Helene Cixous: and ecriture feminine
Cixous founded Women’s Studies at the University of Vincennes in 1975 and is a keen proponent of ‘feminine writing’—texts which subvert dominant phallogocentric logic. She criticises Freudian psychoanalysis for its thesis of a ‘natural’ anatomical determination of sexual difference, but endorses Freud’s belief in the bisexual nature of all individuals. Rowley and Grosz (1990:198) note that ‘Masculine writing is seen by Cixous as systematic, closed, and limited by laws, whereas “feminine writing” comes from the imaginary’. They note that Cixous’ famous manifesto for feminine writing called ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ (198la) is a Utopian picture of female creative powers. Cixous claims:
To write. An act which will not only ‘realize’ the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, to her womanly being, giving her access to her native strength; it will give her back her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories which have been kept under seal…
The connection between Lacanian psychoanalysis, feminine and masculine libido, the unconscious and language is also central to ‘the work of Helene Cixous which focuses on the relationship between feminine libido and feminine writing’ (Weedon 1987:66). Weedon goes on to show that ‘Like Irigaray, Cixous sees feminine sexuality as rich and plural.’ Cixous looks to ‘feminine writing for challenge to the patriarchal order’. She maintains that ‘masculine sexuality and masculine language are phallocentric and logocentric, seeking to fix meaning through a set of binary oppositions’ (Weedon 1987:66). Cixous points out that patriarchal society accepts ‘male libido, male definitions of female libido and male writing as the norm for both women and men’ (Marks and de Courtivron 1981:249, cited in Weedon 1987:66). Cixous argues that this phallocentric, logocentric order is not unassailable and that feminine writing can challenge it.
Cixous’ work is influenced by the anti-essentialism of Derrida’s deconstruction and she brings together his notion of logocentrism and phallocentrism. Cixous is relatively optimistic about the possibility of transforming the patriarchal symbolic order through giving women a new sense of themselves. In the struggle to reassert feminine values, feminine writing, which draws on the unconscious, is a key ‘site’ for bringing about change.