Hélène Cixous, ‘Joyce: The (r)use of writing’, in Post-structuralist Joyce, ed. Attridge & Ferrer (1984)

Bibliographical details: Hélène Cixous, ‘Joyce: The (r)use of writing’, in Derek Attridge & Daniel Ferrer, eds., Post-structuralist Joyce: Essays from the French (Cambridge UP 1984), pp.15-29.

(R)used writing, writing governed by ruse: which is therefore luxury writing, because in order to play tricks and to sow seeds, you have to produce wild-goose chases, you have to modify the traditional mode of the narrative which claims to offer a coherent whole, utilizable down to the smallest detail, the author being tacitly bound to produce an account of his expenditure. This is writing which is prodigal and therefore disconcerting because of its economy, which refuses to regulate itself, to give itself laws: sometimes restrained, finely calculated, strategic, intending by the systematic use of networks of symbols and correspondences to impose a rigid grid on the reader, to produce an effect of mastery; sometimes, on the other hand, within the same textual web, surreptitiously, perversely, renouncing all demands, opening itself up without any resistance to the incongruous, introducing metaphors which never end, hypnotic and unanswerable riddles, a proliferation of false signs, of doors crafted without keys: in other words (spoken in jest), it is an extraordinarily free game, which should shatter any habits of reading, which should be continually shaking the reader up, and thus committing this reader to a double apprenticeship; the necessary one which is read-writing a text whose plurality explodes the painstakingly polished surface: and the one which is, in the very practice of a reading not condemned to linearity, an incessant questioning of codes which appear to function normally but which are sometimes suddely rendered invalid, and then the ent moment are revalidated, and, in the inexhaustible play of codes, there slips in, indecipherable and hallucinatory by definition, a delirious code, a lose code, a kind of reserve where untamed signifiers prowl, but wotu the space of that reserve being delimited.’ (pp.18-19.)


[Examines Stephen’s “riddle” in Nestor chap. of Ulysses:] ‘The position of the critic, the reader whose reading is the received version for another reader, is in deep trouble here, unless there is a constant efflinking based on a continual calling back into question, and on a rentinciation of all conclusions. There are two possible courses of action: the first trusting to the known facts about Joyce’s work, particularly his kilensive use of symbols, and his obsessive and often explicit concern to control word-order, thus prejudging the book as a “full” text, governed by “the hypostasis of the signified” [Kristeva], a text which conceals itself but which bits something to conceal, which is findable. This reassuring position is in fact almost necessary, granted the conscious or unconscious fashion of pushing Joyce back into the theological world from which he wanted it to escape, by squeezing him “through the back door” (cf. the versions of Joyce as a Catholic, Medieval Joyce, Irish Joyce, Joyce the Jesuit in reverse and hence the right way round as well, &c.). On the other hand one can imagine a reading which would accept “discouragement”, not in order to “recuperate” it by taking it as a metaphor for the Joycean occult (which would, by the way, be right but would only be taking account of the formal aspect of that effect of privation), but rather by seeing in that trap which confiscates signification the sign of the willed imposture which crosses and double-crosses the whole of Joyce’s work, making that betrayal the very breath (the breathlessness) of the subject. Nothing will have been signified save the riddle, referral of a referral beneath a letter which, besides, is not beyond the pretence of having spirit. [...] This farce of breaking-up which interferes directly with the order of Ulysses, indicating the vulnerability of that order, is easy to spot because it is isolated almost as a symptom in the extensive textual network in which thousands of apparently detached elements actually excuse their air of being unemployed by allusion, analogy, metonymy ... or by being re-employed in motifs or figures: the unattached element is indirectly [21] a transgressive violence which it does not possesss in previous texts (Dubliners, A Portrait) in which a gratuitousness which is more discreet, if not less dangerous, comes to the surface and makes significance quiver as if it were the nervous laughter of writing. [...]’ (pp.21-22.)

[Cixous proceeds with a close phrase-by-phrase study of the first paragraph of “The Sisters” focussing on the ‘unattached subject’ and ending with the remarks:] ‘Sudden appaearce, during the course of the questioning, of the unattached subject, the dubious “it”, which would only be perceived during the examination of what it does: I longer to be nearer to “it” to look upon its deadly handiwork: the “it” is distressing because its “being” is confused with its saying and this saying [28] can only be heard throught he annihilation of the master who guarded the Referent. Desire of the other in which organized frustration, and the starting up of the always disappointed impulse to get closer (the disembodied head in the dream, murmuring head, obliging the subject to pay attention, prescription of the ambiguous, dead man who still lives, silent word and word which silences for ever, smile of the uncertain, language of forgetfulness, story’s turmoil, innocent speech of the forbidden, speech guilty of almost saying or almost guilty in slipping towards the dis-scription of Finnegans Wake where the gesture is Shaun’s and the hand Shem’s, where the same is the other is the name of the same, where what can’t be coded can be decorded if ear aye sieze what no eye ere grieved for, where writing invents a cause for itself causing effects and affects occasionally recausing altereffects, where the divided scriptor takes it upon himself-as-subject to suggest twisting the penman’s tale posterwise, to return the story from his pen to the reader-postman, to return the signified to the signifier’s address, and to do this without “dismay”. [Cixous ends with empty brackets which ‘open onto the reading of a second text in which the subject named Stephen dreams himself around his proper name [being] 5th chap. of A Portrait.]

“The Sisters”: this story was first published, in a version quite different from that of Dubliners, in the magazine Irish Homestead on 3 August 1904, as the short story of the week. This first version, and Joyce’s two rewritings, are set out with a commentary in several works, in particular: Marvin Magalaner, Time of Apprenticeship, The Fiction of Young James Joyce (New York: Abelard & Schuman, 1959), Chapter 3 and appendix C; Hugh Kenner, Dublin’s Joyce (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956), pp. 50-53.

The story, originally ordered for a ‘simple’ and ‘rural’ magazine, was supposed to appeal to ‘the common understanding and liking’. Let us note what that version did not contain: the motif of paralysis; the boy’s dreams; the Persian motif; simony and confession. It was a reassuring [here], in which the narrator-priest bond was almost non-existent in its perverse form: the insistence of guilt, of foreknowledge, of the unconscious, are not admitted. All the passages which connote ‘vacancy’ are late additions. Last sentence of The Irish Homestead: ‘God rest his soul!’ Last sentence of the third version: ‘Wide-awake and laughing-like to himself ... So then, of course, when they saw that, that made them think that there was something gone wrong with him. ...’

[Trans. by Judith Still]

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