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Hélène Cixous


Hélène Cixous, an author and philosopher, is regarded one of the most influential French intellectuals. Cixous pioneered the écriture feminine form of writing distinctive from patriarchal paradigms of communication premised on expropriation. Her prominence greatly originated from écriture feminine, an approach and practice that focuses on Cixous’s concerns on the implications of exclusion, the overcoming of Western logocentrism and struggle for identity. Cixous affirms that language is a tool that can effect social change.                                                         Cixous’s early life was significant in the development of her rationale towards influence, identity and nationality. Having been born in Algeria to a mother of Austro-German descent and a father of French Algerian descent; Cixous grew up with great cultural diversity. Most members of her family were Jewish, who had experienced the atrocities of World War II and this had an influence on Cixous. In 1948, her father succumbed to tuberculosis and her mother had to search for employment in a foreign nation. The question of nationality became part of Cixous long-term diasporic feeling as she never felt that she was French or that Algeria was her country. Ever since she was young, she studied literature in multiple languages, mainly reading the works of renowned authors such as Franz Kafka, Clarice Lispector and Marina Tsvetaeva. The circumstances of her genealogy, alongside the political and psychological conflicts inherent in these situations inspired her works. Her first language was German; which she incorporated in most of her works that featured the diasporic conditions of her childhood. Her adolescent experience as an Algerian- Jewish enabled her realization that nationality was regularly associated with antisemitism or colonialism. Her years as a secondary student in Algiers and later in Paris, made her aware of foreignness resultant from institutional and political reasons as opposed to existential reasons. Her keenness of the mechanisms of interdiction and seclusion due to sexual and cultural divergences became more profound. The quota system that restricted the number of Jews in Algerian schools led her to being the only Jew in her class.Cixous moved to France where she pursued a course on German and English literature later earning her agrégation (teachers’ exam) in 1959.In1962, Cixous became assistante at the University of Bordeaux, and was later appointed to the maître assistante role at Nanterre. She greatly participated in the Paris student riots of 1968 that was significant in the establishment of the experimental Université de Paris VIII.

Themes and main ideas

The author explores the associations between dialect, subjectivity and politics. Her various works constituting The Laugh of the Medusa (1975) and The Exile of James Joyce, or the Art of Displacement, portray the basic tenets of écriture feminine. Her initial works of fiction such as Dedans (1969), were awarded Prix Médicis. The author’s main themes are centered on the feminist discourse because she mainly discusses the marginalized sections of women. She frequently acknowledges the presumed polarities between female and male. She further addresses the feminist struggles for justice and equality (Mezaal,30). Overall, she has over 70 collections of poetry, theory, philosophy and plays on history, autobiography, and identity. She continues to release publications that transgress boundaries between history, criticism and memoir. Cixous continues to reflect and write plays on feminist philosophy founded on psychoanalytic theory and post-structuralism.



Review of their work

Critics reveal that most French feminists including Helen Cixous are fixated on essentialism. They assert that these feminists perceive the female body as a totalized entity. Even though, Cixous presumes the bodies as lingusitically and socially formulated, the critics denote the lack of exchange between text and body. The critics are convinced that the bodies are imprinted upon. Nevertheless, her works have been significant in addressing the issues on feminism.

Thoughts of the author and what she hopes to contribute in artistry

The author asserts that women have currently been liberated to some extent because multiple individuals are realizing the harsh outcomes of violence such as rape and harassment that had always been denied. More organizations and initiatives have been launched to counter such forms of violence (Leturcq). The author further mentions that there is a need for forums that access a broader  audience, whereby the power of thought cannot be monopolized and open discussions can be conducted. The author also reveals that the concept of liberation should address any form of social barrier, be it the oppression of women or racism. All individuals have to uphold their pride and fight for what they believe. She continues to develop her artistry by writing plays and articles focusing on national development, identity  and feminism. She however, criticizes the contemporary superficial portrayal of feminism by the media between 1970s and 1980s especially in France, and urges that women should instead employ their femininity in writing.


The article’s plot and theme

In the article, the laugh of Medusa, Cixous depicts the characteristics of Ecriture Feminine style. She believes that the inclusion of female sexuality in literature is vital in the disruption of the impasse of masculine writing. She acknowledges that females are not confined to only one object, in the consequence, female sexuality is more sophisticated than male sexuality. Her implications reveal the use of logical discourse entwined in psychoanalytical and metaphorical terminologies. Cixous claims that over the years, men have dominated over various domains including religion, logic, reason, and writing, while the women have been suppressed and left to hate themselves and hate each other. In essence, she implies that women have internalized male ideologies that have contributed to their own detriment. Cixous encourages women to reclaim themselves. She motivates them to redefine femininity by declining representations that perceive them as weak, lacking individuals or as dreadful monsters like Medusa. According to the author, women should embrace the art of writing to redefine their relationships with men and with the world. She aims that women utilize writing to empower themselves and liberate themselves from male ideologies that suppress them.

Development of the main character

The author herself and the women are the main characters .She acknowledges, “I write as a woman, toward women. When I say “woman,” I’m speaking of woman in her inevitable struggle against conventional man; and of a universal woman subject who must bring women to their senses and to their meaning in history”(Cixous, 91).The development of the main characters is successful as evidenced from the author’s  coherence through the text . She focuses her interest on empowering women on the necessities of employing writing as a means to express themselves. Cixous recognizes that throughout history, male dominance has taken charge over various domains, and she is in a quest for women to work together and express themselves. She acknowledges that conventional women and men are antagonistic to the freedom she is advocating, while the more progressive women and men comprehend the essence of liberating themselves from societal norms that are suppressive. Throughout the text, the author is focused on empowering the main characters by requesting them to exploit their inscription abilities and utilize them as liberation tools.

Significance of the article

This text is particularly significant first because of its interesting title .The title itself capture’s readers’ attention.  Medusa offers a representation of men’s perceptions towards women. The author relates Medusa’s account to project the ideology why women have been perceived negatively throughout history I believe that the text is inspirational, especially to women because the author motivates women to  let out their laughs that have been silenced over the years, due to patriarchal ideologies. The text is also impactful because it is centered on the liberation of those who are overlooked and marginalized as well as those who are not in favor. Therefore, it acts as a tool championing the liberation of those who are subjected by unorthodoxed standards.

The text also explores the associations between sexuality and language. Cixous highlights the importance of expressing femininity in writing and equates it to a form of liberation. Moreover, the author’s use of metaphors enables the comparison and clarification of ideas. She offers descriptions through the use of examples to enhance readers’ comprehension. For example, she denotes the concept of male dominance by explaining the areas that men have dominated, for example logic and science. The text is also significant because it depicts the relation between the female body, sexuality and writing. The author describes how writing from one’s personal bodily experience is already a form of liberation.



Works Cited

Helene Cixous . “The laugh of Medusa.”

(Mezaal, Haider (2017). “Helen Cixous: an icon in feminism”. https://www.worldwidejournals.com/global-journal-for-research-analysis- GJRA/special_issues_pdf/September_2017_1507110521__12.pdfAccessed 10th Dec           2020

Leturcq, Armelle. A MEETING WITH HELENE CIXOUS. 2016, https://www.crash.fr/a-meeting-         with-helene-cixous/. Accessed 11 Dec 2020.


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