For the French feminist Hélène Cixous, Lacan's concept of the phallus is a prime example of pervasive patriarchal phallocentrism, which is founded in 'patriarchal binary thought'. She gives examples of the typical binaries which overlap with and support the binary of masculine and feminine:
The list goes on to include terms which hint at Cixous' analysis:
Head/Heart Intelligible/Palpable Logos/Pathos (Ibid., p. 37)
The second term, associated with the feminine, is inferior in relation to the first. The first is privileged in a 'hierarchy' (ibid., p. 38) which finds stability in this structure. To this stability Cixous opposes the insecurity of difference, which is heterogeneous and does not organize itself around stable structures. In this she reveals her indebtedness to Jacques Derrida's critique of logocentrism and to his concept of différance. Derrida's thesis is that the illusions of logocentrism are founded on the notion that discourse can organize itself securely around certain privileged terms which are identified with the truth, and can thereby give an accurate and unified representation of the truth. But Derrida insists that the character of language is bound up with difference, multiplicity and deferral of meaning. This means that logocentric discourse, when analysed, is found not to achieve its goal, and indeed is forced to depend on the use of the supposedly inferior or subordinate term. The demonstration of this effect
(and not destruction or pulling apart) is what is meant by deconstruction. Derrida believes that the attributes of language which can be summed up in his coinage dif-férance are revealed by writing (écriture). For this reason, écriture is his model of language — as opposed to voice. Adherence to the idea of voice can lead, and has routinely led in Western culture, to the buttressing of logocentrism, with its illusions of unified meaning and intention.
Cixous' indebtedness to Derrida is particularly obvious in her adoption of the term écriture féminine ('feminine writing'), which allows itself the freedom of the play of difference. Yet one should not think of this as female writing, even though the French adjective is ambiguous: Cixous is ostensibly referring to a particular orientation which historically has been easier for women to adopt, but which in principle is also available to men. In support of this idea, she asserts that she believes in bisexuality. This is not a bisexuality which would merely reinstall the binary, nor the representation of a unified being, but what she calls 'other bisexuality' (Sellers, 1994, p. 41): the presence of both sexes in different ways in each individual. Nevertheless, Cixous can sometimes sound as if she has returned to a familiar kind of mysticism and mystique of the female. Such is the claim of Toril Moi, who concludes that Cixous' 'vision of female writing is . . . firmly located within the closure of the Lacanian Imaginary: a space in which difference has been abolished' (Moi, 1985, p. 117). This unexpected conclusion can hardly be quite what Cixous had intended, however; and it remains the case that the idea of écriture féminine is seen as a fertile and suggestive contribution to feminist theory. However, its potential relevance to the theory of poetic language is arguably capable of being treated alongside the arguments of other French feminists. So it will be convenient, before examining this possibility, to consider the work of Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva.
Irigaray, more than Cixous, reacts in quite detailed and specific ways against Lacan. But this is partly because the development of her thought was so profoundly shaped by his. She criticizes his conservatism in a section of her 'Psychoanalytic Theory: Another Look' (Irigaray, 1985, pp. 60—7). But her training as a psychoanalyst means that she has much to contribute to the discussion of psychoanalysis in general; and her intellectual ambition has issued in wide-ranging philosophical debate.
Irigaray's most influential work, Spéculum de l'autre femme (1974; tr. 1985, Speculum of the Other Woman) refers to the mirror used by doctors for internal examination of women, but also comments on the way Lacan had used the image of the mirror to represent a stage in the development of the child's self-consciousness: a child whom he assumed to be male. The mirror image also refers to the mimetic logic of representation, which she equates with an ideology of monolithic identity, and which she implies has dominated Western culture from Plato onwards. Her term for this ideology is 'the logic of the Same'. It is easy to see how notions of différance might be invoked as applied to this logic, and indeed Irigaray, like Cixous, displays the influence of Derrida. The best-known image by means of which she seeks to convey the nature of feminine difference is that in which she offers an alternative image to that of the phallus: the lips of the vagina. This image implies that women's sexuality is 'always at least double' — at least; and indeed predominantly plural: for 'woman has sex organs more or less everywhere' (Irigaray, 1985, p. 28). This plurality runs deep: woman is 'other in herself', and not least in 'her language, in which "she" sets off in all directions leaving "him" unable to discern the coherence of any meaning. Hers are contradictory words, somewhat mad from the standpoint of reason, inaudible for whoever listens to them with ready-made grids, with a fully-elaborated code in hand' (ibid., p. 29). As in the case of Cixous, feminine language sounds like certain Romantic and post-Romantic definitions of poetic language.
Julia Kristeva has made poetic language the subject of an important work, La Révolution du langage poétique (1974; tr. 1984, Revolution in Poetic Language). Its broad linguistic basis is an analysis of what she calls the 'signifying process' (Kristeva, 1986, p. 91), in the study of which she discerns two trends: one, the semiotic and the other the symbolic. She believes these trends do indeed correspond to two interacting aspects of signification. The semiotic is a preliminary ordering of the pre-Oedipal drives, which are gathered in what she terms the chora (the Greek for a womb), a term used by Plato in the Timaeus for a formless receptacle of all things. For Kristeva, the semiotic chora is 'an essentially mobile and extremely provisional articulation' (Kristeva, 1986, p. 93). Her definition of the symbolic follows closely Lacan's description of entry into the Symbolic Order: once this has occurred, the semiotic will be subject to repression, and will make itself felt only as a pressure on symbolic language: in rhythmic play, in redundancy, contradiction, nonsense, discontinuity and gaps. Poetic language has been a practice where this marginalized aspect of language in general has been allowed limited license. But the symbolist poets Lautréamont and Mallarmé are studied by her in Revolution in Poetic Language as exponents of a 'signifying practice' which gives unprecedented expression to 'the semiotic disposition'. Neither of these poets is a woman; and for Kristeva, while 'the feminine is defined as marginal under patriarchy' (Moi, 1985, p. 166), it is, partly for this very reason, only a patriarchal construct, a way of conceiving the marginal. In fact, Kristeva believes that a subversively marginal position of avant-gardism is patently as open to male as to female writers, even though, as John Lechte points out, the 'unname-able, heterogeneous element is called "feminine" in Kristeva's writings of the mid seventies' (Lechte, 1990, p. 201).
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