Volleys of Humanity: Essays 1972-2009

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VI Perhaps this collection will contribute to the reading-to-come of Derridas prophecy. Yet even here we must beware of internal resistances. By separating off Cixous essays from the rest of her work, and by publishing them together in translation, a book like this one may partake of or participate in precisely the kind of reductive manipulation29 Derrida decries. The tracing out of demarcations between various genres of Cixous work and the riding roughshod in translation, no matter how attentive the translator, over the untranslatable idiomatic singularities of the original may be the first steps in a resistant appropriation, however contradictory this may seem, that undermines what it makes available.

The body of Cixous oeuvre cut up, edited, packaged, framed, introduced, desiccated, ironed out, universalised, pre-digested. Neutered, declawed. If we take Derrida at his word, one cannot begin to read Cixous, according to the strong sense of reading he promotes, without questioning, among other things, the limits of genre, for example between fiction and essay, and without an experience of bodily engagement with the untranslatability of the idiom.

However, it would be a mistake to think that according to the logic of this warning, since translations of Cixous texts, or distinctions between them in terms of traditional genre categories, invariably do irreparable violence to the texts enchant, such operations must simply be avoided at all cost.


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The deconstruction of borders between theory and practice, for instance, between essays and fiction as between philosophy and literature or signifier and signified. It makes a difference, however, if they are traced out in full view of the pitfalls or shortcomings they can never completely neutralise.

[eBook] Volleys of Humanity: Essays 1972-2009

With this in mind, I will offer a few remarks on the rationale for publishing this volume of Hlne Cixous essays, and thereby reinforcing the problematic genre demarcations, as well as on the more or less wilful decisions that determined the particular selection it contains. VII Hlne Cixous writing is typically divided, for bibliographic reasons, between fiction, theatre, essays and interviews.

To this list the category of seminars for the moment unpublished must be added, as well, perhaps, as that of notebooks or manuscripts. Without forgetting what she calls the book I dont write, in a category of its own. But there is much crossover and it would be impossible to establish an absolutely consistent, rigid taxonomy.

There is no absolute line between Hlne Cixous essays and her fiction, to take just these two genres: in both, the theoretical cohabits with the creative, the philosophical with the poetic, the analytical with the oneiric. As an example of the more general unclassifiability of Cixous work mentioned earlier, this particular subversion of genres is one of the unmistakable strengths and signatures of her writing: the creative, poetic invention is in no way contradicted by the hyper-conscious, super-critical analysis.

Admittedly, this is the very principle of performativity, whereby a critical consideration of something simultaneously does something. Yet in Cixous work this non-contradiction is not an exception or a special case, but rather the very element of the writing. Furthermore, the essays often cite or refer to the book-length fictions and vice versa. A spectacular example is precisely what happened in and to The Book I Dont Write, one of the texts included here.

This essay was written to be presented at a conference on Cixous work that took place at the Bibliothque nationale de France the French national library, or BnF in , on the occasion of Hlne Cixous gift of the quasi-totality of her manuscripts to the BnF. The essay enacts a subversive resistance to this event: while the librarys interest in her manuscripts represents a certain public, institutional, national recognition of her work, the transfer is experienced also as a sort of entombment.

The essays title is a warning or a caveat, problematising the apparent appropriation of the entire body of her oeuvre, indeed of her writing, of her manuscripts as the living trace of her writing, into the Necropolitan Library. The essay explains that even as she wrote one book after another, the manuscripts of which are now archived in the BnF, there was another book, the book I dont write, perhaps the most important book by Hlne Cixous, but one that has always remained unwritten.

And since it is unwritten but no less present for it, on the contrary it has left no manuscript of its own to be absorbed into the Library. That book, at least, will not be taken. The Book I Dont Write refers to a number of actually written books by Hlne Cixous, recounting their making-of, or not-making-of.

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So The Book I Dont Write constitutes in some sense a supplement to Manhattan not only a theoretical or critical reflection on the book, but, since the book itself consists largely of a reflection on its conditions of im possibility, its continuation or extension. In a similar way, this very essay, The Book I Dont Write, and the event at which it was pronounced by its author, is itself taken up, recounted, revisited, reinterpreted, fictionalised, transposed, reincorporated in a later book of fiction, Tours promises Their transgression serves there as one of the central figures of a generalised challenge to the traditional demarcations between fiction and reality, life and work, poetry and criticism.

Furthermore, the essay genre itself might be taken as a particularly cixousian form: a kind of genre-problematising genre. The word essay comes from the French essai, meaning an attempt or trial.

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It generally designates a relatively short piece of expository prose writing that treats a given subject while making no pretence of exhaustiveness or objective scientific analysis. It is neither art nor science, or rather, it renounces neither art nor science. As Adorno puts it, The essay [. It is no coincidence that Montaigne, who was the first to use the word in this sense, figures prominently in Hlne Cixous elective literary family.

Volleys Of Humanity: Essays

Montaignes Essais were first published in arranged pellmell, with no apparent organising principle, they propose freewheeling explorations of more or less timeless, more or less universal topics such as Sadness, Liars, the possibility that Our happiness can only be determined after our death, Cannibals, The uncertainty of our judgement, Thumbs, whether Cowardice is the mother of cruelty,. The looseness of the essay form this form with no pre-ordained form certainly offered Montaigne virtually limitless licence to address an extraordinarily broad range of subjects. And yet the turning out of Montaignes inquisitive mind to examine the world in all its diversity is inseparable, in the Essays, from a deep reflection on himself.

As Montaigne says famously in his preface, I am myself the matter of my book. In addition, there are a number of very clear contextual or biographical reasons for making this distinction between the fiction and the essays. For instance, Hlne Cixous essays, almost without exception, are written on demand, generally for oral delivery at conferences or colloquia, whereas the books of fiction have always been written in some important way for themselves. As Cixous has often pointed out, she has always written her fictions during the summer holidays far from the city.


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For instance, in The Unforeseeable, included in this volume, she writes: Every summer I go off to write the book I have no notion of. On the other hand, the essays are generally written during the school year, from September to June. To fully appreciate this distinction, one would have to take into account the particular significance of this yearly cycle in French society and popular consciousness: the long summer months, with their traditional exodus from Paris, are decisively cut off from the rest of the year. One might therefore expect the essays to be more scholarly, and the fictions to be freer, less aimed at an academic audience, somehow more summery.

VIII The concept of selection implies both a separating off and a collecting together. While any process of selection serves to constitute a new body for example, a volume of selected essays by Hlne Cixous it comes at the price of a violent disruption of another: in this case, the corpus of all Cixous works, published, unpublished, yet-to-be written, etc.

There is a further ambivalence inherent in this concept: is selection a mechanical, rule-obeying process, with or without a teleological goal; a process. Or, on the contrary, does it consist fundamentally in what Derrida calls the decision: the paradigmatic gesture of a living subject, a discerning intervention beyond any possible calculation, that cannot be reduced to the application of a law or an algorithm?

The constitution of this collection, or perhaps we should say this disruption, of Hlne Cixous work to which we have given the name essays, has been neither simply natural nor entirely conscious, calculated or premeditated. I cannot say with certainty who or what made the selections of which this book is the result. Yet I can, retrospectively, point out some of the constraints and aspirations that clearly played a role therein. I have attempted to include a representative range of Hlne Cixous essays, both in terms of the topics addressed and the occasions for which they were written, and as a result they cover a range of styles, voices, textures, sensibilities, approaches, aims, levels of discourse, modes of organisation, objects of enquiry.

Five of the translations have not previously been published in English, and three appear here in significantly altered versions. The earliest essay included here was first published in French in , although Cixous began publishing in journals and newspapers in Since the end of the s, however, much of Cixous essay writing has consisted in the preparation of texts to be presented orally in the first instance.

Many of these later essays have been presented in English, some only in English. I have also tried to include a range of translators in this collection. Many worthy translators have been left out, but this collection can be read as a collective case study in the difficulties and joys of translating Hlne Cixous, and the quite different ways of rising to the task. I have not attempted to standardise the translations, although I have revised two of them substantially and made some minor modifications elsewhere in the name of consistency. I have also checked a number of things with Hlne Cixous herself, who has suggested a few small changes.

While this is not the full critical edition that Cixous work deserves, I have tracked down innumerable references, most of which were missing from the original publications, and provided a series of additional notes to highlight some of the most obvious allusions. Hlne Cixous original notes end with [HC], the translators notes with [tr. I have included complete bibliographic information about the essays at the beginning of the volume: I hope that more than a few readers will make the effort to look up the original texts for comparison. I have not included here any of the considerable subcategory of Cixous essays that are centrally concerned with Jacques Derrida.

These will be collected in a separate volume. While this decision does limit the representativity of the present collection in a very significant way, it is none the less true that even in these essays, Derrida is one of the most important references, characters, interlocutors.

I have also included none of Cixous numerous essays on art, since these too will appear in a separate volume in English. I have chosen not to include any of the essays that are already available in English-language collections. In particular, I decided not to include the two most popular of her essays: The Laugh of the Medusa and Sorties. These are widely accessible, and it seemed important to leave room here for less-well-known essays by Hlne Cixous. Notes 1.

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Volleys of Humanity: Essays 1972-2009

Jacques Derrida, H. Paris: Galile, , p. It wouldnt be too outlandish to take this H majuscule as already fulfilling the prophecy in a sense, at least to the extent that this letter in History doesnt belong to history alone. Derrida, H. Behind this column, we can detect two manoeuvres on Derridas part.