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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Hélène Cixous Stigmata (1998)

 

‘Sublimity of a book in twelve songs on the wound [blessure]. I hear it as a blessing of the blessure, a great poetic treatise on the scar at the origin of literary writing—and no doubt of all writing.

‘I have often declared my admiration for Hélène Cixous, for the person and for the work: immense, powerful, so multiple but unique in this century. I have even written, I believe, that Hélène Cixous is in my eyes, today, the greatest writer in the French language. I shall only add two words for Stigmata—and about the said ‘French language’:

‘1. A weave of poetic narratives, this unprecedented book overflows our language, the ‘French language’, in every way, while nonetheless cultivating and illustrating it in a rare and incomparably new fashion. A practically untranslatable fashion. In order to speak of the wound, all wounds, some would say ‘traumatisms’, to name the scar in general, at the origin of Hélène Cixous’s writing and in her ‘primal scenes’, it overflows and scarifies the French language without sacrificing it, marking it while translating itself, in advance. It points poignantly in the direction of the stigma as scar, not far from pick, in the direction also of the stigma which comes from our Greek memory (stigmè: the point, the spike or the punctuality of the instant) with its sti resonating in English (stick and sting), no less than in German (Stechen), etc.

‘2. Stigmata is henceforth a great classic. It can be read as the best introduction to Hélène Cixous’s entire corpus whose strokes of genius it heralds and collects together as the becoming-literary of her life. But as her newest, most unforeseen book, its writing is also perfectly accomplished, its composition admirably orchestrated. One of her most recent masterpieces.’ — Jacques Derrida

‘The texts collected and stitched together sewn and resewn in this volume share the trace of a wound. They were caused by a blow, they are the transfiguration of a spilling of blood, be it real or translated into a haemorrhage of the soul.

‘Every character has been struck in a heart, one of our hearts. A letter stabs Bathsheba. My dog, an avatar of Job, lacerates my foot with his desperate teeth and forever prints his message of indignation in the flesh of my memory. None of the scenes that are played again here in painting, in language, in its several truths, avoids the cruel mark. At the same time, each of these scenes is a scene of flight in the face of the intolerable. But not only flight in order to ‘save one’s skin’ as French idiom says. In fleeing, the flight saves the trace of what it flees. This is why they flee: to maintain the horror unforgettable—the horror we would not live in the present although we want to keep its awful treasure, its proof, its testimony, its transfiguration.

‘Writing, like painting, engendering forms of art that lacerate the eyelids, writing at night to pierce it with lightning: this is my struggle to escape from and to face the terrifying thing, the spirit of crime that resides sometimes in you, sometimes in me. I write to conjure in all the meanings of this word in French and English, in a conjuration—a conspiracy of languages to produce tragic responses to the repetition of evil. Conjure(r) makes appear, makes fly, supplicates.

‘All these texts aim to flee the fatal nail, the sword, the knife, the axe which threatens to fix, to nail, to immobilize them in, by, death. Their first and best ally in the evasion is the poetic use of the languages of language. If only we listen, a language always speaks several languages at once, and runs with a single word in opposite directions.’ — Helene Cixous

 

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Further

Hélène Cixous @ Wikipedia
Film: ‘Ever, Rêve, Hélène Cixous’
Hélène Cixous and the myth of Medusa
Hélène Cixous @ Twitter
A MEETING WITH HELENE CIXOUS
VERENA CONLEY | NOTES ON NIETZSCHE AND HÉLÈNE CIXOUS
Juliet Jacques on Hélène Cixous: The Medusa gets the last laugh
Who is Hélène Cixous ?
‘The rights of men and women are not safe in France’
“I don’t regret attending the school that is Algeria”
KENNETH BURKE DANCES WITH HELENE CIXOUS
Hélène Cixous @ goodreads
Si près, de Hélène Cixous Rencontre
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS, LE « CRI DE LA LITTÉRATURE »
Lettres et l’être du deuil chez Hélène Cixous
Hélène Cixous: écrire l’«encore», porte de sortie
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS – interview by OLIVIER ZAHM and DONATIEN GRAU
Hélène Cixous: ‘Conversations’

 

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Extras


Helene Cixous Interview (English)


Helene Cixous: The Flying Manuscript (English)


La Masterclasse d’Hélène Cixous (French)


Vu et vécu en MAI 68: Hélène Cixous (French)

 

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Interview
from Purple

 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your own history lies at the crossroads of all of European history, of colonialism.
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS — In 1939, my father was mobilized. He was a physician-lieutenant, stationed on the front in Tunisia. He had a small problem, signs of pulmonary trouble… In 1940 he was demobilized and stripped of his French citizenship. In a single stroke, with the anti-Jew laws, we who had been French much longer than most of the French in Algeria or in France lost our French citizenship. My father was forbidden to practice medicine: professions were forbidden us in North Africa, as they were in France. Under the anti-Jew laws, the sole difference between what happened to us and what happened to the Jews in France was that we were “liberated” first because the Americans landed in Algeria in 1942. I didn’t go to school; it was forbidden. My father was no longer practicing medicine. That’s when my mother started working. She was a cutter and seamstress. Later, when the Americans came, the Jews did not have their rights immediately restored. My mother instantly took up with the Americans, doing secretarial work. The first square meal I had was when the Americans came. We suddenly had tins of butter, white bread, jam. I fell in love with the jam-bearing, loud-laughing Americans, like all the people liberated by them. We were raised on Roosevelt. I cried when he died. It was terrible. It felt as if we were losing a kindly person. We followed politics. My father was an atheist and a socialist. His close friends took up with De Gaulle. The word “Allies” was warm and sweet.

OLIVIER ZAHM — We go from the army to statelessness.
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS — That was a wound from which my father never recovered. He had been a socialist in the time of Blum, an idealist. That was when he lost his faith in the French Republic. After the war, he started practicing medicine again, left Oran, and moved to Algiers, where he opened Algeria’s first radiology practice, ordering in the equipment from England. He died in February 1948. My mother found herself alone in a city she didn’t know, penniless, with no family or friends around. She toiled like mad to support us, first as a secretary, then seeking out a profession. She undertook to become a midwife. I was 14 and studied along with her. She was 40 at the time.

DONATIEN GRAU — And thus you made your first approach to literature and poetry, felt your first desire to write.
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS — The desire to write was a great help to me when my father died. I had already been shaped by literature as a little girl. For one thing, my father was a reader, a man of extraordinary talent. When we were young he immersed us in the French language. He had memorized the Larousse dictionary. I recall feeling a shock of delight when I was six, because he taught me the word extraordinary. It was, I thought, an extraordinary word. I was swimming in a world of languages. My mother spoke German with Omi, who spoke to me in German and French. My paternal grandmother spoke Spanish around the house. My paternal father’s family spoke Spanish. I started learning English very early on. When I was 13, my mother sent me to England. I had to go from Algiers to Marseilles, and from there by train to Paris. Then from Paris to Dieppe, and from Dieppe by boat to New Haven. And from there by train to London. In London, I was taken in by one of the formerly German families on my mother’s side; they were now English. I liked England. In 1950, London lay in ruins; it was much poorer and in much greater difficulty than France. We were given meal tickets when we arrived, for instance. I went hungry in England, whereas in France people were already well fed. So I straightaway got the story of wartime England, of England’s resistance, of a marvelous England that I loved. When I returned to Algeria, I was fluent in English. And I soon had only one thing in mind: to leave Algeria as soon as possible; it was an abominable place filled with violence, hatred, contempt for other human beings. I was sure the place would one day explode, and I eagerly awaited that day. I was completely in favor of the Algerian people. My father had worked in solidarity with clients that were referred to as “Arabs.” My mother’s clientele was also essentially “Arab.” She worked in the casbah. I knew from the time I was a little girl: this is a world of total alienation, a world of people blind to their fellow human beings. My mother had found a purpose for herself, bringing babies into the world. I recently took the register in which my mother recorded births to Karim, the Théâtre du Soleil’s cook, who was born in 1963 by my mother’s hand. It made sense for my mother to be in Algeria.

DONATIEN GRAU — Your father’s death hastened your entry into the world of writing.
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS — When I was little, I wanted to flee; I wanted to get out of that repugnant world. I found a solution: I would climb a tree, taking books up with me. I realized very late, when I discovered his high school notebooks, that the choice to do medicine was not at all my father’s. Unbeknownst to me, he had taken a first prize in philosophy. He was a man of letters. He had amassed a library in the Proustian manner. He was a subscriber to the Nelson library and had the whole collection. He also owned the first Gallimard editions of Proust. I was absolutely mad for books and would read them in alphabetical order. For me, they were all equal. I could vaguely sense a small difference between Dumas and Edgar Allan Poe, but my reading was scattershot. I lived, then, in the other world. The second world was literature, and I was also fortunate in that my grandmother, although she had not carried her studies very far, had a passion for German poetry. Omi would sing and recite poems to me by Goethe and Heine, and I loved it. I said to myself: “That’s the path for me.” Down the path of languages, literature, and books. I’d be a reader; I’d live in books. It was a brutal thing when my father died. It was the apocalypse; the world was gone; I couldn’t even walk; the ground had vanished beneath me. It was terrifying. I wasn’t yet 11, I was in sixth grade, and the world had gone. When my father was carried away — he’d suffered hemorrhages and died within a few days — I started writing for him. I saw him one last time, through a window. Our relations were already fairly phantasmal. Knowing he was seriously ill, my father was already keeping a certain distance between him and us. He avoided contact.

DONATIEN GRAU — Is that when you began writing in earnest?
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS — Right then, at that moment, is when I began living in that world. That’s where I settled. Relations with my French professors quickly soured. I was inventive. I was very daring at the time, I realize. Sometimes it was well received, sometimes not. I never hesitated over the path I ought to take. I had to live by books. I couldn’t do otherwise. It was the only thing that could tolerate me and that I could tolerate. The political world I already knew. I had seen it up close. I was good in history precisely for political reasons, because I kept track of the fate of all the peoples I knew. I was an expert in evil. I dreamed of books: we were poor, and my father had left us in dire straits. It wasn’t until much later that my mother began earning enough of a living to support us. We lived off what my father had planted in the garden. We sold the flowers, which was terribly painful for us. We walked everywhere. I was very careful with my expenses. “I must help my mother as soon as possible.” So I earned my agrégation in a flash. I was in hypokhâgne [first of two years of post-secondary study in letters] in Algeria, and I got married, partly in order to get out of there. I was 18.

DONATIEN GRAU — You speak of politics: you’ve made your literary life into a sort of political proposal.
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS — I’ve always thought so. I knew, also, that it was a rather elitist way to go about it. There had to be books. The Algerians had no books; they didn’t go to school. Since the house my father had rented was in an Arab neighborhood, I was living in a world where there were only a handful of “Europeans.” The Europeans never ventured into those neighborhoods; they didn’t know them. Next door to us was a shantytown with 50,000 Arabs and a single fountain for water. At our gate there were “little Zarabes,” as they were called, barefoot and dressed in rags, who would ask us for bread. I was living amid misery and pain. It was frightful. Never the twain could meet, save some rare exceptions. For the little Zarabes, we were “French people” — we who were not French.

DONATIEN GRAU — Your literary and political lives don’t seem all that elitist in light of the impact that écriture féminine [women’s writing] has had.
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS — When I began turning my attention to women I was 22, 23 years old. I was no longer fleeing into literature. By then literature could become the most democratic of the world’s possible tools. One needed only have access to it. But I was living among a proscribed, banned people, who had no access to the tools, who were not admitted to the schools. I arrived in France in 1955. We were then entering a period of decolonization. There was the Algerian War, the so-called “events” in Algeria. I was relieved; it changed my life. I emerged from the plague, from that monstrous nightmare, and found I could develop a thirst for my own life. But I didn’t have a life of my own. Algeria had alienated me from it. Once Algeria had set about liberating itself, I found I was liberated as well. Landing in France at 18, I was greeted with a surprise: when I entered rooms or lecture halls nobody yelled out “dirty Jew,” the daily insult in Algeria. I was surprised. For that brief period, France was not anti-Semitic: there were no Jews left in France. For a few years, until 1962, the givens of anti-Semitism were attenuated. The Jews of France had been deported. French people of my generation had never seen any Jews. They were all dead. But when I went to the university, I encountered something that I had never known in Algeria: misogyny, everywhere. I was from a world that liked women. The women of my family were strong; they carried the family. And in France I suddenly realized that the world was split in two and governed by the pretentious cretins who played at being university professors. I understood then that the chief battle was going to be to deconstruct a phallocracy.

DONATIEN GRAU — And to construct femininity. A central component of your work over the years is the notion that gender is not in any way a limit but, rather, a liberty.
HÉLÈNE CIXOUS — Yes, of course. But for everyone: men, women, animals. As it happened, I completed my studies very quickly, in tribute to my mother. And immediately thereafter I was taken in hand by some excellent men, some exceptional men. My thesis advisor, a marvelous man, a great man of letters, and a former member of the resistance, was so removed from misogyny that he chose to take me under his wing. His name was Jean-Jacques Mayoux. I was truly fostered and respected by men of a certain age who were great doyens at the Sorbonne, and themselves members of minorities and marginalized.

 

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Book

Hélène Cixous Stigmata
Routledge Classics

Stigmata is work that gets away: escaping reader, writer, and book… This is a collection of recent short texts by Helene Cixous, who is hailed as a foremost contemporary writer and thinker of our time. World-renowned for her brilliant contributions to French feminism and acclaimed by luminaries such as Jacques Derrida, her writing, and in particular her fictional texts which constitute by far the greatest part of her work, has nonetheless been misunderstood and misread, often simply avoided, to a surprising extent. Cixous is extremely attentive to what language has to say and her playful, boundary-bending, and innovative style is what makes her work so exciting, powerful, moving, and suspicious.

‘A ‘wilful extremist’ according to the London Times, Hélène Cixous is hailed as one of the most formidable writers and thinkers of our time. Acclaimed by luminaries such as Jacques Derrida, her writing has nonetheless been misunderstood and misread, to a surprising extent. With the inclusion of Stigmata, one of her greatest works into the Routledge Classics series, this is about to change. Questions that have long concerned her – the self and the other, autobiographies of writing, sexual difference, literary theory, post-colonial theory, death and life – are explored here, woven into a stunning narrative. Displaying a remarkable virtuosity, the work of Cixous is heady stuff indeed: exciting, powerful, moving, and dangerous.’ — Routledge Classics

Excerpt

*

p.s. Hey. There are some things I keep forgetting to share here for anyone who might be interested, so here they are. This is a half-hour long Zoom conversation I had with the writer Jonathan Alexander about my books and ‘Permanent Green Light’ and other stuff for LARB re: ‘Wrong’s’ publication. There are two very good reviews of ‘Wrong’ at 3:AM Magazine and The Irish Times. And here’s newly published interview I did a couple of years ago with the super cool writer Marcus Mamourian for Heavy Traffic Magazine. ** Shane Christmass, Hey. I have a bead on the Dahmer film. Looks fairly accessible. Snow! Fucking lucky you! Well, from a here-based perspective. ** G, Hi, G! Thank you, my toe is gradually de-swelling and de-purpling. A submarine! Now that’s intriguing/pretty to think about. Oh, wow, I’m obviously chuffed to read your poem, which I will do post-haste aka post-p.s. Thanks you, kind comrade and friend! The wonderful writer Golnoosh Nour has a new poem published, and I guess it was inspired by my work, so I’m both shy and enthusiastic in directing you to it. Here. Have the awesomest day. ** David Ehrenstein, Thanks about my toe. You know it goes, I’m sure. Just have to ride, or, rather, tiptoe, or, wait, the opposite of tiptoe it out. ** Bill, There it was. I trust that ClicketyClack saw your thanks. Toe is inching towards normality, thanks. It’s true it isn’t smokey here. Oh, man, breathe shallow, etc. ** Misanthrope, ClicketyClack is surely thanking you for your thanks wherever they are. I’ve never watched Spongebob. Weird, right? Just one of those flukey things. It’s a very sneaky virus, that’s for sure. Good sleep is ace. My weekend was a bit hobbled, but it wasn’t so bad. Nice weather. ** Ferdinand, Hey, Ferdinand. MTV used to slip in both Quay clips and lots of Quay-derived clips, it’s true. I don’t keep up with Britney’s travails, but I like her. Her stuff, her thing, whatever. I know the guy who runs the James Dean Museum which is housed in JD’s childhood home in Indiana. Clean hands, masks, stand-offishness, and best of luck. And with your short story, natch. ** Maryse, Maryse! Holy moly, how awesome to see you here, pal! That Atlas Press book is of interest, you bet. yes, and what a great press, no? I should do a post about them just in general. My toe is incrementally better. I might try walking 15 minutes to the closest Naturalia today. I tried on Saturday but had to do a swift 180. How are you? How is everything, little and gigantic? xoxoxo, me. ** _Black_Acrylic, Aw, delay. But only a week. You got a microphone. Yeah, that was a good idea. We like our Ben to be crystal clear. ** Thomas Moronic, Hi, T! I do remember your impaired toe, yes. Well, you know precisely what I’m toughing out. I read your great conversation with Mark Gluth yesterday. Really so, so heartening that ‘Alone’ is being so extremely rightfully loved. Stay well and exuberant. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Oh, it’s not a doctor thing. Broken little toes are a dime a dozen in a way. I just take my paracetamol and walk gingerly, and it’s getting there. But thank you. I really liked ‘Institute Benjamenta’, but it’s been ages since I watched it, so … Have a fine one/day. ** Right. Today I’m spotlighting probably my favorite book by the great Hélène Cixous, a wild and gorgeous and whip-smart thing called ‘Stigmata’. Know it? If not, I recommend you do. See you tomorrow.


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8 Comments

  1. Helene Cioux is a marvelous writer.

    What I find most interesting about Dahmer is his verbal mendacity. In all his interviews he likes to give you the impression that he’s telling you “everything” but he actually isn’t. Take not of the pauses and pivots when he speaks. There’s a lot he’s holding back to create the impression of “nice young man” but just beneath that surface is a monster whose voice we’ve never really heard. I’m betting the guy who killed him in prison saw and heard the true Dahmer

  2. Have this book in front of me right now. I love Cixous so much. Laugh of the Medusa is one of those essays that I made my students read and for the one’s who ‘got’ it.. i know it had one of those life altering impacts.

    Great day.

  3. That “Zoom” interview is super

    It’s crunch time: please contact me ASAP about the DVDs, Book and CDs I have for sale. Included: be the giant deluxe Scorsese book for “The Irishman” (forty bucks)

  4. Have added Cixous to my wishlist but will try and source direct from the publisher. Trying to wean myself off Amazon lately, difficult as that sometimes is.

    Re ethics, I watched the Champions League final last night and was happy to see Paris Saint Germain vanquished, what with them being a front for the Qatari petro-dollars “sport-washing” propaganda campaign. That’s my view anyway but what say you, seeing as PSG is now your hometown club?

  5. Yes, a post on Atlas Press would be amazing and such a nice boost for them!–so happy they’ve been able to keep afloat for so long, thought not a surprise given the quality of their output. You can’t go wrong with that catalogue.

    Dennis, you have a Naturalia near you!!!???????!?!! Omg please immediately eat a package of their Japanese tofu filet things, and a hunk of the “seiten gourmet grill” — enjoy whatever you get there, delights abound, I’m jealous.

    Everything is good here. Working away as usual but even more so since the pandemic has effectively cleared all social obligations from my life. I miss friends’ faces, museums, unmasked city wanderings, miss hanging out physically with my twin in a way that feels like a tangible form of grief, but otherwise, steady on. How’s the funding for the new film going? Still hoping to get to Paris this spring, but obviously that is up to the pandemic gods. Fingers remain firmly crossed.

    I am trying but failing to resist bragging about the fact that the white bodice Alice Krieg wears in Institute Benjamenta now hangs in my closet–my twin and I rather aggressively and shamelessly begged for it at the bar in the Palmer House once, and on our birthday a few years ago it arrived in the mail at my twin’s place and she called and screamed for a solid minute before we started wrangling over custody rights (I won–for once, it paid to be the slightly shorter and punier-chested twin, yay). The costume has never been cleaned, so it still has traces of the chalkdust from those inimitable blackboards, and as you can imagine is an absolute work of art, designed by Nicky Gillibrand and based on a portrait by Belgian painter Fernand Khnopff–it has a life and spirit of its own, for sure. I wear it a couple of times a year–a surreal and incredible way to inhabit a film that changed my life as a reader (and subsequently as a writer) 20 or so years ago.

    –To all the people who jump in on the comments around here, I learn so much from the things posted, referenced, linked, discussed–I think I speak for a lot of silent lurkers (and we must be legion?!) when I say that the community on the blog opens up so many weird pockets of inquiry and interest, and the support for artistic work on scales large and small is a wonderful thing to behold. I didn’t know the blog in its supposedly wilder and woolier incarnation, but the collective brilliance and camaraderie of its current form continues to chip away at my general pessimism and suspicion re: internet related everything, and that is no small feat. So, thanks to all for making this space the pleasant and inspiring place it is.

    And Thomas Moore, I’m reading Alone and enjoying it so much, it gets one in the guts. Congrats and thanks for writing it. –Golnoosh, LOVE the poem!!

    Okay, back to the shadows for me. Hugs to all you strangers/not-strangers.

    x

  6. Dennis check your e-mail. I’ve sent you something Humungous

  7. My mom broke one of her toes when she was 30, and the doctors weren’t able to do anything for it. It’s permanently frozen in an awkward position.

    Good news! My vision has recovered to the point where I can start reading books again. Of course, this tends to be “one step forward, two steps back,” so who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I’ve started Michelle Tea’s BLACK WAVE (because it was the closest book to grab when I was going out to eat.)

    Tool’s “Prison Sex” and “Sober” videos are quality pieces of creepy animation, but they’re also the best blatant Quays ripoffs I can think of. I’ve seen many far worse knockoffs. At least Maynard Keenan could have paid the brothers $50,000 to direct a video themselves!

    FEELS GOOD MAN really captures a sense that the present world is a hellscape because narratives and images are simultaneously controlled by malevolent actors and beyond any kind of rational power. Matt Furie’s attempts to gain control of the image he created are mind-boggling, as is the speed at which Pepe’s meaning changed. (He printed several thousand Pepe T-shirts to try and cash in on the meme, but decided to leave them in his garage rather than sell them because the frog had become an unambiguous alt-right icon by the time they arrived.)

  8. Dennis, Yes, ClicketyClack is much appreciated from this quarter, for sure. As are all “silent lurkers,” including the exquisite Maryse. 😀

    Good to learn new stuff. Here’s another day. I like the excerpt.

    I need to do an Amazon soon -I keep putting it off for absolutely no reason- though David has requested $167 worth of skin-care products. I may have mentioned that to you. He sent me his wishlist, and I was like WTF? He’ll get a couple items but not some of the outrageous shit on there. Friend at work told me to ask him if he wanted a douche too. Of course, I asked him, and he thought that was really funny.

    Sorry about your toe. Probably best just to hack it off and have done with it. Or not. 😀 Hope it gets better.

    The early years of Sponge Bob are the best. Some really fun, smart stuff.

    We had a nice weather weekend too. And it’s continued. Looks like it’s going to stay that way for a while. I’m down with that.

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