“The Laugh of the Medusa,” by Hélène Cixous (1976)
This is an oldie but a goodie that inverts the idea of woman as other/monster/abject and celebrates “feminine writing” at the level of form, as a discourse separate from phallogocentrism. This theory has got some issues (namely that it relies on a binary and deeply embodied understanding of sex/gender). But, as we discovered in the last salon, genealogies of progressive sexual and gendered thought can’t help but engage in a binary positioning against and epistemological reliance upon the dominant discourse of their time, so… Read it now in the context of its time and find pleasure there (which I certainly do). Because this text is allll about female pleasure. So much arriving.
“On Gendered Technologies and Cyborg Writing,” by Sara Louise Muhr and Alf Rehn (2014)
Building on Cixous’s notion of l’écriture féminine, Muhr and Rehn suggest that a text is not only gendered by its content and formal style, but that a text may also be gendered (or even ungendered!) by the technology the author used to compose it. Muhr and Rehn are not challenging Cixous, per se, but they are toying with the reliance of l’écriture féminine on an embodied author–and pointing to the reality that texts aren’t borne of bodies. They are created using tools, often ones with gendered histories, inviting us to consider yet another layer through which gender may be perceived, performed, and subverted.
If you have not already read Kristeva, I recommend starting with “Approaching Abjection” (1982). She catalogs a number of types of abjection, including: sewage, food (explains why I hate doing the dishes), corpses, bodily excrement, animals, uncanniness and repression, borders, etc. etc. etc. Then she launches into some handy close readings in which she points out moments of abjection within contemporary(-ish) and classical texts. If you enjoy her work, I also recommend looking into her theories of the Other and self-othering.
While perhaps not as riveting as Kristiva’s abjection, this article by Ann Rosalind Jones provides a tidy survey of the works of four major players in French feminist theory: Kristeva, Irigaray, Cixous, and Wittig. It also provides an excellent report of critical reactions to their work, so you’ll get a nice genealogy, if you will, of French feminism and its problems and evolutions. For this reason especially, I recommend giving the article a skim. Even if you are wary of getting a watered-down version of the theory, I think you will find that Jones provides a quick and clean wedge into the conversation midstream.
EXAMPLE OF A BLOGGER APPLYING L’ÉCRITURE FÉMININE:
This article by blogger Sarah Fletcher argues that the 1996 Tori Amos album, Boys for Pele, is an auditory example of l’écriture féminine. Fletcher close-reads the music, connecting literal bull’s shit and non-phallogocentric authorship at the level of form. Ultimately, Fletcher comes to the conclusion that perhaps, since Cixous, Kristeva, and Irigaray have already claimed that writing is inherently phallogocentric, maybe sound is a better vehicle for l’écriture féminine.
How might Muhr and Rehn’s ideas about cyborg writing support or challenge Fletcher’s argument? If Boys for Pele was released in 1996, it would have been written in Amos’s handwriting, recorded in a studio, released on audiotape and CD, and then accessed by the audience through some other listening device. How does that read, in terms of gender?
How might you read different “texts” and modes of delivery (CDs, streaming movies, comic books, etc.) as being gendered or non-gendered, embodied or cyborg? (I just gave you a final project possibility… you’re welcome.)
THEN THINK ABOUT WAYS TO APPLY IT TO OUR CLASS:
- Locate possible instances of l’écriture féminine in any of the works we’ve read thus far.
- NOTE: Examples of l’écriture féminine can exist in any text, regardless of the author’s gender… or the gender we imagine the author to be…
- Look for l’écriture féminine in the macro and the micro, at the level of plot and at the level of the sentence.
- Does the story have multiple climaxes? Or recursive, swirling, seemingly backward or meandering narratives?
- Can you find any sentences or punctuation that defy conventional forward-marching logic? Or sentences that seem too long, formally “hysterical,” overwrought, or excessively embodied?
- How does the technology used to deliver a given text influence the way we read it?
- Does it matter whether a text was handwritten or typed? Filmed? Spoken?
- One example we’ve already discussed is the diaries in The Legacy of Cain. What others can you think of in terms of gender?
- Is this salon gendered?
- Although we’re not reading about the abject, it should inform your thinking about gendered bodies and machines.
- How is woman (and her writing) perceived as abject?
- Can a machine that lacks a living/dying body be considered abject? If so, how?
- What might l’écriture non binaire look like? Does cyborg writing bring us closer to it?
- Might it be a kind of coding language or immaterial digital expression? Or is that, too, already gendered?
- Bonus points if you can find an example and rewrite theory!