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  • Belling Helene
  • Douglas A. Davis
Cixous, Helene. “Coming to writing” and other essays. Ed. Deborah Jenson. Trans. Sarah Cornell, Deborah Jenson, Ann Liddle, Susan Sellers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

We have learned from Freud (who found the lesson hard to keep in mind) that if one would read the unconscious, one must attend to silence as to sound. I come to be writing of Helene Cixous through her writing of “Dora,” the girl who so obsessed Freud in the months after his own writing of The Interpretation of Dreams that she called forth his most (in)famous (counter)transference and thereby enticed Sartre, Lacan, and H.C.—enough distinguished literary and psychoanalytic reinterpreters to fill a curriculum—to retell her-story. In all these re-visions of the young lady it is of course never Ida Bauer who speaks, but “Dora” who is overheard voicing another’s thoughts. Cixous’s take on the nuclear moment in Freud’s 1905 “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria” opens with the good doctor pressing his adolescent patient for the details of the encounter by the lake, where her father’s mistress’s husband may have kissed her, where she may have desired him, may have felt his aroused body, may have slapped his face:

Freud’s voice (seated, seen from behind) “...these events project themselves like a shadow in dreams, they often become so clear that we feel we can grasp them, but yet they escape interpretation, and if we proceed without skill and special caution, we cannot know if such a scene really took place.”


(a voice which rips through silence—half threatening and half begging—is heard)

  If you dare kiss me, I’ll slap you!

    (becoming more tenderly playful)

    (all of a sudden, close to his ear)


  Yes, you will tell me in full detail.

    (voice from afar)


  If you want.

    (voice awakens)

  If you [vous] want. And after that?


  You will tell me about the incident by the lake, in full detail.


  Why did I keep silent the first days after the incident by the lake?


  To whom do you think you should ask that question?


  Why did I then suddenly tell my parents about it?


  Do you know why?


    (Does not answer but tells this story in a dreamlike voice)

As father prepared to leave, I said that I would not stay there without him. Why did I tell my mother about the incident so that she would repeat it to my father?

(Cixous, 1983, 2–3)

Thus Freud, quintessential modern (and arguably the first post-modern) thinker, meets H.C. across the gaps, pauses, and ellipses of “Dora”’s discourse. And in the glimpses of H.C.’s work of the past fifteen years collected in this slim volume, there are analogous puzzles aplenty for the reader who seeks a personage behind the texts, who would lead Cixous onto a stage and examine her about time, place and person: who did what, and with what, and to whom?

Freud is not present in this collection of six of Cixous’s essays spanning 1976–89, though we imagine him squirming at the “Requiemth Lecture on the Infeminitesimal,” in “Coming to Writing” (35), which parodies his masochistic Lecture 33, on “Femininity.” H.C. shares Freud’s problem in that infamous pseudolecture, viz., to discover by writing her “how a woman develops out of a child with a bisexual disposition” (Freud, 1933, 116); but she has also read his uneasymaking strange tribute to his daughter Anna, “A Child is Being Beaten” (“A Girl Is Being Killed,” 8), and she wants us to understand that the self- mother-loving woman who comes to her writing is

not the “beautiful woman” Uncle Freud speaks of, the beauty in the mirror, the beauty who loves herself so much that no one can ever love her enough, not the queen of beauty.


The avuncular presence of “Coming to Writing” is rather a “capitalist-realist superuncle,” who annually attempts her critical domestication:

The unknown just doesn’t sell. Our customers demand simplicity. You’re always full of doubles, we can’t...

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