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Reviewed by:
  • Hélène Cixous: la langue plus-que-vive by Véronique Bergen
  • Mairéad Hanrahan
Hélène Cixous: la langue plus-que-vive. Par Véronique Bergen. (Littérature et genre.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2017. 136 pp.

In this book, Véronique Bergen adopts a thematico-conceptual approach to Cixous's work. She selects three principal questions to structure her exploration of the 'textes en prose' (p. 11), with which she engages predominantly at the macrocosmic level of the writing. The first of these questions concerns the writer's primal scenes of writing. Bergen argues that, notwithstanding the catalytic role played by the father's death while the author was still a child, Cixous's writing draws on an exceptional vitality, exemplified above all in her experience of language as 'plus-que-vive'. While these questions have been much rehearsed by other critics, Bergen's approach is original in using Deleuze and Guattari's idea of a 'minor literature' to frame her argument. The initial discussion of the genesis of Cixous's writing leads on to a reflection on the 'livre que je n'écrirai pas' or 'lqjnp', the unwritten work that Cixous's texts have turned around since the publication of Jours de l'an in 1990. A particularly thought-provoking aspect of this chapter is Bergen's reading of the 'lqjnp' in relation to specifically Jewish motifs, the Hebrew tetragrammaton, and the Golem of Jewish mysticism. She assimilates Cixous's work on naming to a displacement of the 'trois systèmes herméneutiques de déchiffrement' (p. 65) of classical Biblical exegesis, and posits that these hermeneutic systems are converted by Cixous into 'dispositifs de création' (p. 66). One of the book's central preoccupations thus concerns the extent to which Cixous's writing is determined by the Jewish culture from which she borrows, and whether Cixous's writing as a 'juifemme' implicitly categorizes her as a Jewish writer. The analogy between Cixous's 'système a-systémique' and Spinoza's system (p. 66), for example, or the argument that Cixous's celebration of writing over orality aligns her with Judaism rather than with Plato (p. 71), serve to situate her work within a specifically Jewish genealogy. Yet the list of those with whose work Cixous's communicates via 'des grappes de schibboleth' (p. 72) situates Cixous within a different, and strikingly non-Jewish, genealogy: Sophocles, Joyce, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Genet, Racine. Perhaps deliberately in a book that gives pride of place to identifying a 'métissage de concepts' in Cixous's writing (p. 81), the suggestion that the distinctive aspects of her work deriving from Jewish tradition echo in an 'inconscient collectif' (p. 72) shared with predominantly non-Jewish writers creates a productive tension. Similarly, in the final chapter dealing with écriture féminine and the figure of the mother, [End Page 465] Bergen emphasizes what Cixous has in common with a surprisingly wide range of writers in a long list of 'machines littéraires' produced by figures as disparate as Pierre Guyotat, Clarice Lispector, William Faulkner, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, and Kathy Acker (pp. 83–84). This has the paradoxical effect of blurring the differences between them, a blurring that Bergen identifies as homologically at work within Cixous's own writing: 'La différence entre la peau et la non-peau s'estompe' (p. 97). Bergen's emphasis on a sameness underlying although not sublating the proliferation generally recognized as one of the most distinctive features of Cixous's work adds another useful layer to our understanding of the conceptual complexity of the writer's work.

Mairéad Hanrahan
University College London


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