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  • From the Word to Life:A Dialogue between Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous
  • Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, and Aliette Armel
    Translated by Ashley Thompson (bio)

[You have agreed to participate in an oral interview: Hélène Cixous has written about the danger of the "spoken word" with regards to "thinking." The voice also plays a role here: it has an important place in both of your texts.]

Jacques Derrida: Those who do not read me reproach me at times for playing writing against the voice, as if to reduce it to silence. In truth, I proposed a reelaboration and a generalization of the concept of writing, of text or of trace. Orality is also the inscription [frayage] of a trace. But the serious treatment of these problems requires time, patience, retreat, writing in the narrow sense. I have difficulty improvising about the questions which count the most for me. Our three voices are setting out on a formidable and singular exercise here: to give each other the floor [la parole], to let each other speak in order to trace out an unpredictable path. Our words should form more than one angle, they should triangulate, play at interrupting each other even while they are articulated together. Yes, for Hélène and for me, despite an abyssal difference, writing models itself on voice. Interior or not, the voice always stages itself, or is always staged. I write "out loud [à voix haute]" or "in a low voice [à voix basse]." For my seminar as well as for texts which are not meant to be pronounced. For more than forty years I have written what I teach from the first word to the last; I try out in advance the rhythm and the tonality of what, pretending to improvise, I will "vocalize" in the lecture theater. I never write in silence, I listen to myself, or I listen to the dictation of another voice, of more than one voice: staging, therefore, dance, scenography of terms, of breath and of "changes in tone." The preparation of a seminar is like a path of freedom [chemin de la liberté]: I can let myself speak, take all the time which is given to me in writing. For publication, as it involves texts of very different genres, each time the register of the voice changes.

Hélène Cixous: We both have several writing practices. One that uses what is called the speaking voice [la voix qu'on dit haute], but which for [End Page 1] me is meager and unequivocal, which is on the order of teaching; another that silently gets deeper and deeper with the degrees of writing, which seems to be without voice, whereas in a single voice it makes a chorus of voices be heard. When you write your seminars you foresee [pré-voix], your voice is a pre-voice, you write a text in order to respeak it. This respeaking is a theatricalization of what is already a staging. You double the theatrical stakes. You are the actor performing what you write as an author. You double yourself—in all ways. I don't write my seminars. For days I travel through a region of multiple texts by ramifications crossings grafts until I can think them through by heart. Then I improvise for four or five hours with two pages of notes serving as a seedbed. I have this need to let myself be haunted by voices coming from my elsewheres that resonate through me. I want to have voices. As a result I am at the mercy of their inspiration [insufflement]. They can fail me. I master nothing, I submit to the oracles. This risk is the condition of my creative energy and of my discoveries. It can happen that I run out of breath [souffle], that something loses steam [s'essouffle]. I saw myself clearly in your incredible text on Artaud, La parole soufflé, in this bivalence of the soufflé: a word whispered/given by someone else, and a word stolen, whisked away.1 We both let the word take its flight:2 this release of the word like the release of a bird or a...


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