Hélène Cixous

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Hélène Cixous
File:Hélène Cixous par Claude Truong-Ngoc 2011.jpg
Hélène Cixous, Sept. 2011.
Born (1937-06-05) 5 June 1937 (age 85)
Oran, French Algeria
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School French feminism
Institutions University of Paris VIII
Main interests
Literary criticism

Hélène Cixous (French: [elɛn siksu]; born 5 June 1937) is a professor, French feminist writer, poet, playwright, philosopher, literary critic and rhetorician.[1][2] She holds honorary degrees from Queen's University and the University of Alberta in Canada; University College Dublin in Ireland; the University of York and University College London in the UK; and Georgetown University, Northwestern University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA. In 2008 she was appointed as A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University until June 2014.

Life and career

Cixous was born in Oran, French Algeria.[3] She earned her agrégation in English in 1959 and her Doctorat ès lettres in 1968. Her main focus, at this time, was English literature and the works of James Joyce. In 1968, she published L'Exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement (The Exile of James Joyce, or the Art of Displacement) and the following year she published her first novel, Dedans (Inside), a semi-autobiographical work that won the Prix Médicis. She is a professor at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland and the University of Paris VIII, whose center for women's studies, the first in Europe, she founded.[1]

She has published widely, including twenty-three volumes of poems, six books of essays, five plays, and numerous influential articles. She published Voiles (Veils) with Jacques Derrida and her work is often considered deconstructive. In introducing her Wellek Lecture, subsequently published as Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, Derrida referred to her as the greatest living writer in his language (French). Cixous wrote a book on Derrida titled Portrait de Jacques Derrida en jeune saint juif (Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint). Her reading of Derrida finds additional layers of meaning at a phonemic rather than strictly lexical level.[4] In addition to Derrida and Joyce, she has written monographs on the work of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, on Maurice Blanchot, Franz Kafka, Heinrich von Kleist, Michel de Montaigne, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, and the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva.[1]

Along with Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, Cixous is considered one of the mothers of poststructuralist feminist theory.[5] In the 1970s, Cixous began writing about the relationship between sexuality and language. Like other poststructuralist feminist theorists, Cixous believes that our sexuality is directly tied to how we communicate in society. In 1975, Cixous published her most influential article "Le rire de la méduse" ("The Laugh of the Medusa"), translated and released in English in 1976. She has published over 70 works; her fiction, dramatic writing and poetry, however, are not often read in English.

Influences on Cixous' writing

Some of the most notable influences on her writings have been Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan and Arthur Rimbaud.

Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud established the initial theories which would serve as a basis for some of Cixous' arguments in developmental psychology. Freud's analysis of gender roles and sexual identity concluded with separate paths for boys and girls through the Oedipus complex, theories of which Cixous was particularly critical.

Jacques Derrida

Contemporaries, lifelong friends, and intellectuals, Jacques Derrida and Cixous both grew up as French Jews in Algeria and share a "belonging constituted of exclusion and nonbelonging"—not Algerian, rejected by France, their Jewishness concealed or acculturated. In Derrida's family "one never said 'circumcision' but 'baptism,' not 'Bar Mitzvah' but 'communion.'" Judaism cloaked in Catholicism is one example of the undecidability of identity that influenced the thinker whom Cixous calls a "Jewish Saint."[6] Her book Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint addresses these matters.

Through deconstruction, Derrida employed the term logocentrism (which was not his coinage). This is the concept that explains how language relies on a hierarchical system that values the spoken word over the written word in Western culture. The idea of binary opposition is essential to Cixous' position on language.

Cixous and Luce Irigaray combined Derrida's logocentric idea and Lacan's symbol for desire, creating the term phallogocentrism. This term focuses on Derrida's social structure of speech and binary opposition as the center of reference for language, with the phallic being privileged and how women are only defined by what they lack; not A vs. B, but, rather A vs. ¬A (not-A).

In a dialogue between Derrida and Cixous, Derrida said about Cixous: "Helene's texts are translated across the world, but they remain untranslatable. We are two French writers who cultivate a strange relationship, or a strangely familiar relationship with the French language -- at once more translated and more untranslatable than many a French author. We are more rooted in the French language than those with ancestral roots in this culture and this land."[7]

The Bibliothèque nationale de France

In 2000, a collection in Cixous' name was created at the Bibliothèque nationale de France after Cixous donated the entirety of her manuscripts to date. They then featured in the exhibit "Brouillons d'écrivains" held there in 2001.

In 2003, the Bibliothèque held the conference "Genèses Généalogies Genres: Autour de l'oeuvre d'Hélène Cixous". Among the speakers were Mireille Calle-Gruber, Marie Odile Germain, Jacques Derrida, Annie Leclerc, Ariane Mnouchkine, Ginette Michaud, and Hélène Cixous herself.

Major works

The Laugh of the Medusa (1975)

This text, originally written in French as Le Rire de la Méduse in 1975, was translated into English by Keith and Paula Cohen in 1976.[8] Cixous is issuing her female readers an ultimatum of sorts: either they can read it and choose to stay trapped in their own bodies by a language that does not allow them to express themselves, or they can use their bodies as a way to communicate.

Dense with literary allusions, "The Laugh of the Medusa", is an exhortation to a "feminine mode" of writing; the phrases "white ink" and "écriture féminine" are often cited, referring to this desired new way of writing. It is a critique of logocentrism and phallogocentrism, having much in common with Jacques Derrida's earlier thought. The essay also calls for an acknowledgment of universal bisexuality or polymorphous perversity, a precursor of queer theory's later emphases, and swiftly rejects many kinds of essentialism which were still common in Anglo-American feminism at the time. The essay also exemplifies Cixous's style of writing in that it is richly intertextual, making a wide range of literary allusions.[1] In homage to French theorists of the feminine, Laughing with Medusa was published by Oxford University Press in 2006.


Unless otherwise indicated, the city of publication is Paris.


  • Le Prénom de Dieu, Grasset, 1967.
  • Dedans, Grasset, 1969.
  • Le Troisième Corps, Grasset, 1970.
  • Les Commencements, Grasset, 1970.
  • Un vrai jardin, L'Herne, 1971.
  • Neutre, Grasset, 1972.
  • Tombe, Le Seuil, 1973.
  • Portrait du Soleil, Denoël, 1973.
  • Révolutions pour plus d'un Faust, Le Seuil, 1975.
  • Souffles, Des femmes, 1975.
  • La, Gallimard, 1976.
  • Partie, Des femmes, 1976.
  • Angst, Des femmes, 1977.
  • Préparatifs de noces au-delà de l'abîme, Des femmes, 1978.
  • Vivre l'orange, Des femmes, 1979.
  • Ananké, Des femmes, 1979.
  • Illa, Des femmes, 1980.
  • With ou l'Art de l'innocence, Des femmes, 1981.
  • Limonade tout était si infini, Des femmes, 1982.
  • Le Livre de Promethea, Gallimard, 1983.
  • La Bataille d'Arcachon, Laval, Québec, 1986.
  • Manne, Des femmes, 1988.
  • Jours de l'an, Des femmes, 1990.
  • L'Ange au secret, Des femmes, 1991.
  • Déluge, Des femmes, 1992.
  • Beethoven à jamais, ou l'éxistence de Dieu, Des femmes, 1993.
  • La Fiancée juive, Des femmes, 1997.
  • OR. Les lettres de mon père, Des femmes, 1997.
  • Voiles (with Jacques Derrida), Galilée, 1998.
  • Osnabrück, Des femmes, 1999.
  • Les Rêveries de la femme sauvage. Scènes primitives, Galilée, 2000.
  • Le Jour où je n'étais pas là, Galilée, 2000.
  • Benjamin à Montaigne. Il ne faut pas le dire, Galilée, 2001.
  • Manhattan. Lettres de la préhistoire, Galilée, 2002.
  • Rêve je te dis, Galilée, 2003.
  • L'Amour du loup et autres remords, Galilée, 2003.
  • Tours promises, Galilée, 2004.
  • L'amour même dans la boîte aux lettres, Galilée, 2005.
  • Hyperrêve, Galilée, 2006.
  • Si près, Galilée, 2007.
  • Cigüe : vieilles femmes en fleurs, Galilée, 2008.
  • Philippines : prédelles , Galilée, 2009.
  • Ève s'évade : la ruine et la vie, Galilée, 2009.
  • Double Oubli de l'Orang-Outang, Galilée, 2010


  • La Pupulle, Cahiers Renaud-Barrault, Gallimard, 1971.
  • Portrait de Dora, Des femmes, 1976.
  • Le Nom d'Oedipe. Chant du corps interdit, Des femmes, 1978.
  • La Prise de l'école de Madhubaï, Avant-scène du Théâtre, 1984.
  • L'Histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk, roi du Cambodge, Théâtre du Soleil, 1985.
  • Théâtre, Des femmes, 1986.
  • L'Indiade, ou l'Inde de leurs rêves, Théâtre du Soleil, 1987.
  • On ne part pas, on ne revient pas, Des femmes, 1991.
  • Les Euménides d'Eschyle (traduction), Théâtre du Soleil, 1992.
  • L'Histoire (qu'on ne connaîtra jamais), Des femmes, 1994.
  • "Voile Noire Voile Blanche / Black Sail White Sail", bilingual, trad. Catherine A.F. MacGillivray, New Literary History 25, 2 (Spring), Minnesota University Press, 1994.
  • La Ville parjure ou le Réveil des Érinyes, Théâtre du Soleil, 1994.
  • Jokasta, libretto to the opera of Ruth Schönthal, 1997.
  • Tambours sur la digue, Théâtre du Soleil, 1999.
  • Rouen, la Trentième Nuit de Mai '31, Galilée, 2001.
  • Le Dernier Caravansérail, Théâtre du Soleil, 2003.
  • Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir, Théâtre du Soleil, 2010.


  • L'Exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement (doctoral thesis), Grasset, 1969.
  • Prénoms de personne, Le Seuil, 1974.
  • The Exile of James Joyce or the Art of Replacement (translation by Sally Purcell of L'exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement). New York: David Lewis, 1980.
  • Un K. Incompréhensible : Pierre Goldman, Christian Bourgois, 1975.
  • La Jeune Née, with Catherine Clément, 10/18, 1975.
  • La Venue à l'écriture, with Madeleine Gagnon and Annie Leclerc, 10/18, 1977.
  • Entre l'écriture, Des femmes, 1986.
  • L'Heure de Clarice Lispector, Des femmes, 1989.
  • Photos de racines, with Mireille Calle-Gruber, Des femmes, 1994.
  • Portrait de Jacques Derrida en Jeune Saint Juif, Galilée, 2001.
  • Rencontre terrestre, with Frédéric-Yves Jeannet, Galilée, 2005.
  • Le Tablier de Simon Hantaï, 2005.
  • Insister. À Jacques Derrida, Galilée, 2006.
  • Le Voisin de zéro : Sam Beckett, Galilée, 2007

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Hélène Cixous Faculty Profile at European Graduate School with biography and bibliography. (Retrieved 15 May 2010)
  2. "Hélène Cixous". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 17 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Hélène Cixous". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 17 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Not the same as puns, which play on the varied means of a word or phrase or the homonyms thereof.
  5. "How many of these great female thinkers have you heard of?". Daily Post (Liverpool). 11 December 2007. p. 12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint" Description of Cixous's Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint at Columbia University Press. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  7. Derrida, Jacques; Hélène Cixous; Aliette Armel; Ashley Thompson (Winter 2006). "From the Word to Life: A Dialogue between Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous". New Literary History: Hélène Cixous: When the Word Is a Stag. 37 (1): 1–13. JSTOR 20057924. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, Signs 1, no. 4 (1976): 875–93

Further reading

  • Conley, Verena Andermatt (1984). Hélène Cixous: writing the feminine. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803214248.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dawson, Mark; Hanrahan, Mairéad; Prenowitz, Eric (July 2013). "Cixous, Derrida, Psychoanalysis". Paragraph, special issue: Cixous, Derrida, Psychoanalysis. Edinburgh University Press. 36 (2): 155–160. doi:10.3366/para.2013.0085.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Garnier, Marie-Dominique; Masó, Joana (2010). Cixous sous X: d'un coup le nom. Saint-Denis: Presses universitaires de Vincennes. ISBN 9782842922405.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ives, Kelly (1996). Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva: the Jouissance of French feminism. Kidderminster: Crescent Moon. ISBN 9781871846881.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Penrod, Lynn (1996). Hélène Cixous. New York: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 9780805782844.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Puri, Tara (2013), "Cixous and the play of language", in Dillet, Benoît; Mackenzie, Iain M.; Porter, Robert (eds.), The Edinburgh companion to poststructuralism, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 270–290, ISBN 9780748653713.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sellars, Susan; Blyth, Ian (2004). Hélène Cixous : live theory. New York London: Continuum. ISBN 9780826466808.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Williams, Linda R.; Wilcox, Helen; McWatters, Keith; Ann, Thompson (1990). The body and the text: Hélène Cixous: reading and teaching. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312057695.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wortmann, Simon (2012). The concept of ecriture feminine in Helene Cixous's "The laugh of the Medusa. Munich: GRIN Verlag GmbH. ISBN 9783656409229.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links