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  • Living Writing: The Poethics of Hélène Cixous
  • Adele Parker
Hélène Cixous and Mireille Calle-Gruber, Hélène Cixous, Rootprints: Memory and Life Writing Trans. Eric Prenowitz. London: Routledge, 1997.

Mireille Calle-Gruber laments that Cixous is primarily known in this country for her essays in feminist theory, when many readers who most appreciate her have come to her through her fiction. Rootprints is a look at the roots of Cixous’s writing process and the ways in which her fiction embodies the concerns of her theory: sexual difference, alterity and exchange, the unstable play of signifiers and the multiple subjectivities found within the human body. This book serves as a useful introduction to Cixous, but is also rewarding for those already familiar with her work.

A straightforward (auto)biography would never do; instead we have seven sections written by four people, befitting Cixous’s pluralistic project. In addition to interview-like pieces written by Cixous and Calle-Gruber, Derrida has written an essay, and Eric Prenowitz, Cixous’s translator, offers an afterword. While knowledge of French renders the lexical lability more pleasurable to the reader, Prenowitz’s meticulous annotated translation minimizes loss of meaning.

The meat of the book is in the first piece, “Inter Views,” a discussion between Calle-Gruber and Cixous that delves into many of her important themes: love, mourning, desire and jouissance, time and writing. Boxes of text placed throughout are windows onto Cixous’s notebooks. Cixous states that her best-known essays were deliberately didactic and meant only to mark a particular ideological moment, to clarify a position; to do that she “left her own ground,” sat down, stopped textual movement. Poetic imagination is her true ethical responsibility.

What is most true is poetic because it is not stopped-stoppable. All that is stopped, grasped, all that is subjugated, easily transmitted, easily picked up, all that comes under the word concept, which is to say all that is taken, caged, is less true.


True reading and writing always move ahead, they do not sit and wait to be appropriated; she suggests this is why people often have difficulty engaging with her work. We desire to use language for closure, for exclusion and repression; to define and contain. This is not to say that Cixous is careless, passive in letting speech speak. One can only write in being “carried away on the back of these funny horses that are metaphor” (28); but she holds the reins. She trains the many shoots of her words to take different paths, like vines. Writing, like loving, is powerful, it dictates, but it is also an action, something that we do, that we risk, that is presence itself and yet never present, never known:

...the factor of instability, the factor of uncertainty, or what Derrida calls the undecidable, is indissociable from human life. This ought to oblige us to have an attitude that is at once rigorous and tolerant and doubly so on each side: all the more rigorous than open, all the more demanding since it must lead to openness, leave passage; all the more mobile and rapid as the ground will always give way, always.


Writing for Cixous is indissociable from reading, from living, and from her body. She wants to write on her own insides, on her skin as Stendhal wrote on his waistband. Yet she does not write to know herself—although one can come to a re-cognition of self through writing—rather she writes to know a particular instant. Her passion for theater lies in the fact that a staged play is always in the moment. She tries to write the present, which is an impossibility; yet in the trying, writing is transformed.

Her writing always reconfigures intersubjectivity, with her “further-than-myself in myself” (56) and “myself as the first other” (90); “the other in all his or her forms gives me I” (13). We live always as various people, in a variety of times; life is lived in multiple registers. As breathing on a mirror blurs one’s own image, so the f/act of living prevents one from seeing oneself clearly. “It is the...

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