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New Literary History 37.1 (2006) 85-106

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Derrida & Cixous:

Between and Beyond, or "what to the letter has happened"

University of Montreal
Translated by Sarah-Anaïs Crevier Goulet
knowing how to read here, voilà the circle, is learned only on the basis of the pledge [gage] given, and given in the first instance to the fact that it is a question of finally reading, equal to [à la hauteur de] what you have to read . . . For this to happen, equal to this corpus, the corpus thus disenveiled, you have to write and sign in turn, countersign in writing something else, in another language, without betraying the injunction or the call of the first seal. One will never be able to prove that it happened, but only swear that it did. Perjury must remain possible. That's a duty that must be respected.
—Jacques Derrida, "A Silkworm of One's

One could, by way of opening, paraphrase the questions whispered [soufflées] by Hélène Cixous to the painter Simon Hantaï, a "character" in her book Le Tablier de Simon Hantaï (Simon Hantaï's Apron), to whom she lends her words (one only has to substitute "philosophy" for "painting"): "'What is painting?—he says— What is writing?' These questions are inseparable, these halves are related, it worries me a lot, says he. / The commerce of writing with painting, the exchange, the double angel at the top of the ladder and which still needs to be outmatched."2 These questions are inseparable indeed, these halves, literature (rather writing) and philosophy (rather thought), are related as it has never been seen before, never been read, between a philosopher and a writer: I am of course talking about the exchanges that flow between Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous, between their works in the first place, but also through elective affinities which partake of an unyielding friendship, of commitments, of a whole story and some affects which color what occurs here between them with such a rare, not to say unique intensity amongst the annals of alliances between literature and philosophy. And at once it is not so simple to decide on which side the one and the other meet, Derrida being [End Page 85] declared by Cixous not only "the inventor of différance" but "the poet who makes writing and hearing—and what an extraordinary sense of hearing he has—pair up and dance,"3 and Cixous inscribed by Derrida "in this great lineage of prophetic poets" "as the only woman, in this nighttime genealogy," worthy to take a place by the side of "Homer, Milton, Nietzsche, Joyce, Borges" (SO 51). These two proper names, names of capital Philosophy and Literature (dare I say, quoting the title of one of Cixous's latest fictions, as our Promised Towers?), are thus each of them, although in a different way, there, in the between, in the place of crossing, in the place of transition, of translation between the one and the other, in the play of difference without which there is neither the one nor the other. Must I recall what these two philosophical writers, these poetical philosophers have in common, and which legacies divide them? If Cixous recognizes, and Derrida does not miss the opportunity to insist on it also (even their disagreements are almost in agreement), that "Each of us is a stranger otherwise" (étranger autrement),4 that there is between them "a matter of blood lost and of tongue regained" and that "it remains a well-kept secret, between French-Jews-from-Algeria,"5 these words "French," "Jews," "from Algeria" point out without a doubt the three marks inscribed à vif as their "noblewounds" (noblessures), to use again Cixous's word, which keep them for ever separated together in their divided and multiplied disidentifications and (non-)belongings. Many differences imprint folds onto their "life," but both of them keep in common, above all, the living memory of the blows and wounds inflicted by anti-Semitism and Pé...


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