The once too high, too great for you,

The Themes of Ecriture
Feminine in “The Laugh of the Medusa”

Helene Cixous,
in her rhetorical essay “The Laugh of the Medusa”, introduces the concept of ecriture
feminine. As she directly speaks to her female
audience, she urges to persuade the reader to write with desire from within
one’s body, and break the boundaries that were created by the phallocentric
society. Through the context of male and female corporeality, she challenges
and critiques psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. The main themes of phallocentrism, bisexuality, oral speech,
motherhood, and desire are inscribed through her usage of metaphors and
mythological references like the story of the Medusa.

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In her essay,
Cixous asserts for women to express themselves through writing and to break
apart from the dark phallocentric views of the patriarchal society. She uses the metaphor “dark” to show the obscure ideology that the
male-controlled world has created for women to think of themselves. This dark ideology causes them to degrade themselves, to be
ashamed of their bodies, and to belittle their capacities as women. Cixous also uses the metaphor of the South African Apartheid, she
says “Your continent is dark. Dark is dangerous. You can’t see
anything in the dark, you’re afraid. Don’t move, you might fall. Most of all don’t go into the forest. And so we have internalized this
horror of dark” (p.878).  Just like the British
limited the South Africans, men have shaped how women think of themselves. They
have bordered their mindsets with limitations for them not to explore, not to
make moves and decisions, and caused women to be afraid of themselves and each
other. Women are silenced and their opinion hold no value according to
the dark man’s world.

However, Cixous
gives examples of her breakthrough as she explains how she was ashamed to be
silent. She was afraid to speak against the phallocentric barrier, but the
desire to bring out something new into the world gave her strength to release
her mind. In reasoning to why women are afraid to write, she explains
“because writing is at once too high, too great for you, it’s reserved for the
great-that is, for ‘great men’; and it’s ‘silly'” (p.876). Furthermore, if only the great are capable of writing, Cixous
reinforces that women are more than capable to express their great ideas.

Cixous also challenges
the phallocentric ideology when speaking about bisexuality. She clears the misconception of bisexuality that is created by
“phallocentric representationalism” with a definition:

“Bisexuality:
that is, each one’s location in self of the presence-variously manifest and
insistent according to each person, male or female– of both sexes,
nonexclusion either of the difference or of one sex, and from this
“self-permission,” multiplication of the efforts of the effects of the
inscription of desire, over all parts of my body and the other body” (p.884).

She goes on to explain that women are capable of being bisexual but
men aren’t because they glorify their “phallus monosexuality”. It is as if man is too proud of their genitals to become bisexual. She challenges Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis theories as it
relates to castration. She
deconstructs his theory of man being at a higher ranking than woman, just
because of his biological phallus feature. She also
criticizes Jacques Lacan’s theory of Lack, which follows the Freudian theory. Joel Dor clarifies his theory in his book, Introduction to the
Reading of Lacan, in which he goes on to say the women’s desire for the male
body is only because they don’t have a penis (Dor 236). Furthermore, these phallic glorified views are deconstructed by
Cixous as she gives a metaphor of a bank. She says, “But
we are too obliged to deposit our lives in their banks of lack” (p.884). Women are encouraged by Cixous to not listen to these theories as
they have made their desires into a reality. These “sirens”
have created generations of oppression for the woman in which they degrade her
because of what organs she was born with. Man has enforced fear and
shamefulness in a woman because of her “lack”.  

Throughout the
text, the way Cixous describes the concept of other sexuality is very similar
to the concept of ecriture feminine. She says “To
admit that writing is precisely working in the in-between, inspecting the
process of the same and of the other without which nothing can live, undoing
the work of death-to admit this is to want the two, as well as both, the
ensemble of one and the other” (p.883). In this quote,
she explains feminine writing cannot be defined or theorized, as it is the combination
and multiplication of ideas that are construed from other subjects.

Just like there
aren’t any boundaries for gender binary, ecriture feminine is expressed freely
in a post-modern way that doesn’t follow the syntax and grammar rules that were
created by the male discourse. Cixous wants
women to creatively and freely write. Man created a limited writing style that
immobilizes the female writer and Cixous argues against that idea with the
metaphor of flying. In Barbara A.
Biesecker’s essay “Towards a Transactional view of the Rhetorical and Feminist
Theory: Rereading Helene Cixous’s The Laugh of the Medusa”, Biesecker
supports Cixous’s rhetoric, she writes “By doing nothing less than ‘stealing’
or unfixing the syntax, the grammar, and the signs of the dominant discourse so
as to make it possible for new meanings to circulate and ‘fly'” (Biesecker, p.93). Biesecker also gives an example of how the essay itself portrays
the flow Cixous is writing about. She explains
that even the pronouns in the essay defy the masculine rules of syntax by the
changing of the pronouns you, I, she, we, they, and us throughout the text. The metaphor of flying is a representation of the freedom that
ecriture feminine can create.

Furthermore,
the relation between ecriture feminine and bisexuality is they are concepts
that frighten the phallocentric society because they don’t have boundaries
created by man. Feminine writing isn’t handcuffed
by man-made guidelines, and gender fluidity is relatively new to the extent
that there is a lacking of vocabulary that describe some of the aspects of
bisexuality. These foreign ideas make the
patriarchal society uncomfortable, which gives women more power to express
their feelings. 

Cixous says in
her essay “write yourself” to reiterate the importance of writing from within
the body. She inspires her audience to use all of their thoughts, emotions,
and desires to create literary works that will break history. One reason that she explains why women should write from within
themselves, is so they can free themselves from the body that was ‘censored’ by
man.  She writes “To write…not
only ‘realize’ the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, to her
womanly being, giving her access to her native strength; it will give her back
her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories which have
been kept under seal…” (p.880). Until one rediscovers
her body and releases the phallocentric perspective that was forced upon her,
she will then be able to write her story and express herself.

Another reason
why a woman must write from within herself is because it is an opportunity for
a female to break man-defined history and speak out her mind. To write means to assert a woman’s voice in society. Rebecca Martusewicz comments about this point in her essay,
“Mapping the terrain of the postmodern subject: Post-structuralism and the
educated woman”. She writes “The
interest in this work by the French feminist writers is to ‘forge the antilogos
weapon,’ to take apart the dominant male discourses that define woman according
to man’s image of himself, and to articulate woman’s difference in and through
language” (p. 145). Martusewicz
explains in this quote that women, especially French feminists, who implement their thoughts in writing and speaking, breakdown the
male-definition of a woman.

            In addition, not
only does Cixous push for written ecriture feminine but she also urges for
women to speak their mind verbally, no matter how frightening it may be.  In Barbara A. Biesecker’s
essay “Towards a Transactional view of the Rhetorical and Feminist Theory:
Rereading Helene Cixous’s The Laugh of the Medusa”, Biesecker remarks
about Cixous’s call for women to orally express their thoughts. She says, “Women,
Cixous insists…must instead raise their voices in the center, in a space
historically reserved for men. That the written and the oral modes are both critical to women’s
intervention is affirmed by Cixous several times throughout the essay” (Biesecker,
p.89-90). As in this Biesecker’s quote, the power of women speaking out is significantly
shown in Cixous’s essay.

Cixous writes
with passion, declaring that women don’t merely speak, but they freely let go
of their emotions and expertly deliver logic through their bodies. She claims the male ear filters through a woman’s speech and only
absorbs what he wants to hear. Although speech
may be man-created, Cixous encourages women to master their voices and speak
their mind anyways.  She writes about the beauty of feminine speeches and its
capabilities of moving its readers. It is as if
their speech has a rhythm and draws in a listener. Cixous
describes this element as “the song: first music from the first voice of love
which is alive in every woman” (p.881). This
mother-like voice is in every woman and that is the superpower that inspires
her listeners.

Another theme
that is enforced in Cixous’s text is the pregnancy and motherhood. When speaking about gestation, she proclaims that one must have a
desire and a drive to get pregnant.

She writes, “-just like the desire to write: a desire to live self
from within, a desire for the swollen belly, for language, for blood” (p.891). She reassures the readers that women should act upon their desires,
especially for getting pregnant. She goes on to
explain the ways one might have a relationship while pregnant. With regards to comments on motherhood, Cixous says “In women,
there is always more or less of the mother who makes everything all right, who
nourishes, and who stands up against separation; a force that will not be cut
off but will knock the wind out of the codes” (p.882).

All in all, the
most significant metaphor in the text would be the metaphor of Medusa and the
mythological references. The main explanation for Medusa’s laughter in relation to women is
“The Medusa laughs and she is beautiful”. Marjean D.
Purintion contextualizes the metaphor of medusa in “The Laugh of the Medusa”
and Laughing Anne: A Feminist Reading of Joseph Conrad’s Play”. She writes, “Cixous’s essay suggests that we can transform our reading
of the Medusa, that she may be less threatening than we have been led to
believe, that she may indeed, be laughing and beautiful” (Purinton, 89). Cixous uses the metaphor of medusa to deconstruct the Freudian
perspective of the mythological tale. Medusa is shown
as a hideous monster that scares man and everyone is warned not to look at her. The phallocentric ideology has made her seem like a monster so no
one can see her true self. Cixous argues
that she is beautiful once you get to see her face. This metaphor shows how man created an ugly perception of the
woman to frighten her away from discovering her own body and desire. Just like the true Medusa, a woman is beautiful and laughing
because she is freed from the hideous ideology that was engulfing her.  Cixous writes in another text, “Culturally
speaking, women have wept a great deal, but once the tears are shed, there will
be endless laughter indeed” (Cixous, 1981, p.55). The laughter
serves as a liberation from all the oppression that was defined upon women by
the phallocentric society.

French
feminist, novelist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir states in her book, The
Second Sex, “One is not
born a woman; rather, one becomes a woman” (de Beauvoir, 1972). She says this
to point out that gender isn’t something that is given at birth but it is
inquired and learned. Cixous
reiterates this when writing about female corporeality and its importance when
writing. A woman cannot be born because she is first created and introduced
in a patriarchal society.  One becomes a woman only when she discovers and masters her body. Until she breaks apart from the patriarchal society and their
hand-cuffing views, she can learn who she really is. 

Overall, in
“The Laugh of the Medusa”, Helene Cixous
inspires her audience to expose all of their thoughts, emotions, and desires to
create literary works that will break history. She challenges
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis theories as it relates to castration. This literary work deconstructs his theory of man being at a
higher ranking than woman, just because of
his biological phallus feature. She urges for
women to express themselves and inspires them to do so in the most articulate
way; her essay in itself is a demonstration of ecriture feminine. Cixous gives intriguing metaphors to eloquently describe the themes
in feminist theory.  She inspires the laughter that liberates and empowers a woman to
write, and to assert a woman’s voice in society.