Cixous & Clement, The Newly Born Woman

“…the marvelous monster of universal life was swallowed up inside her; that from now on life, death, everything was held within her entrails, and at the price of such painful labor, she had conceived Nature…” (also, the hysteric) (also, Helen of Troy): “These three figures of women have three men as their authors” (4). The male author writes the hysteric mystic woman; she rarely writes herself.

“The last figure, the hysteric, resumes and assumes the memories of the others…. Both [Freud and Michelet] thought that the repressed past survives in woman; woman, more than anyone else, is dedicated to reminiscence. The sorceress, who in the end is able to dream Nature and therefore conceive it, incarnates the reinscription of the traces of paganism that triumphant Christianity repressed. The hysteric, whose body is transformed into a theater for forgotten scenes, relives the past, bearing witness to a lost childhood that survives in suffering.

The feminine role, the role of sorceress, of hysteric, is ambiguous, antiestablishment, and conservative at the same time ….. The hysteric unties familiar bonds, introduces disorder into the well-regulated unfolding of everyday life, gives rise to magic in ostensible reason. These roles are conservative because every sorceress ends up being destroyed, and nothing is registered of her but mythical traces” (5).

The canon posits that “the critical periods of their (the women’s) life provoke surprises and apprehensions that give them a special position. In fact, it is exactly at puberty, during menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth, and after menopause, that the magical virtues of women reach their greatest intensity” (Marcel Mauss in A General Theory of Magic, qtd here 8). Not only are the critical periods of a woman’s life reproductive, but reproductive periods are magical, and give woman an “intensity” ostensibly absent in men.

The hysteric is the “only one who knew how to escape him [Freud]” (9).

Those who prosecuted witches said that the devil “fornicates” with witches and sorceresses (12).

Clément notes that the carnivalesque often elected a “mad-mother,” or an anti-Mary: “…are thus promoted to function as prophets, all the better prefiguring their group’s future because they are banished from it for being from the past” (25). “Bad mothers” = carnivalesque prophets (Bakhtin)

“We have exchanged so many words that we will end up unable to speak” ‘words have been able to become everybody’s thing.’ The exchange of women, on the other hand, has kept its original value, for women are both sign and value, sign and producer of sign. We know this perfectly well: it happens that women talk, that they step out of their function as sign” (28).


“No longer to exchange, that is, no longer to exchange women, to live without women, is outside history: without history” (29).

“the hysteric keeps her tears for herself and seems to be unfeeling and untouched, closed for use” (36). To refuse to weep/ feel perhaps maternal = to be closed for use

“…the hysteric does not write, does not produce, does nothing—nothing other than make things circulate without inscribing them…. The result: the clandestine sorceress was burned by the thousands; the deceitful and triumphant hysteric disappeared. But the master is there. He is the one who stays on permanently. He publishes writings” (37).

“keeping oneself in a state of permanent guilt is to constitute oneself as a subject. For the time being the guilty one is not the hysteric, but the hysteric is also not entirely a subject” (46).

The woman must circulate, not put into circulation. But the hysteric puts into circulation, as does the sorceress in her own manner; both of them violate exogamous exchange and transgress kinship” (53). (Book circulation, also. The primary reason it’s difficult to be a writer and w wife… to put into circulation is to be “closed for use”

Clément claims that “the sorceress is parthenogenetic” and that this is an important part of her sorcery. In some ways, the parthenogenesis of the sorceress/writer stands as an important counter to her refusal to “circulate” phallic children.

For Clément, the mystic/sorcerer is bisexual. “Of the mythical bisexuality that gets man immortality which is a far cry from being born of woman, let us keep the bird’s wings. Let’s keep—it’s the same thing—the witch’s broom, her taking off, her being swept away, her taking flight” (57).

“Where is she?









Form, convex, step, advance, semen, progress.

Matter, concave, ground—where steps are taken, holding- and dumping-ground.



Always the same metaphor…. If we read or speak, the same thread or double braid is leading us throughout literature, philosophy, criticism, centuries of representation and reflection” (63).

“Organization by hierarchy makes all conceptual organization subject to man. Male privilege, shown in the opposition between activity and passivity, which he uses to sustain himself. Traditionally, the question of sexual difference is treated by coupling it with the opposition: activity/passivity” (64).

“…as soon as the question of ontology raises its head, as soon as one asks oneself ‘what is it?,’ as soon as there is intended meaning. Intention: desire, authority—examine them and you are led right back . . . to the father. It is even possible not to notice that there is no place whatsoever for woman in the calculations. Ultimately the world of ‘being’ can function while precluding the mother. No need for a mother, as long as there is some motherliness…” (64).
“Philosophy is constructed on the premise of woman’s abasement. Subordination of the feminine to the masculine order, which gives the appearance of being the condition for the machinery’s functioning” (65).

“We are living in an age where the conceptual foundation of an ancient culture is in the process of being undermined by millions of a species of mole (Topoi, ground mines) never known before. When they wake up from among the dead, from among words, from among laws” (65). Sounds like Plath’s “Mushrooms”

“Bridebed, childbed, bed of death: thus woman’s trajectory is traced as she inscribes herself from bed to bed in Joyce’s Ulysses” (66). Woman is always lying down.

As she comes to writing, woman must ask herself, as Cixous does, “Who…. Am I…. For you?” (69).

“Everyone knows that a place exists which is not economically or politically indebted to all the vileness and compromise. That is not obliged to reproduce the system. That is writing. If there is a somewhere else that can escape the infernal repetition, it lies in that direction, where it writes itself, where it dreams, where it invents new worlds” (72).

“Every woman is a means. I see that clearly” (76). And the end of the means is not the baby: it is the reflection of the father in the son.

Bisexuality as fantasy: 84

In some way, Cixous argues, “woman is bisexual, man having been trained to aim for glorious phallic monosexuality” (85).

“I will say: today, writing is woman’s. That is not a provocation, it means that woman admits there is an other” (85). Admitting that there is an other leads to writing.

“If there is a self proper to woman, paradoxically it is her capacity to de-propriate herself without self-interest: endless body, without ‘end,’ without principal ‘parts’; if she is whole, it is a whole made up of parts that are wholes…. That doesn’t mean that she is undifferentiated magma; it means that she doesn’t create a monarchy of her body or her desire” (87).

The relation borne to the child must also be rethought. …It will be the task of woman and man to make the old relationship and all its consequences out-of-date; to think the launching of a new subject, into life, with de-familialization. Rather than depriving woman of a fascinating time in the life of her body just to guard against procreation’s being recuperated, let’s de-mater-paternalize. Let’s get out of the dialectic that claims the child is its parents’ death. The child is the other but the other without violence. ….. For if there is a specific thing repressed, that is where it is found: the taboo of the pregnant woman (which says a lot about the power that seems invested in her). It is because they have always suspected that the pregnant woman not only doubles her market value but, especially, valorizes herself as a woman in her own eyes, and undeniably takes on weight and sex. There are a thousand ways of living a pregnancy, of having or not having a relationship of another intensity with this still invisible other” (90).

“Even if phallic mystification has contaminated good relations in general, woman is never far from the ‘mother’ (I do not mean the role but the ‘mother’ as no-name and as source of goods_. There is always at least a little good mother milk left in her. She writes with white ink” (94).

“When I write, all those that we don’t know we can be write themselve from me, without exclusion, without prediction, and everything that we will be calls us to the tireless, intoxicating, tender-costly search for love. We will never lack ourselves” (100).

Joyce on Fatherhood in Ulysses:

“Fatherhood, in teh sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten. On that mystery and not on teh madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe the church is founded and refounded irremovably because founded, like the world, macro- and micro-cosm, upon the void. Upon uncertitude, upon unlikelihood. Amor matris, subjective and objective genitive, may be the only true thing in life” (qtd here 101).

“Fatherhood is a legal fiction,’ said Joyce. Paternity, which is a fiction, is fiction passing itself off as truth. Paternity is the lack of being which is called God. Men’s cleverness was in passing themselves off as fathers and ‘repatriating’ women’s fruit as their own. A naming trick. Magic of absence. God is men’s secret” (101). “The father is always dependent on the child, who decides whether to recognize or reject him” (111).








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