was the...