Helene Cixous


Hélène Cixous
©1998, Hélène Cixous

Defying classification into traditional literary categories, the work of Hélène Cixous takes form in multiple genres where no single text or style can convey the totality of her message. Her creative imagination is characterized by an inventive, playful use of language that takes even her literary criticism beyond the traditional limits of academic discourse and into the realm of poetry. In a rare combination of roles and forms of engagement, she has achieved distinction not just as an influential theorist but also as a novelist, playwright, and educational innovator. She is most recognized in the United States for developing the concept of écriture féminine as a way of overcoming the limits of Western logocentrism, and for opening new ways to deal with subjective difference in both writing and social theory. But it would be misleading to look only at her influence on literary criticism. While Cixous continues to write essays, novels, and plays, her recent works for the theater have become increasingly concerned with ethical and political questions in contemporary history, especially the effects of colonialism, corruption, and social injustice.

Her earliest intellectual affinities include strong connections with Jacques Derrida from the early 1960s until the present and an association with feminist causes since the mid 1970s, as well as a commitment to teaching that began the University of Bordeaux in 1962. After her active participation in the Parisian events of 1968, she helped create the University of Paris VIII, where she headed an advisory council that developed innovative interdisciplinary programs and appointed kindred spirits, including Gérard Genette, Michel Foucault, Tzvetan Todorov, and Gilles Deleuze, to new professorial chairs. Currrently a professor of English literature at Paris VIII, she founded the university's Centre d'Études Féminines, the first of its kind in Europe, and directs doctoral programs both in English literature and in the Centre. While recent changes in the university have threatened the doctoral program that she designed as a way to study sexual difference across disciplines and languages, she has managed to extend its survival through the international recognition her seminars and programs have attracted.

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Photo by D.L. Mohror.
© Hélène Cixous.

The blending of cultures, languages, and the experience of difference, so notable during her childhood in Algeria, drew Hélène Cixous to a wide reading of literature beyond national or linguistic boundaries. Her enduring affinity for Shakespeare is at the core of an academic formation in English literature that led to teaching and research on other authors and to the publication of L'exile de James Joyce ou l'art de remplacement (1968), based on her thesis for the Doctorat d'État. From the start she has also been deeply engaged with the work of writers in several languages, among them Franz Kafka, Marina Tsvetayeva, and, above all, Clarice Lispector. Research and teaching have brought Cixous to universities and libraries in several countries, in recent years especially to the United States and Canada, where she has lectured frequently, has taught many times as a visiting professor, and has received several honorary doctorates. Her California visits include research in 1963 for her secondary thesis on Robinson Jeffers and the 1990 Wellek lectures at the University of California at Irvine. In June 1998 the international cultural center at Cerisy-la-Salle will hold a colloquium devoted entirely to her work.

By Mary Jane Parrine

©1998, Stanford University

Hélène Cixous pages edited by: Mary Jane Parrine, Curator for Romance Languages Collections, Stanford University, parrine@leland.stanford.edu

Editor's note: Special thanks go to Eve Citron, assistant to the curator and to Jane Vaden, library specialist, for helping to assemble material for this site.


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