Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guardian of Language: An Interview with Hélène Cixous

Kathleen O'Grady

Introducing the work of Hélène Cixous is not an easy task; it involves describing several lifetimes of achievement.

I could describe the early Cixous who earned her doctorate for a thesis on the literature of James Joyce and was soon after awarded the prestigious appointment at the University of Paris VIII as Chair for the department of English literature. This Cixous has written a number of articles and books in both literary criticism and philosophy. Or I could describe the Cixous who discovered the world of creative writing, where she initiated a kind of fictional autobiographical style that has inspired writers, philosophers, and literary critics alike. Then there is Cixous the playwright. Her numerous plays, screenplays and even an opera libretto have been both popularly and critically acclaimed. But perhaps the personage that is best known internationally is Cixous the feminist. In 1974 she created the Centre d'Etudes Féminines at the University of Paris VIII which offered the first doctoral program in women's studies in Europe. This Cixous celebrates a theory of écriture féminine -- an ethical writing style (which women in particular can access) that is able, through a phonetic inscription of the feminine body, its pulsions and flows, to open up and embrace the difference of the other.

Combined, Cixous the literary critic, philosopher, playwright, and feminist has produced well over 40 books and more than 100 articles. This is not the accomplishment of a lifetime, but the culmination of several lifetimes, each united and infused by the solitary voice of a poet. As Cixous states herself, "I give myself a poet's right, otherwise I would not dare to speak."

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