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A Long Week 4 Response

Rhapsodica's picture

When I came to class on Tuesday after reading Spivak's essay, I was feeling terribly daunted. I hadn't read any of the books she used to illustrate her ideas (though I was pretty familiar with the plot of Frankenstein), and found it very difficult to get through her writing and extract anything useful, if only because I didn't know what she was trying to say most of the time. Our discussion & small group work in class were helpful, but I still didn't take very strongly to Spivak's ideas. I suppose, as I've said before on this forum and in class, feminism is something that I feel involves a connection on a personal level as well as on an academic/activist level... and I felt virtually no connection with her essay at all.

But this afternoon, I sat down to read Cixous's essay and had a completely different reaction. Something about her writing style drew me in immediately (perhaps, like Abby, I'm a sucker for a good sex metaphor?), and though her ideas are indeed complex and a little intangible, and her style is extremely "free," as others have described it, I found that I could relate to what she said more than the work of any other writer we've encountered so far. In a sense, I feel like this is the reading I've been waiting for over the past few weeks... the first thing that's really spoken to me on a deeper level.

As an aspiring writer, I can't help but love the way she relates the act of writing to a woman's expression of her body... how interwoven the two seem to be in her view... and how important it is to a woman's self-identity to be in touch with herself in those ways. I love how she portrays women as having this sort of intense power of presence and soul... how she seems to be saying that, in a sense, women have always been and will always be a presence in the universe. (I suppose, in a way, that this relates to Spivak's concept of soul-making -- a woman's soul cannot, and need not be created by the imperialist-like patriarchy if it's always been a part of the world in some abstract, mystical way, right?).

I can also see Spivak's ideas coming through when Cixous starts talking about how women are "taught that their territory is black," and says that "we have internalized this horror of the dark"... saying, basically, that men have taught us to hate and repress ourselves (877-878). After all, isn't that hegemony? Isn't internalizing and self-perpetuating that hatred the same as consenting to being dominated? That connection makes sense to me, anyway (feel free to tell me if you disagree or see it another way!).

As an answer to the question that's been posed above, I would say that Cixous's essay is definitely more compelling to me. I guess my answer might seem wishy-washy if you're someone who sees reading as more of an academic thing than something that should be made personal, but to be honest, the highly academic stuff tends to frustrate me. Cixous's writing, however, seems more universal. It's difficult to comprehend in a different way (and in some places, a little too out there for me to completely follow), but unlike the more academic readings we've done, I feel like I don't have to necessarily understand every word to be moved and captivated by her ideas. I'm having a hard time wording this posting, largely because I don't know how to describe the way I reacted to the text -- I just know that I really connected with it on a deeper level than with anything I've read in a while (both inside and outside of this class).

I think, however, that both texts have something to contribute to current feminist praxis. After all, many of us are posting saying we're compelled by one text more than the other, or by certain aspects and not by others. Just because Cixous's writing speaks so strongly to me does not mean it will speak so strongly to everyone else, nor does my inability to completely understand Spivak indicate that her ideas aren't as useful (they are definitely useful; they just don't ring as true for me personally). The important thing is that all of us are moved by something, and trying to determine which has more to contribute seems to me (sorry for the cliche) like comparing apples and oranges.

Keeping with the theme of letting the silt sink to the bottom... there are, of course, certain aspects of Cixous's essay that seem a little extreme to me. I can definitely sense her anger and disdain for uh... all that is masculine, and think that perhaps it can be seen as a little off-putting. But I think that her ideas about women knowing & expressing themselves, and refusing to submit to repression and self-hatred, are more important than whether or not we agree with the extent of her anger.

Unlike other writers we've encountered, such as Spivak and Sosnoski, I feel like she's not just talking to women in academia... I feel like she's talking to all women, telling us we all have something that we can, and should, contribute... that even though women are, in a sense, omnipresent, that our ideas are unique and boundlessly imaginative and worth expressing however we choose to do so. After all, she's telling us to write... not necessarily to write well. I found this particularly refreshing after reading so much that has to do with literary criticism; I love that she seems to be placing more emphasis on just saying it (whatever "it" may be) than on how one has to go about saying it.

As I was writing this post out, I was reminded of a favorite quote that seems to mirror these ideas, and ring true for our journey together in this class/forum/etc... so I'll stop rambling and leave you all with that for now:

"There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open." - Martha Graham


Louise Wiener's picture

Some things never change.

I am from the class of '62 and I was struck as I read the beginning of your comments that at Bryn Mawr some things never change. That amazing sensse of excitement and its parallel gnawing intimidation - wondering if everyone else in the class didn't already know whatever you happen to be studying! At our 45th reunion it seemed everyone was telling someone else how smart and well-read she seemed lo those many years ago (if not still!)

I am fascinated by the discussion and appreciate the chance to taste the challenges of academic discussion again. I have yet to reada the texts, but your comments make them sound interesting enough to inspire me. LWW

Rhapsodica's picture

I find it interesting how

I find it interesting how each day, I hear from Mawrters past and present that their experience at Bryn Mawr is/was intimidating and daunting, yet exciting and wonderful all at the same time. My time here has certainly been a mix of those elements so far. Actually, your response could not have come at a better time; I've had a very stressful couple of weeks, and have been feeling very uninspired and unmotivated. Hearing that something I wrote weeks ago, when I wasn't feeling so down, inspired you to read the texts and join in our conversation... inspires me to try a little harder to find inspiration again, hehe. :) So, thank you for that!

If you do decide to read some of the texts we've already discussed and want someone to talk them over with, let me know and I would be happy to give you my email address and have an email conversation of sorts (though I can't promise I would reply very quickly -- I have an insane amount of work these days!). Either way, I am glad you have decided to join us!

-Melinda (my actual name)