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Where's the fun and fight in feminist?: Finding the mechanisms of Anti-logos exchange.

Flora's picture

According to most versions of his life story, the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to the first human men. For this and his other insurgent crimes, Prometheus' punishment is to be chained to a cliff with daily visits from an eagle who eats his regenerating liver from his body. This is my current model of textual creation and critique. The texts we write are our regenerating livers. When critiquing, we are the eagle. Don't be scared off by the gory metaphor. I am going explain my reasoning and later even offer a additional myth of critique from which I hope to fashion a more palatable model.


I like this myth-model of the bloody liver especially because of its use of the body. The link between a liver and the body that nourishes it and the environment which nourishes the body is extremely clear in the myth. But where is the link between bodily experiences, thoughts and knowledges and writing in the model? How do you make a textual liver? I have agreed with many of the theorists we have read so far in the course when they assert that a person's writing and identity are hugely influenced, maybe even determined, by their surroundings and personal background. Linda Kaufman leads the charge against such self-indulgent uses of personal experience. She writes that in this sort of literature, “…the individual-removed from history, economics, and even from the unconscious – is depicted as someone who always has choices, and whose choices are always 'free' …it is clearly a delusion that by throwing off the straitjacket of formal expository prose, anyone will be revealing her 'true,' unique self. Writing about yourself does not liberate you, it just shows how ingrained the ideology of freedom through self-expression is in our thinking. “(The Long Goodbye, 269). Kaufman's rejection a reliance on the authority of personal experience shows me that the creation of writing is hampered by a shallow analysis of the self. But what source material is personal experience to be replaced with?

I am helped out of this quandary by Helene Cixous. She asserts that the most needed and compelling writing is what she deems a sort of symbolically feminine writing aligned with the body, with the unconscious, writing that is perhaps elevated by, but certainly not produced by formal pedagogy. Cixous asserts that women must write texts from their physical experiences.

“She must write her self, because this is the invention of a new insurgent writing which, when the moment of her liberation has come, will allow her to carry out the indispensable ruptures and transformations in her history… An act that will also be marked by woman’s seizing the occasion to speak, hence her shattering entry into history, which has always been based on her suppression. To write and thus forge for herself the antilogos weapon. ..It is time for women to start scoring their feats in written and oral language. (The Laugh of the Medusa, 880)”

Here she asserts that the physicality of this writing will, she asserts, change history. Cixous draws a a causal arrow that goes both ways between the self and and her writing and the world. To make this assertion, she draws on a understanding that texts are products of the body.

Thus far, I have explained the ways in which writing is connected to the body. But where does the violence of the Prometheus myth fit into the model of critique? For Cixous, violence is inherent in the creation of texts. She calls this writing “the antilogos weapon.” She is using logos here as a way of classifying masculine, formal, expository writing that rejects the feminine and the unconscious. But is her use of language as weapon just following in a long tradition of masculinity the practice of literary criticism? James Sosnoski especially criticizes this testosterone-based approach to critique. “ the institution of criticism, intellectual criticism has a Rambo effect. The heroic critic is obligated morally to rescue thinkers from the prisons of illogic, to stand up to illogic when no one else cares. He is armed to the teeth with falsifications...He is the supreme faslifier, appropriator, assimilator.” (A Mindless Man-driven Theory Machine, 71). So, despite Sosnoski's valid critique, why do I embrace the violent imagery of Prometheus' eagle and Cixous's weapon?

The mystery as why I can embrace verbal weaponry against texts is solved by looking at the target of the weapons. In the Prometheus myth, his liver is immortal and regenerates. No matter how vicious the eagle's attack, his textual organ cannot be permanently destroyed.

This fact makes the attack symbolic, not vicious. From it, the eagle gains sustenance from Prometheus' textual body and Prometheus has the opportunity to create a new text after the experience. Can I learn the faith that my personal texts are regenerative, not permanent? Can I welcome the sharpest verbal talons not as painful punishment and destruction of old ideas, but as the vehicle through which I clear my body for new creations?

My discussion thus far may give the impression that the liver is a passive victim to attack. That is simply not the case. Imagine the pain, gore and effort in involved in regrowing a liver. Prometheus' decision to recreate it daily is a strong act of defiance that enables the battle to continue.

I may have reached the limits of my metaphor here. To better understand the power of creation as response to attack, I am helped again by Cixous' discussion of another myth. “…isn’t the worst, in truth, that women aren’t castrated, that they have only to stop listening to the Sirens (for the Sirens were men) for history to change its meaning? You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful and she’s laughing.” Like the act of creation despite constant assault, a laugh is a huge act of defiance. If the consumption and regeneration of a liver is the model of intellectual textual critique, laughing is a model of extreme rejection to authority. Imagine Prometheus laughing as his skin is being torn away. Imagine the eagle joking as he rips flesh. Macabre though it may be, it changes the context of the battle completely. The two are now united, enjoying the process together. Here laughter and creation are the two strongest anti-logos, castrating, anti-patriarchal weapons.

The importance of laughter solves Linda Kaufman's troubling question for me. “Too often [personal testimony] reinforces the blind belief that we all deserve to be happy. My happiness, frankly, is not very important in the grand scheme of things. I never thought feminism was about happiness. I thought it was about justice. (274)” If laughter and creation are, in fact, integral to systemic change, laughter (bringing happiness and painful understanding) is central to the quest for feminist justices. This laughter is very important in my grand scheme of things.

I end this theory-proposal with a challenge both to myself and to my critics/collaborators. Know that I create my texts from my unconscious, bodily and expository knowledges. Publishing these texts chains them to a cliff. I think there no better compliment that to tear them apart and devour them. Take what you will from them, silt or no. Secure in the knowledge of their regenerative nature, I will try to learn to laugh even at the most vicious, unfair, ignorant, humorless assaults. Now giggling as this transpires, I,invite your help with the process of reassembling these jumbled fleshy language bits into a more accurate, just and powerful form.


Anne Dalke's picture

chaining our texts to cliffs, regenerating our livers....

So, Flora, as always, you surprise and and push me beyond what-it-is-I-think-I-know. Here's what I'm hearing and seeing:

  • a regeneration of the Promethean myth, via laughter, for feminist purposes
  • explicating the central project of this course as an application of that myth; i.e.: on-line postings become texts chained to cliffs, put out there in the air to be assaulted
  • thereby enabling--> impelling revision and further growth.
This works, very well, I think. The pieces I'd "pull out" (oof!) for further work-and-explication are
  • the violence: why does this process have to be so painful? why isn't it just, well, organic? Things die. New things are born....I actually think the relationship between destruction and creation is deeper than you make it; rather than say that creation is possible "despite constant assault," I'd say that creation is motivated by/prodded by/made necessary by and possible by destruction: clearing away the old makes space for the new. Think the death of the dinosaurs=flourishing of mammals; and/or think in terms of the essential link between life and the second law of thermodynamics, as the sun's 'falling apart' generates life on this earth...
  • the giggling: that sort of laughter isn't deep enough, it's not the guffawing, the belly laughter when I think of the sort of laughter that can change the world. Along these lines: do you know the work of Leonore Tiefer, esp. her piece on "The Capacity for Outrage: Feminism, Humor and Sex" (in a 2002 collection, edited by Catherine Johnson, Betsy Stirratt and John Bancroft, called Sex and Humor: Selections from The Kinsey Institute? (Tiefer has another good collection of her own stuff called Sex is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays; her current work focuses on a campaign challenging the medicalization of sex).
  • I wonder if thinking further about what you discuss in a later blog--the extremely important difference between enacting/animating and creating life--might help you move to another metaphor, where speaking up is less like opening your thought-children to assault; less akin to "killing your babies," more like, oh, like, say,

    shaping clay figures out of mud? Making puppet figures?