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Hélène Cixous (French pronunciation: [elɛn siksu]; born June 5, 1937) is a professor, French feminist writer, poet, playwright, philosopher, literary critic and rhetorician. In 2009, she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature by University College London.



Hélène Cixous was born in Oran, Algeria, to a German Ashkenazi Jewish mother and Algerian Sephardic Jewish father. She earned her agrégation in English in 1959 and her Doctorat ès lettres in 1968. Her main focus, at this time, was English literature and the works of James Joyce. In 1968, she published L'Exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement (The Exile of James Joyce, or the Art of Displacement) and the following year she published her first novel, Dedans (Inside), a semi-autobiographical work that won the Prix Médicis. She is a professor at the University of Paris VIII, whose center for women's studies, the first in Europe, she founded. She has published widely, including twenty-three volumes of poems, six books of essays, five plays, and numerous influential articles. She published Voiles (Veils) with Jacques Derrida and her work is often considered deconstructive. In introducing her Wellek Lecture, subsequently published as Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, Derrida referred to her as the greatest living writer in his language (French). Cixous wrote a book on Derrida titled Portrait de Jacques Derrida en jeune saint juif (Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint). In addition to Derrida and Joyce, she has written monographs on the work of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, on Maurice Blanchot, Franz Kafka, Heinrich von Kleist, Michel de Montaigne, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, and the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva.

Along with Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, Cixous is considered one of the mothers of poststructuralist feminist theory.[1]

In the 1970s, Cixous began writing about the relationship between sexuality and language. Like other poststructuralist feminist theorists, Cixous believes that our sexuality is directly tied to how we communicate in society. In 1975, Cixous published her most influential article "Le rire de la méduse" ("The Laugh of the Medusa"), translated and released in English in 1976. She has published over 70 works; her fiction, dramatic writing and poetry, however, are not often read in English. Her reading of Derrida finds additional layers of meaning at a phonemic rather than strictly lexical level.[2]

Influences on Cixous' writing

Some of the most notable influences on her writings have been Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan and Arthur Rimbaud.


Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud established the initial theories which would serve as a basis for some of Cixous' arguments in developmental psychology. Freud's analysis of gender roles and sexual identity concluded with separate paths for boys and girls through the Oedipus complex, theories of which Cixous was particularly critical.

Jacques Derrida

Contemporaries, lifelong friends, and intellectuals, Jacques Derrida and Cixous both grew up as French Jews in Algeria and share a "belonging constituted of exclusion and nonbelonging"—not Algerian, rejected by France, their Jewishness concealed or acculturated. In Derrida’s family "one never said 'circumcision' but 'baptism,' not 'Bar Mitzvah' but 'communion.’" Judaism cloaked in Catholicism is one example of the undecidability of identity that influenced the thinker whom Cixous calls a "Jewish Saint." [3] Her book Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint addresses these matters.

Through deconstruction, Derrida employed the term logocentrism (which was not his coinage). This is the concept that explains how language relies on a hierarchical system that values the spoken word over the written word in Western culture. The idea of binary opposition is essential to Cixous' position on language.

Cixous and Luce Irigaray combined Derrida's logocentric idea and Lacan's symbol for desire, creating the term phallogocentrism. This term focuses on Derrida's social structure of speech and binary opposition as the center of reference for language, with the phallic being privileged and how women are only defined by what they lack; not A vs. B, but, rather A vs. ¬A (not-A).

The Bibliothèque nationale de France

In 2000, a collection in Cixous' name was created at the Bibliothèque nationale de France after Cixous donated the entirety of her manuscripts to date. They then featured in the exhibit "Brouillons d'écrivains" held there in 2001.

In 2003, the Bibliothèque held the conference "Genèses Généalogies Genres: Autour de l'oeuvre d'Hélène Cixous". Among the speakers were Mireille Calle-Gruber, Marie Odile Germain, Jacques Derrida, Annie Leclerc, Ariane Mnouchkine, Ginette Michaud, and Hélène Cixous herself.

Major works

The Laugh of the Medusa (1975)

This text, originally written in French as Le Rire de la Meduse in 1975, was translated into English by Keith and Paula Cohen in 1976.[4] Cixous is issuing her female readers an ultimatum of sorts: either they can read it and choose to stay trapped in their own bodies by a language that does not allow them to express themselves, or they can use their bodies as a way to communicate.

"The Laugh of the Medusa" is an extremely literary essay and well-known as an exhortation to a "feminine mode" of writing; the phrases "white ink" and "écriture féminine" are often cited, referring to this desired new way of writing. It is a strident critique of logocentrism and phallogocentrism, having much in common with Jacques Derrida's earlier thought. The essay also calls for an acknowledgment of universal bisexuality or polymorphous perversity, a precursor of queer theory's later emphases, and swiftly rejects many kinds of essentialism which were still common in Anglo-American feminism at the time. The essay also exemplifies Cixous's style of writing in that it is richly intertextual, making a wide range of literary allusions. In homage to French theorists of the feminine, Laughing with Medusa was published by Oxford University Press in 2006.

Sorties (1975)

The text is based on oppositions, of the type Superior/Inferior:





Unless otherwise indicated, the city of publication is Paris.


Le Prénom de Dieu, Grasset, 1967.
Dedans, Grasset, 1969.
Le Troisième Corps, Grasset, 1970.
Les Commencements, Grasset, 1970.
Un vrai jardin, L'Herne, 1971.
Neutre, Grasset, 1972.
Tombe, Le Seuil, 1973.
Portrait du Soleil, Denoël, 1973.
Révolutions pour plus d'un Faust, Le Seuil, 1975.
Souffles, Des femmes, 1975.
La, Gallimard, 1976.
Partie, Des femmes, 1976.
Angst, Des femmes, 1977.
Préparatifs de noces au-delà de l'abîme, Des femmes, 1978.
Vivre l'orange, Des femmes, 1979.
Ananké, Des femmes, 1979.
Illa, Des femmes, 1980.
With ou l'Art de l'innocence, Des femmes, 1981.
Limonade tout était si infini, Des femmes, 1982.
Le Livre de Promethea, Gallimard, 1983.
La Bataille d'Arcachon, Laval, Québec, 1986.
Manne, Des femmes, 1988.
Jours de l'an, Des femmes, 1990.
L'Ange au secret, Des femmes, 1991.
Déluge, Des femmes, 1992.
Beethoven à jamais, ou l'éxistence de Dieu, Des femmes, 1993.
La Fiancée juive, Des femmes, 1997.
OR. Les lettres de mon père, Des femmes, 1997.
Voiles (with Jacques Derrida), Galilée, 1998.
Osnabrück, Des femmes, 1999.
Les Rêveries de la femme sauvage. Scènes primitives, Galilée, 2000.
Le Jour où je n'étais pas là, Galilée, 2000.
Benjamin à Montaigne. Il ne faut pas le dire, Galilée, 2001.
Manhattan. Lettres de la préhistoire, Galilée, 2002.
Rêve je te dis, Galilée, 2003.
L'Amour du loup et autres remords, Galilée, 2003.
Tours promises, Galilée, 2004.
L'amour même dans la boîte aux lettres, Galilée, 2005.
Hyperrêve, Galilée, 2006.


La Pupulle, Cahiers Renaud-Barrault, Gallimard, 1971.
Portrait de Dora, Des femmes, 1976.
Le Nom d'Oedipe. Chant du corps interdit, Des femmes, 1978.
La Prise de l'école de Madhubaï, Avant-scène du Théâtre, 1984.
L'Histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk, roi du Cambodge, Théâtre du Soleil, 1985.
Théâtre, Des femmes, 1986.
L'Indiade, ou l'Inde de leurs rêves, Théâtre du Soleil, 1987.
On ne part pas, on ne revient pas, Des femmes, 1991.
Les Euménides d'Eschyle (traduction), Théâtre du Soleil, 1992.
L'Histoire (qu'on ne connaîtra jamais), Des femmes, 1994.
"Voile Noire Voile Blanche / Black Sail White Sail", bilingual, trad. Catherine A.F. MacGillivray, New Literary History 25, 2 (Spring), Minnesota University Press, 1994.
La Ville parjure ou le Réveil des Érinyes, Théâtre du Soleil, 1994.
Tambours sur la digue, Théâtre du Soleil, 1999.
Rouen, la Trentième Nuit de Mai '31, Galilée, 2001.


  • L'Exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement (doctoral thesis), Grasset, 1969.
  • Prénoms de personne, Le Seuil, 1974.
  • The Exile of James Joyce or the Art of Replacement (translation of L'exil de Joyce ou l'art du remplacement, transated by Sally Purcell. New York: David Lewis, 1980.
  • Un K. Incompréhensible: Pierre Goldman, Christian Bourgois, 1975.
  • La Jeune Née, with Catherine Clément, 10/18, 1975.
  • La Venue à l'écriture, with Madeleine Gagnon and Annie Leclerc, 10/18, 1977.
  • Entre l'écriture, Des femmes, 1986.
  • L'Heure de Clarice Lispector, Des femmes, 1989.
  • Photos de racines, with Mireille Calle-Gruber, Des femmes, 1994.
  • Portrait de Jacques Derrida en Jeune Saint Juif, Galilée, 2001.
  • "Rencontre terrestre", with Frédéric-Yves Jeannet, Galilée, 2005.
  • Le Tablier de Simon Hantaï, 2005.
  • Insister. À Jacques Derrida, Galilée, 2006.


  1. ^ "How many of these great female thinkers have you heard of?" (in English). Daily Post (Liverpool): p. 12. December 11, 2007.  
  2. ^ Not the same as puns, which play on the varied means of a word or phrase or the homonyms thereof.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, Signs 1, no. 4 (1976): 875-93

5. "Her Father's Letters (Hélène Cixous)", 'Paths to Contemporary French Literature', volume 1, by John Taylor, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2004, pp. 87-89.

External links

See also


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