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"That Other Limitless Country": "The Dark Continent," the Unconscious

Notes towards Day 8 of
Critical Feminist Studies
"Most of all don't go into the forest...a vain scouting mission."
--Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa"
Moving from "The Frontiers of Politics" to
"That Other Limitless Country,"
"The Dark Continent,"
the Unconscious

Cixous <--------------------------------------> Spivak
(And what might be the relation between these countries....?)
A preview of the (range of!) possibilities:
psychology as a subset of politics...
kwheeler08: I couldn't help but think that by using the "Dark Continent" as an analogy for the repression of women, Cixous is victim to the same imperialist ideas and forces that Spivak criticize.
or politics as a subset of psychology?
jrizzo: if the exploration process Cixous proposes were to take place on a large scale, I believe it would effectively wipe out Spivak's imperialism issue....Free a woman from the fear of her own "dark" unconcious, and...she will never again consent to be oppressed.
a different dichotomy than the (m/f) one that's been bugging us all month?
ndegeorge: Spivak's interpretation is...divisive...two women are pitted against each must be destroyed to retain his hegemonic power
or a critique of dichotomies altogether?
smigliori: the largest connective force between the Spivak and the Cixous piece is the theoretical concept of "othering" points out the problem with setting up any dichotomy. Eventually...another category will be introduced which throws the entire system out of whack.
Spivak and Cixous offer two different styles of writing,
one appealing because more familiar:
Jill '66: Spivak's very clear and compelling.
matos:I viewed Spivak’s analysis as more put together, intellectual or “academic”... it appealed to me more because it was something I was used to.
YJ: I too yearned for more order and structure in...Cixous' essay...for familiarity and routine...I couldn't follow the free-wheelings style of writing. And quite honestly, I couldn't take it that seriously...
the other because...
more chaotic?
Abby: I'm a sucker for a good sex metaphor....orgasms are powerful, and so are words. I think that's at the heart of Cisoux's piece. She's encouraging us to let it out: to write, speak, scream, EXPRESS.
Lydiav: Cixous's heart is completely on the table in this essay....I don’t think we are used to seeing this much real emotion splayed before use in this manner....she is writing for her body to be heard and in doing so she is completely naked on the page...for the prudes among us, not an easy read.
albolton: Spivak may contribute more to literary criticism, but I think Cixous offers more to a feminist life
Jessy: I think "Laugh of the Medusa" is a call to revolution...Cixous is proposing..chaotic experiment and exploration
Rhapsodica: this is the reading I've been waiting for...I really connected with it on a deeper level than with anything I've read in a while
I. Before the revolution, some coursekeeping:
Ann Dixon, Serendip webmaster, here, to
--try taping us?
--make sure everyone has an account??
--talk about RSS feeds?...and
--telling the world about your blog??
Rhapsodica's model of moving from forum to blog....

other questions re papers, due on-line,
in your blog, by 5 p.m. Friday 9/28?!
also: sign up sheets (for summaries, for usernames...)

II. On Tuesday, Spivak asked us to attend to the silence of the subaltern,
a person without agency because of social status:
The subaltern "occupies the space cut off from the lines of mobility in a colonized country...there is something of the non-speakingness in the very notion of the subaltern." If she were able to make herself heard, she would cease to be the subaltern....that is the goal of the ethical relation Spivak seeks. But such speaking is NOT brought about by intellectual attempts to represent the oppressed, or by pretending to let them speak for themselves; there are are multiple "ingredients necessary for responsible readings." She asks WHO decolonizes, and HOW? --and cautions against "welcoming selective inhabitants of the margin in order to better exclude the margin."
Where did we go/get with this?
Elizabeth319: Class discussion and analysis acted like the Tums per say to alleviate the indigestion that occurred after I read Spivak.
EMaciolek: the most enlightening part of the class discussion...the relationship between imperialism and feminism....Why is Jane Eyre the cult feminist text when it has hegemonic imperialist forces in it? What role does literature play in the project of feminism?
III. Hélène Cixous know about the experience--and the silencing--
of the subaltern. When she visited Swat years ago,

she read an autobiographical story called "Stigmata" about her "felix culpa," fortunate fall. In the prelude, she sketched out the historical and political dimensions of her tale, her family lineage of a Spanish father and German mother, both French nationals, until WWII, when their nationality was taken away becasue they were Jews.

They went to Algeria, where her father worked as a doctor, and sided w/ Algerians in their struggle for independence

--but the Arabs identified her family w/ the French (and stoned their house)

--but her brother was sentenced to death by the French fascists for his work w/ the Arabs,
--and after Algerian independence, her mother was arrested by the Algerians for being French.

Cixous, who said she could see how those who "should have been on the same side couldn't be," fled, "not wanting to be mistaken for the oppressor. We understood all those misunderstandings, but we had come too late, lived too close, and were too distant."
IV. Today, Cixous is inviting us to explore another set
of margins, to another "limitless" country, one echoing
with "The Laugh of the Medusa" (1975):
  • "you can't talk about a female sexuality, uniform, homogenous, classifiable into codes--any more than you can talk about one unconscious resembling another"
  • "here they are, returning, arriving over and again, because the unconscious is impregnable"
  • "poetry involves gaining strength through the unconscious and because the unconscious, that other limitless country, is the place where the repressed manage to survive"
  • "Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring write...will tear her away from the superegoized structure....To write and thus to forge...the antilogos weapon."

  • "Her libido is cosmic, just as her unconscious is worldwide."
What's the relation between the body and the unconscious?
What is the relation of both to writing?
(for Cixous, for you?)

  • "Censor the body and you censor breath and speech."

  • "women...have been secretly haunting since early childhood...a world of searching...a systematic experimentation with the bodily functions."

  • "Where is the ebullient, infinite woman...? You've written a little, but in didn't go all the when we would masturbate in attenuate the tension a bit, just enough to take the edge off..."

  • "I'm spacious, singing flesh."

V. Cixous' feminism is insistently psychoanalytic, very Lacanian:

As per Lindsay Updegrove, "For Hélène Cixous and other psychoanalytic thinkers, language is the gap-filler of the separation between mother and child. This is the very rift that brings about the superego, the 'conscience.'"

For Cixous, woman have a totally different unconscious, a psychosexual specificty that links our diffuse sexuality to a written language that could express the primacy of multiple impulses.

VI. Cixous' feminism is also astonishingly generous
(remember, Ingrid, our conversation about a feminism of generosity?)

What's the logic of that?

What's its source?

(Cf. to phallic single-mindedness?)

How does it strike you?

How well does it describe you?

How well do you think it might work as a governing rubric for feminism?

Her claims:

  • "Women's imaginary is inexhaustible."

  • "I, too, overflow."

  • "Because the economy of her drives is prodigious, she cannot transform...all systems of exchange based on masculine thrift."

  • "Woman overturns the 'personal'...has been see more closely the inanity of 'propriety,' the reductive stinginess of the masculine-conjugal subjective economy."

  • "man holds so dearly to...his pouches of value...the whole deceptive problematic of the gift.

  • "The woman arriving over and over again does not stand still; she's everywhere, she exchanges, she is the desire-that-gives. (Not enclosed in the paradox of the gift that takes...)"

  • "without the fear of ever reaching a limit...a love that rejoices in the exchange that multiplies"

  • "this is an economy that can no longer be put in economic terms. ..all the old concepts of management are left behind"

  • a property of woman is paradoxically the capacity to de-propriate unselfishly, body without end, without appendage, without principle 'parts.'

Derrida's essay on "The Gift" claims that gifts (like credit! like going off the gold standard!) unsettle closed systems. They don't expect exchange or reciprocity (needed in a closed system, where energy cannot be lost) but rather bring in from outside something NEW, stringlessly, without expectation of return.

Is woman so generous because she desires so much?
(Does that 'close' the system?)

(Desire of the Wicked Rose, from
Watercolors by Sharon Burgmayer)
  • "living means wanting everything that is...what's desire originating from a lack? A pretty meager desire."

  • "when I write, it's everything that we don't know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulations, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love."

The primary image is that of the volcano erupting:

  • Frigidified. But are they ever seething underneath!

  • When the "repressed" of their culture returns, it's an explosive, utterly destructive, staggering return

  • A feminine volcanic, as it is written it brings about an upheaval of the old property crust.

  • this doesn't mean that she's an undifferentiated magma

From Ursula LeGuin's 1986 Bryn Mawr Commencement Address:
Here is a poem that tries to translate six words by Hélène Cixous, who wrote The Laugh of the Medusa; she said, "Je suis là où ça parle," and I squeezed those six words like a lovely lemon and got out all the juice I could, plus a drop of Oregon vodka.

I'm there where
it's talking
Where that speaks I
am in that talking place
that says
my being is
my being there
is speaking
I am
And so
in a stone ear

Discussion continues in the Course Forum Area....
go there and add your thoughts!