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…

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