Archive | June 2014

Ecriture Feminine: Text and Body in Female Writing

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‘Je parlerai de l’écriture féminine: de ce qu’elle fera. Il faut que la femme s’écrive : que la femme écrive de la femme et fasse venir les femmes à l’écriture, dont elles ont été éloignées aussi violemment qu’elles l’ont été de leurs corps’. These are Hélène Cixous’ words in her essay Le Rire de la Méduse (1975), paradigm of the French feminist movement of the 70s known as l’écriture féminine. What is at stake here is the relationship between writing and the body, or even more than that, an identification between the two. Cixous calls women to write as women, and that is, from their bodies, which means that biological sexual issues play a roll in the way of being in the world, and therefore the in the mode of expression. Cixous is Dr. in English Modernism and indeed her words remind those of Virginia Woolf in the essay “A Room of One’s Own” (1929) where Woolf affirms the book needs to be adapted to the body, which consequently implies a difference between male and female writing.

French feminism stresses the importance of language and discourse in relation to women, and especially, the body; a focus far away from radical American feminism which recurrently claims for a deconstruction of the body, instead, the French authors affirm the female body since the very beginning and note the need for a difference between men and women in order women’s characteristics to be respected and accepted. When Woolf says in her essay previously mentioned, that Jane Austen was so far (in 1929) the best female writer was due to her capacity to write as a woman for women. Austen, says Woolf, wrote about what interested her, what she knew, in her style, she did not try to write manly in order to be valued by men, that is, by the public opinion. Similarly, Cixous encourages women to write as they are, and that means, because of the female nature, to write in accordance with their bodies:

‘en s’écrivant, la femme fera retour à ce corps qu’on lui a plus que confisqué, dont a fait l’inquiétant étranger dans la place, le malade ou le mort, et qui si souvent est le mauvais compagnon, cause et lieu de inhibitions. A censurer le corps on censure du même coup le souffle, la parole […] Ecrire, acte qui non seulement ‘réalisera’ le rapport dé-censuré de la femme à sa sexualité, à son être-femme, lui rendant accès à ses propres forces ; qui lui rendra ses biens, ses plaisirs, ses organes, ses immenses territoires corporels tenus sous scellés’

These words should not surprise to those familiar with the Victorian medical discourse troubled around the female body; indeed, the mystery which traditionally (at least from Rousseau on) has surrounded the female sexuality has produced  a medical and social discourse impregnated with taboos and prohibitions as facing an alienated body, something more diabolic than the male body, which may be noted is far more simple being all its pleasure focused: ‘Que la sexualité masculine gravite autour du pénis, engendrant ce corps (anatomie politique) centralisé, sous la dictature des parties. La femme, elle, n’opère pas sur elle-même cette régionalisation au profit du couple tête-sexe, qui ne s’inscrit qu’à l’intérieur de frontières. Sa libido est cosmique, comme son inconscient est mondial’.

Differences in writing, perceptions, thought and feelings may be related to the body, or the relationship a woman establishes with it. The cyclic nature of the female body, which can be seen physically expressed through its round form, challenges indeed what can be a male vision, so it may be with writing. Cixous goes further establishing a relationship with women with their bodies not only in their writings but in their communication, and ultimately, in their form of being; thus the physical expression is something very present in the female sex whose body speaks:

‘Ecoute parler une femme dans une assemblée […] : elle ne ‘parle’ pas, elle lance dans l’air son corps tremblant, elle se lâche, elle vole, c’est tout entière qu’elle passe dans sa voix, c’est avec son corps qu’elle soutient vitalement la ‘logique’ de son discours ; sa chair dit vrai. Elle s’expose. En vérité, elle matérialise charnellement ce qu’elle pense, elle le signifie avec son corps. D’une certaine manière elle inscrit ce qu’elle dit, parce qu’elle ne refuse pas à la pulsion sa part indisciplinable et passionnée à la parole’.

The body is a text, and the text is a body, something to explore further…

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis I

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In De L’interprétation: Essai sur Freud (1965) Paul Ricoeur spends more than 500 pages discussing with Freud and considering the effects of psychoanalysis on modern culture and interpretation. One of the most interesting conclusions is the translation from the image to the word, that is, from the world of dreams to that of the language. That means the image to be the first expression of meaning which may be translated into a primitive sense, or ‘la parole primitive du désir’; hence the dream is a text, already a primitive desire, and the linguistic expression is another kind of text which recites the primitive form of thought, the image, through a primitive word: ‘Comme dit Bachelard, l’image poétique « nous met à l’origine de l’etre parlant » ; l’image poétique, dit-il encore, « devient un être nouveau de notre langage, elle nous exprime en nous faisant ce qu’elle exprime ». Cette image-verbe, qui traverse l’image-représentation, c’est le symbole’

Both image and word may then conform a symbol which conceals and reveals at the same time: the dream image does so, and that is the reason it should be put into words, but the word trying to decipher the image, or trying to reveal what it conceals, is also subjected to its own concealments, as words are always chosen in a context. Here the defiance of hermeneutics and the psychoanalytical therapy, whose relation to the Kabbalah is being highly discussed due to its methodology. All that comes down to what Ricoeur calls the semantics of desire which is actually that of dreams and, in consequence, of the linguistic therapeutic discourse: ‘Le rêve comme spectacle nocturne nous est inconnu ; il ne nous est accessible que par le récit du réveil’ c’est ce récit que l’analyste interprète ; c’est à lui qu’il substitue un autre texte qui est à ses yeux la pensée du désir, ce que dirait le désir dans une prosopopée sans contrainte’

This coming back to somewhere far behind us, as psychoanalysis does trying to find the meaning in the unconscious, may explain, according to Ricoeur, the contemporary aim of deconstructionism: ‘cette tension, cette traction extrême est l’expression la plus véridique de notre « modernité » ; la situation qui est faite aujourd’hui au langage comporte cette double possibilité […] : d’un cote, purifier le discours de ses excroissances […] ; de l’autre cote, user de mouvement le plus « nihiliste ». le plus destructeur […] pour laisse parler ce qui une fois, ce qui chaque fois a été dit quand le sens parut à neuf’. So, Ricoeur goes on, a first original meaning inhabits a second one, it may be similarly to how the symbol and the psychoanalytical therapy go back and forwards, back to rescue the first meaning and forwards to build a new one. The symbol as well participates of this dialectical movement, a part of it relates to its origins and another one reveals a new meaning being aware that Ricoeur talks of living symbols, those able to change their interpretations while remaining part of an archaic association: ‘C’est dans cette liaison du sens au sens que réside ce que j’ai appelé le plein du langage. Cette plénitude consiste en ceci que le second sens habite en quelque sort le sens premier’.

D.H. Lawrence, the Arts and the Body

In his critique to the Victorian and bourgeoise society, Lawrence expressed, as he does in many of his novels, his concerns on how the materiality and authenticity of life and experience was left behind for an intellectual approached to human relationships, and hence, for a repudiation of the body. This last one was central to the author, so he tried to find the proper body’s language, a language which allowed him to express the body, a part of the human being, according to him, so repudiated by the bourgeoisie: ‘That is the real pivot of all bourgeois consciousness in all countries: fear and hate of the instinctive, intuitional, procreative body in a man or woman’ (‘Introduction to these Paintings’).

Interestingly for a reader of the 21st century, and related to Lawrence’s ideas on Bourgeoisie, is his attitude towards sexuality. Lawrence accused his ancestors of having kept secret the whole matter of sex, therefore, causing a sort of masturbating society, a practice he detests as it impedes sexual communion and exchange of energy, and, he says, is focused on the activity of the intellect and not of the body: ‘The greatest of all lies in the modern world is the lie of purity and the dirty little secret. The grey ones left over from the nineteenth century are the embodiment of this lie’ (‘Pornography and Obscenity’).

If, says Lawrence, the novel does not know how to represent the body, neither does painting, especially English 19th century painting, which having no idea how to deal with such an element, its landscapes do not include the human form: ‘the English have delighted in landscape, and have succeeded in it well. It is a form of escape for them, from the actual human body they so hate and fear’ (‘Introduction to these Paintings). However, a homage is left to Cézanne the only painter who really tried to represent living matter but who, due to his bourgeoise class, merely failed:

‘Cézanne felt it in paint, when he felt for the apple. Suddenly he felt the tyranny of mind, the white, worn-out arrogance of the spirit, the mental consciousness, the enclosed ego in its sky-blue heaven self-painted. He felt the sky-blue prison. And a great conflict started inside him. He was dominated by his old mental consciousness, but he wanted terribly to escape the domination. He wanted to express what he suddenly, convulsedly knew: the existence of matter. He terribly wanted to paint the real existence of the body, to make it artistically palpable’ (‘Introduction to these Paintings’).

According to Lawrence, Cézanne represented a living apple, far from the man’s perspective, instead the apple has a proper life of its own, a proper way to relate with reality which escapes from men’s perspective. It is a true apple because it expresses relativeness, it is Cézanne’s apple.

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What I did not know is that Lawrence himself has some paintings which indeed express relationships among bodies:

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His intention to express materiality in his writings is seen in his paintings which focus on the body and one easily see, for example, Gerald’s description in Women in Love, for example.

The Paintings of D. H. Lawrence by Lawrence, D. H.