L’ecriture feminine

By | March 15, 2012

A new day, a new definition from our Key Terms in Literary Theory. Yesterday we had 'Phallogocentric' so I felt it only right to balance things up a bit and give Hélène Cixous centre stage.

L’ecriture feminine

L’ecriture feminine is a term coined by Hélène Cixous, in The Laugh of the Medusa (1976), meaning literally “feminine writing.” Using Lacan’s ideas that the structure of language is centered by the Phallus, and that language within the Symbolic Order is representational, where a single signifier is connected to a single signified, Cixous argues that the subject position of “woman” or the “feminine” is on the margins of the Symbolic, and thus less firmly anchored and controlled by the Phallus. She traces this back through Lacan and Freud, and the psychoanalytic concept that woman is constituted by and as “lack” because of the lack of a penis. One of the consequences, in Freud’s view, of the female lack of a penis is that the female unconscious is less repressed, less radically separated from the consciousness (since the threat of castration, which creates repression, has already been carried out). Because of this, Cixous argues, “woman” has always been in a position of otherness and alterity in Western phallogocentric culture. Using Derrida’s idea of play, however, Cixous notes that “woman” is decentered, and therefore freer to move and create. The idea of “l’ecriture feminine” comes from the idea, stemming from Freud, that women are incomprehensible, less moral, less rational than men; Freud calls women “the dark continent,” and Cixous uses that as a metaphor to celebrate the lack of control possible over the position of woman in the phallogocentric Symbolic Order. Feminine writing is associated with the Lacanian Real, with the maternal body, which is barred from the Symbolic Order; she associates representational writing with the Symbolic, and non-representational writing with the female and maternal bodies. Feminine writing does not belong exclusively to females, however; Cixous argues that anyone can occupy the marginalized position of “woman” within the Symbolic, and write in l’ecriture feminine from that position. Refusing to defi ne or encode l’ecriture feminine—because to define it would be to limit and imprison it within the logic of Western phallogocentric rationalism—Cixous contradictorily asserts that l’ecriture feminine comes from the female body, and that men can write from that position as well. She describes l’ecriture feminine through a variety of metaphors, including milk, orgasm, honey, and the ocean; she claims that l’ecriture feminine serves as a disruptive and deconstructive force, shaking the security and stability of the phallogocentric Symbolic Order, and therefore allowing more play—in gender, writing, and sexuality—for all language-using subjects.

– the definition above is taken from Key Terms in Literary Theory by Mary Klages, now available to buy in the UK (and publishing in the US in May 2012).

Jenny Tighe

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