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New Literary History 37.1 (2006) ix-xxvii
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Cracking the Book—Readings of Hélène Cixous
La porte est condamnée mais entrez donc
With the possible exceptions of Hélène Cixous's own contribution and her dialogue with Jacques Derrida, this issue of New Literary History presents a series of new readings of Cixous's work. The initiative was Ralph Cohen's from the start: to publish a collection of essays that would reflect the extraordinary diversity in the reception of Hélène Cixous's writing. And while this volume can be taken as a snapshot, or rather a participant-observer of the present moment in the reading of Hélène Cixous, it has, in a certain sense, been a long time in the making. And in this long making too, Ralph Cohen has had a decisive hand. Soon after founding New Literary History in 1969, he presided over some of Hélène Cixous's very first publications in translation. In fact her first text to be published in English, aside from her doctoral thesis, was an article named "The Character of 'Character,'" a kind of manifesto for a new poetics, which appeared in New Literary History in 1974. Since then, she has appeared regularly in the pages of NLH (in 1976, '82, '87, '93 (twice), '94, '97 and '02).1 Indeed Ralph Cohen is easily Hélène Cixous's longest standing publisher in any language, and the history of the reception or the dissemination of Hélène Cixous's work, particularly in English (although her reception in English has had an important impact on her reception in many languages, and above all in French), could not be written without taking into account the role and the symbolic position of NLH.
I would say furthermore that the initiative of which this issue is a result itself constitutes a crucial act of reading. Because perhaps the most striking thing about the reception of Hélène Cixous's writing to date is the great diversity of the ways in which it has been read. Some of this variety is no doubt a reflection of Cixous's exceptional productivity, and particularly her extraordinary versatility as a writer and thinker: she is [End Page ix] the author of some forty books of fiction which together constitute one of the most creative, innovative, challenging, poetic bodies of experimental literature ever written; she has been house playwright at the renowned Théâtre du Soleil for nearly twenty-five years and has written more than a dozen major plays; she is a prolific theorist and literary critic having single-handedly reinvented the essay form in her innumerable publications spanning nearly four decades; she is a celebrated teacher whose ongoing doctoral seminar is a singular genre of highly sophisticated performance art, proposing a dazzling poetic and philosophical reading of some of the most demanding works of world literature; she has been a radical political thinker and activist ever since she took a central role in the creation of the experimental Université de Paris VIII after May 1968 and in the French women's movement shortly thereafter.
But beyond these questions of form or genre, the fact that Hélène Cixous is read in so many ways says something deeper about her writing in general. It is as if she speaks more than one language at once, at more than one level, and therefore very different kinds of readers come to her texts in search of very different kinds of things. Some come to find the literary face of an unconditional philosophy, others come to find something like the very voice of poetry, others an uncompromising political analysis or a relentlessly original reflection on literature, on the visual arts, on music, on sexual difference, on psychoanalysis, on the state of the world or human relations . . . The present volume offers a sampling of this diversity, and even the variety in the geographical provenance of the contributions is telling in this regard. Together, the...