Dirt's Introduction to Great Women

Today's great woman is Helene Cixous, a notable french feminist writer and philosopher. One of her most notable feminist writings is The Laugh of the Medusa, within which Cixous challenges women to challenge patriarchal language by getting in touch with our female bodies and writing ourselves anew.

Some passages from Laugh...

"She must write her self, because this is the invention of a new insurgent writing which, when the moment of her liberation has come, will allow her to carry out the indispensable ruptures and transformations in her history, first at two levels that cannot be separated.

a) Individually. By writing her self, woman will return to the body which has been more than confiscated from her, which has been turned into the uncanny stranger on display – the ailing or dead figure, which so often turns out to be the nasty companion, the cause and location of inhibitions. Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time.
Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth. Our naphtha will spread, throughout the world, without dollars – black or gold – nonassessed values that will change the rules of the old game.

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; it will tear her away from the superegoized structure in which she has always occupied the place reserved for the guilty (guilty of everything, guilty at every turn: for having desires, for not having any; for being frigid, for being “too hot”; for not being both at once; for being too motherly and not enough; for having children and for not having any; for nursing and for not nursing ...) – tear her away by means of this research, this job of analysis and illumination, this emancipation of the marvelous text of her self that she must urgently learn to speak. A woman without a body, dumb, blind, can’t possibly be a good fighter. She is reduced to being the servant of the militant male, his shadow. We must kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing. Inscribe the breath of the whole woman.

b) An act that will also be marked by woman’s seizing the occasion to speak, hence her shattering entry into history, which has always been based on her suppression. To write and thus to forge for herself the antilogos weapon. To become at will the taker and initiator, for her own right, in every symbolic system, in every political process.

It is time for women to start scoring their feats in written and oral language.
Every woman has known the torment of getting up to speak. Her heart racing, at times entirely lost for words, ground and language slipping away – that’s how daring a feat, how great a transgression it is for a woman to speak – even just open her mouth – in public. A double distress, for even if she transgresses, her words fall almost always upon the deaf male ear, which hears in language only that which speaks in the masculine.

It is by writing, from and toward women, and by taking up the challenge of speech which has been governed by the phallus, that women will confirm women in a place other than that which is reserved in and by the symbolic, that is, in a place other than silence. Women should break out of the snare of silence. They shouldn’t be conned into accepting a domain which is the margin or the harem.

Listen to a woman speak at a public gathering (if she hasn’t painfully lost her wind). She doesn’t “speak,” she throws her trembling body forward; she lets go of herself, she flies; all of her passes into her voice, and it’s with her body that she vitally supports the “logic” of her speech. Her flesh speaks true. She lays herself bare. In fact, she physically materializes what she’s thinking; she signifies it with her body. In a certain way she inscribes what she’s saying, because she doesn’t deny her drives the intractable and impassioned part they have in speaking. Her speech, even when “theoretical” or political, is never simple or linear or “objectified,” generalized: she draws her story into history".

The full text of this piece is in the link provided above. Hope you enjoy and think about the deep rift male language, which is the language we all used, has separated women, not only from other women, but from our own bodies. It is never too late to heal/seal the gulf lying between us and our body, making us whole again.

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  1. This was probably exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you.

  2. WOW! POWERFUL! I've only read this in relation to Goddess worship/women's spirituality type writings especially of the stronger more powerful Goddesses/Goddess Rites...we must INHABIT our bodies, whatever their size, and take back our Voices, and speak our OWN language. I know Mary Daly and others were especially working on that! I really, really like this piece.....incredibly poetic, and powerful at the same time!

  3. And when you've finished this bit, read some more. Her post-Derridean arguments on phallogocentrism are a brilliant early statement of queer theory.

    She's like a European Judith Butler: love her to pieces.

  4. Excellent read... I read the whole piece, and it made me think about a lot of things, specially why I like women folk music so much (written BY women), and the power of owning your own language, and thus, defining yourself.
    I can't wait for more.


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