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Ecriture Féminine as Metaphor

Author(s): Leslie W. Rabine

Source: Cultural Critique, No. 8 (Winter, 1987-1988), pp. 19-44
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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EcritureFeminineas Metaphor

Leslie W. Rabine

W hy study the texts of an obscure nineteenth-centurywriter like

Claire Demar? Loosely associatedwith the Parisianwomen who
in 1832 organized the first modem feminist movement, Demar was a
marginaleven among these marginals.Alone among the writersof her
period, she publicly and unambiguouslytheorized women's rightto sex-
ual desire and pleasure.Although her lack of education and her immer-
sion in an exalted romantic/religious discourse give her writing a cer-
tain opacityfor contemporaryreaders,it also brings to scholarswho have
read her an uncanny sense of recognition.' Her modernity seems all the
more uncanny in that multi-faceted resemblances affiliatethis sexually
radical Saint-Simonian feminist with contemporary French practition-
ers of ecriturefeminine,2 of whom the most noted is Hel ne Cixous.

1. See Claire G. Moses, FrenchFeminismin theNineteenthCentury(Albany:State Univer-

sity of New York Press, 1984); and Christine Plante, Les Saint-Simoniennes, ou la qugte
d'uneidentitea traversI'ecriture
a la premirepersonne,These du troisieme cycle: Litterature
fran;aise (Paris:Universit6 de Paris 3, 1983).
2. In this essay, the expression ecriturefemininewill be kept in French, since the Eng-
lish "feminine writing" does not convey the connotations of writing as a practiceof dif-
ferential spacing and repetition that circulates in the unconscious and precedes the
spoken word, that makes silence and absence speak; or of the feminine as a sexual
undecidability that goes beyond and subverts the opposition between male and fe-
male. I am also keeping it in French to mark it as a specific theoretical concept.
? 1988 by CulturalCritique.0882-4371 (Winter 1987-88). All rights reserved.

20 Leslie W Rabine

This reading of Cixous and Demar will concern two related contra-
dictions at the crux of their writing. The first of these contradictions
concerns the writers' relationship to masculine theoretical discourses
of their times-deconstruction and Lacanianpsychoanalysisfor Cixous,
Romanticism and Saint-Simonian mysticism for Demar-for Cixous
and Demar both reject as well as imitate these male models. The sec-
ond contradiction, and the one which provides the main focus for this
article, concerns the radical cleavage that dcriturefemininecuts between a
writerly practice and a socio/political practice, whereby each excludes
the other.3
These contradictionswork in the texts of Cixous and Demar through
a strikingly similar movement of metaphor. Therefore, this reading
will focus not so much on what the two writers say, as on how they say
it through rhetorical processes that, while historically connected, take
different forms. Although in the texts of both writers, metaphor de-
pends on the power of a mythic Mother, the term "maternal meta-
phor" will not here denote the use of the Mother as a substitutive fig-
ure for feminine difference and absence, whose problematic status in
Cixous's writing Domna Stanton ably analyzes.4It will denote rather a
linguistic operation different from that of paternal metaphor as substi-
My reading of these contradictions,5 as they express themselves

3. For a general analysis of Cixous's work, see Verena Andermatt Conley, Hlene
Cixous:WritingtheFeminine(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984). Hereafter re-
ferred to as Conley. Domna C. Stanton mentions the first contradiction in "Difference
on Trial: A Critique of the Maternal Metaphor in Cixous, Irigaray,and Kristeva,"in
ThePoeticsof Gender,ed. Nancy K. Miller (New York:Columbia University Press, 1986),
157-82. Susan Rubin Suleiman mentions the second contradiction in "(Re)Writingthe
Body: The Politics and Poetics of Female Eroticism," in TheFemaleBodyin WesternCul-
ture:Contemporary ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman (Cambridge:Harvard Univer-
sity Press, 1986), 7-29.
4. Stanton, "Difference on Trial." For another analysis of the figure of the Mother in
Cixous's writing, see Diane Griffin Crowder, "Amazons and Mothers? Monique
Wittig,Heene Cixous and Theories of Women's Writing,"Contemporary Literature
no. 2 (Summer 1983): 117-44.
5. Critics have analyzed a host of other problems in ecriturefminine. Toril Moi criti-
cizes Cixous's flirtationwith essentialism and metaphysics in her Sexual/Textual Politics:
FeministLiteraryTheory(London: Methuen Press, 1985); Christine Makwardtalks about
the way "it is dangerously close to repeating in 'deconstructive'language the traditional
assumptions on femininity" in her essay "To Be or Not to Be ... A Feminist Speaker,"
in TheFutureof Difference,ed. Hester Eisenstein and Alice Jardine (Boston: G.K. Hall,
1980), quoted in Alice Jardine, Gynesis:Configurations of Womanand Modernity(Ithaca:
EcritureFeminineas Metaphor 21

through the working of maternal metaphor, implies less a criticism of

ecriturefemininethan an investigationof a set of impasses that commonly
haunt the many women who want to write (myself included), and who
do not want to do so in a male voice, style, or structure.Preoccupations
not uncommon in women's writing, the two contradictions, which can
be seen not as particularand limiting but as fundamental and produc-
tive, cut across the writing of Cixous and Demar in a particularlyradi-
cal and dramatic way. The contradictions emerge especially sharply
when their texts are read in terms of their historical relation to each
For Cixous and other practitionersof criturefeminine,the verystructures
of Western language exclude women and can function only through
the silencing of women and the repression of feminine sexual drives.
"[The]invention of a new language"6attempts to transformthese struc-
tures by incorporating the bodily signifiers of feminine erotic drives
into the very texture of writing. While Demar, writing in the 1830s,
does not analyze the inner workings of language structure, her few
texts posit as inseparable a desire to liberate feminine sexuality and a
desire to overturna masculine discourse. Yet for each writer,the project
of writing herself out of these discourses necessarily takes place within
their confines.
If, as feminists are more frequently saying, the future existence of
our planet depends on overcoming androcentric structures of subjec-
tivity, and if that subjectivity is structured by language, then this con-
tradiction becomes a crucial matter, as does its sister contradiction.
How can attempts to develop new structures of subjectivity and lan-
guage integrate themselves into social struggles, which by necessity
take place within the dominant discourse?
What appearsat firstan uncanny likeness between Cixous and Demar
with respect to this question is not coincidental but motivated by a his-
torical connection across the generations of French feminine theo-
rists.7This being the case, the question of why write about Demar's

Cornell University Press, 1985), 41 (hereafter referred to as Gynesis);and Margaret

Homans criticizes its focus on "a textual 'femininity' unconnected to real women" in
" 'Her Very Own Howl': The Ambiguities of Representation in Recent Women's Fic-
tion," SignsIX, no. 2 (Winter 1983): 186-205.
6. Helene Cixous, "Le Rire de la Meduse," I'Arc61 (1975): 39-54. Hereafter referred
to as "Laugh." Translation is mine.
7. Other critics have remarked on the uncanny connection between male Romantics
22 LeslieW.Rabine

work raises the question of how to write about it. Historian Robert
Darnton warns of our "need to be shaken out of a false sense of
familiaritywith the past."8Yet a study of the past-and in this case of
writing and rhetoric from the past-in terms of the present can
defamiliarize our own situation. Tracing similarities between the past
and the present does not ignore the differences, nor erase the specific
social context of the older texts, nor yet judge them from the "truth"
of the present. On the contrary, such a practice can bring out of in-
visibility the unperceived specificity of our contemporary historic con-
text, and so allow us to gain some critical distance from our own
ideologies. For this reason, I am not only reading Demar through
Cixous but also Cixous through Demar. The fundamental problems
with which nineteenth-century French feminists struggled have not
been resolved, and so are again addressed in different forms. Cixous
and Demar write in and against the same underlying structuresof pa-
triarchy, but reading the two authors together reveals the significance
of changes in women's position within those structures.9
Although unique in her context, Claire Demar was not a historical
anomaly, divorced from the social context of the 1830s, alone in desir-
ing to express a liberated feminine sexuality in a feminine language.
She gave clearer, more sharply developed, and more public voice to
ideas expressed by others in more veiled, confused, or private ways
in the Saint-Simonian socialist and feminist movements. Therefore, a

andcontemporary critics.In the introductionto an anthologyof essayswhosepurpose

"is to bringtogetherthis sharedinterestof Romanticwritersand contemporarycrit-
ics,"ArdenReedsays:"Likethe Romantics,literarycriticsmakelanguagean objectof
knowledge"(Romanticism and Language, ed. Arden Reed [Ithaca:CornellUniversity
Press,1984],14).Jean-LucNancyand PhilippeLacoue-Labarthe alsocontendthatthe
GermanRomantics"leadus backto ourselves"and initiatethe modernperiodof self-
conscious theory in L'absolu
de la litterature
du romantisme
Seuil, 1978),10.
8. Robert Darnton, TheGreatCatMassacreand OtherEpisodesin FrenchCulturalHistory
9. For more on the historicity of criturefeminine,
see Plante, LesSaint-Simoniennes,
Manypractitioners of ecriturefeminine,
especiallythoseconnectedwiththe group"Psy-
chanalyseet Politique,"deny history,seeingit as a male construct.Historyexcludes
women,and historyas linearnarrativeexcludesthe feminine.ButCixousdoes not to-
tallydenythe effectof historyand in "LeRirede la Meduse"she speaksof the necessi-
ty of searchingfor femininewritersof the past. In Illa (Paris:Editionsdes femmes,
1980),she linksherselfto writersof the past,mostnotablyto ClaireLispector.The po-
sitionon historytakenby "Psychet Pol"hasbroughtabouta vigorousreactionon the
partof more historicallyconsciousFrenchfeminists,such as Plante.
EcritureFeminineas Metaphor 23

discussion of Demar's rhetoric needs first to situate her within the con-
text of these nineteenth-century movements.

Claire Demar and Saint-Simonian Feminism

The feminist movement of 1832 arose out of a double response to

the Saint-Simonian socialist movement, both marking the women's
desire for fuller participation within the movement and challenging
the movement's inadequacy and hypocrisy where women were con-
cerned.'0 Forming one of the first pre-Marxistgroups, the followers of
Henri de Saint Simon in the 1820s were mostly idealistic young bank-
ers and engineers from the Ecolepolytechnique. After the Revolution of
1830, they organized into a new liberated form of the family, attracting
thousands of workers,both men and women. With Saint-AmandBazard
and the charismatic,hypnotic Prosper Enfantin as the fathers, and also
as leaders of a complex male hierarchy, this new freely-chosen family
would not depend on accidentsof birth,and would thus do awaywith in-
heritance and its concomitant privileges and injustices. Since Christi-
anity's repression of the body actually stultified the spirit, Saint-
Simonianism, under the theatrical Enfantin, also became a new reli-
gion, one that preached the "rehabilitation of the flesh" in order to
bring about a new union between matter and spirit.
The exact meaning of the "rehabilitation of the flesh" became the
focus of stormy and divisive debates, resulting in a split that left Enfan-
tin as the sole father by the end of 1831. All agreed that as its first con-
sequence it meant that God was bisexual, "God the Father and the
Mother." The human image of this God, then, the most basic social
unit, was not the individual male, as the liberals preached, but the
male/female couple. In order for this human image to become a reali-
ty, women had to be emancipated, to become the equals of men. But
as a precondition for this future equality, the priestlyleaders had to be-
come a "Priest-Couple."In other words, Enfantinhad to search for the
Mother to fill the empty chair next to his, and, more importantly, he

10. For more information on the history of the Saint-Simonian feminists, see Laure
Adler, A l'aubedu feminisme:Lespremieres journalistes(1830-1850) (Paris: Payot, 1979);
Dominique Dessanti, LesSocialistesde l'utopie(Paris:Payot, 1970); Lydia Elhadad, "In-
troduction," in Suzanne Voilquin, Souvenirsd'unefilledupeuple(Paris:Maspero, 1978);
and Moses, FrenchFeminism.
24 LeslieW Rabine

had to liberate women whom, it was presumed, could not do it them-

selves. The first candidate chosen for this role held it in 1830 by virtue
of her position as wife of Bazard. But Claire Bazard reported that her
recalcitrantdaughters failed to make "progress" in understanding "hi-
erarchy," and complained: "We know neither how to command nor
how to obey."11
The issue which led to the split concerned Enfantin's "New Morali-
ty," devised to eliminate the hypocrisy, misery, and "demoraliza-
tion"'2 caused by the old morality. Nature, according to Enfantin, had
classified human beings into two sexual types: the one "the constant,"
sexually sluggish and content to stay with the same person for life, and
the other "the mobile," doomed to adulteryunder the reign of monog-
amous marriage.In order for society to satisfyand integrateboth sexual
natures, it needed a Priest-Couple to regulate the sexual appetites of
their children. Through love and sensuality, the Priest-Couple would
moderate the passion of "the mobiles" and arouse "the constants."
The resultingfuror within the family, combined with repressivemea-
sures by the government, pushed Enfantin into a strategyat once more
cautious and more desperate. Declaring that he could not speak on
women's morality until the Woman Messiah arrived to liberate wom-
en, Enfantin put out a "call to women" to speak for themselves, but
also excluded them from the Saint-Simonianorganization, moving the
male leadership with him to a house in Menilmontant from which
women were barred.
The separation between the men and the women brought about dif-
ferent reactions among the women, and this difference was to be deci-
sive for the development of feminism. The bourgeois women who had
joined the Saint-Simonians in the wake of their husbands at first felt
abandoned, paralyzed, and angry. But in a second moment, their par-
alysis made them decide to learn how to act autonomously and inde-
pendently if they wanted to gain equality for women. This they never
really succeeded in doing.
The women who called themselves "proletarian,"however, reacted

11. ClaireBazard,Lettreaux Peres Enfantinet Bazard,Fonds Enfantin7644, 6 octobre

1830 (Paris:Bibliothequede 1'Arsenal),309-10.
12. Prosper Enfantin, Letter to his mother, August 1831, quoted in Textessur
desfemmes (1832-1833),ed. ValentinPelosseand ClaireDemar (Paris:Payot,
1976), 110.
Ecriture as Metaphor 25

quite differently. Young, single, and/or self-supporting, such women

as Claire Demar, Pauline Roland, Desiree Veret, Suzanne Voilquin,
Marie-Reine Guindorff, and Jeanne Deroin had joined the movement
on their own initiative in response to the poverty and misery of their
lives. They responded with relief when Enfantin dissolved the female
wing of the Saint-Simonianhierarchy,which they perceived as oppres-
sive. They had become Saint-Simonians out of their own deeply felt
need for freedom. Strongly and ambiguously attractedby the obvious
power of Enfantin's charisma, they had felt the maternal attempts of
Claire Bazard as a constraint and vaguely resented the bourgeois wom-
en, whom Demar referred to as "those poor incompetents."13
The men's absence had the effect of lifting an inhibition on their
speech and action. They established in 1832 a newspaper entirely writ-
ten, edited, and published by women. It received letters from women
all over France,and from Englandand America. Enfantin,firstin Menil-
montant and then in prison-where he was sent at the end of 1832 for
offense against public morals-never recognized the venture. Upon
his release in 1833, he declared that in order for women to be free, he
and his sons had to search for the Woman Messiah. He announced the
"waitfor the Woman," who would be sought in the Orient, and organ-
ized an expedition to Egypt to look for her.
The women's newspaper continued its publication until 1834. Foun-
ded by seamstressesMarie-ReineGuindorffand Desiree Veret, it was at
first called La Femmelibre,and eventually became La Tribune desfemmes.
In its second year it was edited by Suzanne Voilquin, an embroiderer
who was trying to gain a license to practice medicine. The group put
out their own "call to women" to express themselves, and one of the
women to answer their call was Claire Demar.
Instead of joining the group, however, Demar challenged it from the
fringes, and pursued her own independent projects. Her first essay, "A
Woman's Call to the People on the Emancipation of Women," was re-
ceived with ambivalence by La Tribune.In this essay she dismantles the
Napoleonic Code, showing its highly touted rationalism and logic to
rest on illogic and irrationalism, and denounces it for making women
the "slaves of men"14 and for combining feminine sexual repression

13. Claire Demar, Correspondance (novembre 1832-aoft 1833), in ibid., 29. Here-
after referred to as Correspondance.
14. Demar, "Appel d'une femme au peuple sur l'affranchissementde la femme," in
ibid., 14. Hereafterreferredto as "Call.".
26 LeslieW.Rabine

and the double standard with disastrous effects.

Her second essay, "My Lawof the Future,"was intended as a polemic
against an article on feminine sexuality in La Tribune desfemmes.In it,
she takes issue with Enfantin's new morality, finding it too restrictive,
and argues for "the necessity of a liberty without rules or limits."'5Her
most concrete and controversial proposal advocates trial sexual rela-
tions before marriage. Isolated and poverty-stricken,Demar commit-
ted suicide in 1833 before publishing this essay. It was found in her
room and published as a brochure by Suzanne Voilquin under the
auspices of La Tribune desfemmes.
From our contemporary viewpoint, Enfantin's ideas on women re-
semble other nineteenth-centurymythicalideals of womanhood-Chris-
tian and Romantic-which exalt the superiorityof the ideal Woman in
order to maintain male power and keep real women in their place.'6
Yet the early feminists energetically reappropriatedfor their own pur-
poses this ideal woman. They did not passively wait for a future when
She would come to liberate them, but drew from this maternal image
the power to brave the ridicule and condemnation of their society
(even of their fellow Saint-Simonians), the power to write what had
never been written before, and the power to construct unprecedented
forms of action.

feminine"Thenand Now

By interpreting the concept of the Mother in ways that best suited

them, they were perhaps more daring than present-day practitioners
fminine, for whom the empowering feminine, like the Saint-
of ecriture
Simonian empowering Mother, is also reinterpretedfrom the perspec-
tive of contemporarymale theory. While a contradictoryrelation of de-
pendence and autonomy to their contemporarymale writersis not ex-
clusive to the Saint-Simoniansand modem ecriturefeminine women writ-
ers, they do share an additional common trait that distinguishes them.
In both cases their contemporary male theorists have integrated the
feminine into their theories and criticizedfeministsfor not being women

15. D6mar, "Ma Loi d'avenir," in ibid., 71. Hereafter referred to as "Law."
16. For this analysis see Adler, Aubedufiminisme,40; Dessanti, Socialistesde l'utopie,
107, 122; and Plante, Les Saint-Simoniennes,
EcritureFeminine as Metaphor 27

enough.17Thus Enfantin, claiming that "it is we who give birth in pain

to woman,"'8 says of La Tribune desfemmes:"All that is a preparationfor
the public work of woman, but it is not a work of woman."19And
Enfantin's twentieth-century counterpart, Jacques Lacan, appears to
echo his words in such statements as: "There is woman only as ex-
cluded by the nature of things which is the nature of words, and it has
to be said that if there is one thing they themselves are complaining
about enough at the moment, it is well and truly that-only they don't
know what they are saying, which is all the difference between them
and me."20
For Enfantin, as for Lacan and such twentieth-century theorists as
Derrida and Deleuze, Woman is an object of their own theory, a con-
cept operatingwithin it and on which its other concepts depend.21There-
fore, independent theoretical activityon the part of womenviolates the
place assigned to womanin their theory and so challenges theory itself.
Challenging theory and its discourses is exactly what Cixous's writing
aims to do, but not through opposition.
To oppose phallocentric symbolic systems would only, according to
Cixous, perpetuate their own fundamental structure,that of metaphy-
sical opposition. The structure of dualist, hierarchical oppositions,
which shapes thought and language and on which meaning depends,
works unerringly to exclude feminine difference and make woman a
mirror image of man. In all opposition, of which the pair man/woman
is paradigmatic, the second term derives from and appears inferior to
the first: "And while meaning is being constituted, it only gets consti-
tuted in a movement in which one of the terms of the couple is de-
stroyed in favor of the other."22By opposing male discourse, women

17. For this analysis of the feminine in male contemporary theory, see Jardine,
18. Fonds Enfantin 7645, 262, quoted in Adler, Aubedufeminisme,33.
19. Fonds Enfantin 694, 29e vol., 68, Lettre a A. Petit, quoted in ibid., 59.
20. Jacques Lacan, "God and the Jouissanceof the Woman," in FeminineSexuality:
JacquesLacanand the "ecole freudienne,"ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (New
York:W.W. Norton, 1982), 147.
21. This use of woman by Derrida and Deleuze is analyzed byJardine in Gynesis.Its
use by Derrida is analyzed by GayatriChakravortySpivak in her "Displacement and
the Discourse of Woman," in Displacement: DerridaandAfter,ed. Mark Krupnick(Bloom-
ington: Indiana University Press, 1983), 169-96.
22. Cixous, "Le Sexe et la tete," Cahiersdu GRIF 13 (1976): 5-15. Translation by
Annette Kuhn as "Castrationor Decapitation," SignsVII, no. 1 (Autumn 1981): 41-55.
28 LeslieW Rabine

would once again, according to Cixous, end up as the mirror opposite

of that which they oppose. She seeks instead to subvert the oppositions
by playing with them in such a way that dislocates the whole system.
Cixous plays especially with those words, puns, and homonyms-such
as voler(to fly and to steal) andfils (son and threads)-that condense in-
compatible meanings. Her use of these words makes their meanings
disintegrate in a play where the word's apparent representation of a
self-identical thing breaks down to reveal difference and where, by
consequence, representation and opposition also fall apart. This con-
densation disrupts the unified phallic subject whose sexuality depends
on repressing multiple drives.
Demar does not have Cixous's freedom of eschewing opposition to
male-dominance in favor of an exclusively subversive strategy. The
luxury of subversion implies a choice of strategies, and thus also
implies that others, through their historical practice, have already
opened up a free space within the speculary oppositions that bind
women to male structures.Yet the links between her theory and that of
Cixous's are striking.For Demar, as for Cixous, feminine eroticism is a
word, a "paroledefemme"23 (word of woman) ("Law,"63) that takes the
body on a flight into complete (if temporary) freedom from social
identity, and into a multiple form of sexual pleasure that defies the law
of the proper (which legislates patriarchalnames, property, and pro-
priety). Taking off from Enfantin's theory of the two sexual natures,
stealing it and going beyond it to claim freedom for an infinite variety
of sexual natures, she denies that they can be "enclosed in the same
circle, the same constant law" ("Law,"67). For this reason, "the word
ING WORD, for it will be the broadest, and therefore the most satisfy-
ing to every nature and to every will" ("Law,"67). Like Cixous's femi-
nine textual body, which exceeds the phallocentric system because it is
"endless, without ending; there's no closure .. ." ("Castration,"53),
Demar's paroledefemme speaks "there where neither boundaries nor
limits are possible" ("Law," 68).
Demar's rejectionof Enfantin'stheory of two natures, as too limiting,
approaches,within a nineteenth-centurytheologicalvocabulary,Cixous's

Hereafter referred to as "Castration."

23. Demar's word recalls even more than Cixous's writing Annie Leclerc'sParolede
femme (Paris:Grasset, 1974).
as Metaphor 29

philosophical critique of metaphysical oppositions, itself volee from

Derrida. Demar rejects "the classifications, the subtle and metaphysi-
cal distinctions, by which humanity is divided into a series of orders,
classes, types. I mistrust categories, and for goodreason"("Law," 80).
While Demar speaks from a different code, her reason shows that she
shares with Cixous a similar feminine situation within dualist opposi-
tions-that of being on the bottom of the hierarchiesinto which dualist
oppositions inevitably fall: "You proclaim two natures.... You'll make
one, perhaps involuntarily, predominate over the other, you'll pro-
claim one better than the other; and soon we'll have a good and a bad
nature, an original sin;... you'll be God and I'll be the devil" ("Law,"
80). Where Cixous and her contemporaries would speak of replacing
opposition with "sexual difference," Demar, in a nineteenth-century
synesthesia of sexuality and music, proposes "an infinite scale of varia-
tions" ("Law," 87).

A FeminineRhetoric

The similarities and differences affiliating Cixous and Demar with

respect to their shared contradictions emerge most clearly in their
rhetoric. Today's women may still be excluded from the phallocentric
symbolic order, but they are at least allowed entry into its institutions
of learning. Even more decisive for the difference between the two,
Cixous's writingemerged in the context of a large internationalfeminist
movement. As she says:"If there were no women's movement, I would
be prohibited" (quoted in Conley, 142). This movement, a kind of col-
lective empowering mother, gave her as an "excluded" the power to
"reap a return on the exclusion to my profit"24by cultivatingexplicitly
a writerly strategy that Demar could not deploy. Demar's text mani-
fests a pattern of metaphors and anagrams similar to that of Cixous's,
but not as a weapon in an explicit strategy, and the play of her texts
comes into a discomforting dissonance with the far from playful tone
which colors her writing.
For both writers the search for a feminine rhetoric revolves around
exiting from a language based on fetishism, which Freud analyzed as
an oscillation between refusing to recognize that women do not have a

24. Cixous, Souffles(Paris:Edition des femmes, 1975), 166.

30 Leslie W Rabine

penis and seeing them as castrated.25It can designate more generally a

refusal to recognize that women are not castrated men or, in other
words, a refusal to recognize sexual difference and therefore a femi-
nine which lies beyond the opposition between male as phallic and fe-
male as "castrated." Freud himself seems to share the underlying as-
sumptions of fetishism, stating that women invented weaving in order
to hide their "genital deficiency."26If the notion that women must veil
their "lack" of the phallus is a symptom of fetishism, then for some
feminists, an unveiling is needed for the recognition of difference.27
While Demar does not of course employ an explicit theory of
fetishism nor play with its images, her writing is laced with a rhetorical
pattern that associates masculine language and rhetoric with clothing
and feminine language with nakedness and unveiling. Claiming in "A
Woman's Call to the People" that under patriarchyall feminine sexu-
ality is a forced prostitution or an adultery, she says of the seduced
young woman: "[Is] she even in a position to know all the falseness of
man, all the corruption of his mind, which he dresses in more or less
ingenious metaphors, all the putrefaction of his body, which he dis-
guises under an envelope of formal cloth and fabric?" ("Call," 18).
This metaphor of metaphor as clothing turns clothing into a metaphor

25. Sigmund Freud, "Fetishism," in TheComplete Worksof SigmundFreud,

vol. XXI, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1961), 198-204. In Glas,
Jacques Derrida proposes a generalized fetishism as a form of undecidability that os-
cillates between the something of the phallus and the nothing of its absence (Glas:Que
reste-t-ildu savoirabsolu?[Paris:Denoel/Gonthier, 1981], 315-20). Sarah Kofman elabor-
ates this theory into a notion of fetishistic oscillation as feminine difference ("Ca
Cloche," in Lectures deDerrida[Paris:Galilee, 1984], 132-38) and Naomi Schor has elab-
orated on Kofman's theory ("Female Fetishism: The Case of George Sand," in
Suleiman, TheFemaleBody,363-72). In my interpretation,which differs from theirs, this
oscillation does not leave the closure of a phallocentric space that cannot think outside
the terms of the phallus and its absence.
26. Freud, "Femininity," in New Introductory Lectureson Psychoanalysis,
trans. James
Strachey (New York:W.W. Norton, 1964), 132.
27. Carolyn Burke, speaking of Luce Irigaray's experiments in feminine writing,
says: "[The] 'plural style' that she forges tries to emerge from the mystificationsof writ-
ing, to take off its own veils and appear naked on the page" ("Introduction to Luce
Irigaray's'When Our Lips SpeakTogether,' " SignsVI, no. 1 [Autumn 1980]: 67). Once
again, this interpretationdiffers from that of Derridean deconstruction,which criticizes
the notion of truth as an unveiling. See, for instance,Jacques Derrida,"Le Facteurde la
Verite," in ThePostCard,trans. Alan Bass (Chicago:Universityof Chicago Press, 1987),
412-94, and Positions, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago:Universityof Chicago Press, 1981), 111.
But one can question whether the unveiling of women's truth can be deconstructedbe-
fore it is constructed.
EcritureFeminineas Metaphor 31

of metaphor, of rhetoric, of a whole symbolic order, which those who

have the illusion of mastering language can use against those who
more obviously lack such mastery.
Demar does not reject metaphor because of a belief that it contami-
nates an originally literal language expressing truth. On the contrary,
metaphor is a falseness hiding another falseness. Her criticismis aimed
at language's complicity with power in that a social group who monop-
olizes rhetoric can make it seem to be a transparent,natural represen-
tation of truth, when it is in fact, according to Demar, a weapon bran-
dished against those who are bereft of language skills and knowledge.
Her rejection of metaphor marks that historical difference mentioned
previously between women of the 1830s and women of the 1970s.
Cixous can at least play wickedly with the father's rhetoric, while in
Demar's attempts to express herself, traditionalrhetoric seems to play
with her.
One example of this difference appears in Cixous and Demar's use
of the rhetorical figure, apostrophe. In "The Laugh of the Medusa,"
Cixous inserts the vocative into a larger rhetorical play so that it con-
tributes to her inscription of feminine desire. Her address to the read-
er as "you" at the beginning of the essay plays into her strategyof un-
doing phallocentric discourse as this pronoun slips into the unstable
shifting between first, second, and third person feminine pronouns. I,
you, she, they, and we merge into each other, change places, give each
other to each other, and in general deny the stable positionality of the
phallic subject.
But in "A Woman's Call to the People," Demar, far from inscribing
feminine desire, finds that her desire to apostrophize women is in itself
unrealizable. The force of this desire and the difficulty of achieving it
are suggested by the first sentence: "I want to speak to the people, do
you hear? that means to the womenas well as to the men, because by
custom one usually forgets to mention the women .. ." ("Call," 13).
Before she can inscribe feminine desire, she first has to realize this pre-
liminary desire to address women. But she cannot apostrophize the
women. This first desire is blocked by an imaginary police force of
bourgeois men (the vousto whom she does address herself), "men of
vast science, of immeasurable foresight," "legislators, men of state,
deputies" ("Call," 13, 15), who invade her apostrophe. As a result she
speaks to them, to "vous"instead of to the people ("tu")and to the
32 LeslieW Rabine

women, in spite of her stated desire. She attempts to challenge the

power of vous by carefully building up ponderous logical arguments
about "your Civil Code" ("Call," 13), using their kind of rationalism.
It must be said, though, that even Cixous, writing in the relative
freedom of the 1970s, has similar difficulty escaping from the contra-
dictory dependence and rejection with respect to theory. The essay
that says of ecriturefeminine,"one can never theorizethis practice, enclose
it, encode it" ("Laugh," 45), also on the same page criticizes the writ-
ing of American pragmatic feminism "whose limit, because it remains
unanalyzed, untheorized, will stop, will very quickly bar (except for a
presently unforseeable change) the significance of the movement." Yet
within this similaritybetween Cixous and Demar, difference is crucial.
fminine attempts to write the body, but the body it writes is a
cultured one. Conquering a knowledge of the Western philosophical
tradition is inherent to it. This contradiction is not only Cixous's and is
not easily resolved in favor of either of its terms. An understanding of
theoretical concepts and schemas involves complicity with the hierar-
chical power inherent in their use, but in order to challenge this power
feminists need knowledge of this theory. A feminine writing or speech
by women, like Demar, who have not had the opportunity to gain such
knowledge, who are outside that knowledge in the sense of not being
conversant with its concepts and able to wield its rhetoric, is not a writ-
ing of play. Its exteriorityto conventional logic does not play with log-
ic, but in remaining exterior is subjected to it. It is not a language that
disrupts the illusion of male mastery, but a language that betrays suf-
fering and powerlessness.
Demar can, however, make momentary forays out of that powerless-
ness in her writing. In her second essay, "My Law of the Future," she
succeeds in turning inside-out the metaphor/clothing of patriarchal
language to describe the woman's language she intends to use in the
essay: "And I, a woman, will speak, a woman who cannot keep my
thoughts captive and silent in the depths of my heart, who cannot veil
their virile, tough, and daring forms, dress the truthin a gauzy dress,
stop on the tip of my tongue a candid, free, audacious word, a naked
word" ("Law," 64; see also 67).28

28. Demar'snakedwordconnectsher on the one handto a Romanticdreamof lan-

guage and on the other to a contemporaryfemininedreamof language.Rousseau
speaksof having"unveiled"his innerself (Confessions
[Paris:Garier freres,1964],4);
EcritureFdminineas Metaphor 33

But as contemporary criticism would have predicted,29 her rejection

of metaphor can be expressed only through metaphor, and a doubly
reversible one at that. The "naked word" uses the metaphor of sexuali-
ty to designate a language of immediacy and the metaphor of language
to designate a relation of bodies outside the phallic symbolic order. As
a word which wears no metaphorical clothing, and thus is not a word,
her figure is also an oxymoron.
In "My Law of the Future," Demar's naked word consists in desig-
nating these bodies outside the phallic order and in advocating recog-
nition of trial sexual relations before marriage, a trial which she calls:

thetrialoffleshbyflesh!! !..................

There! I have finally pronounced the great word before which so

many bold innovators have stalled, terrified by the protests, the
turmoil and the odious imputations which the repercussions of
their bold and incisive word would have raised all around them.
As much as her anti-metaphorical metaphors connect to each other

and Lucienne Frappier-Mazuranalyzes a similar but different feminine dream of lan-

guage she finds in the work of George Sand ("Desire, Writing and Identity in the Ro-
mantic Mystical Novel: Notes for a Definition of the Feminine," StyleXVIII, no. 3
[Summer 1984]: 328-52). This desired transparencydoes not so much describe signs
which transparenty point to their referent but a language which sets up an unmedia-
ted (i.e., non-linguistic) relation between writer and reader. Cixous also seeks a lan-
guage of immediate relation which heals the "violence of verbalization, since speech in
effect separates, interrupts something of the lived immediacy" (quoted in Conley,
29. Paul de Man says: "We know that our entire social language is an intricate sys-
tem of rhetorical devices designed to escape from the direct expression of desires that
are, in the fullest sense of the term, unnameable-not because they are ethically
shameful (for this would make the problem a very simple one), but because
unmediated expression is a philosophical impossibility" (Blindnessand Insight[New
York: Oxford University Press, 1971], 9). In the case of Demar it is difficult to distin-
guish the philosophical problem from the ethical one, which is not at all simple.
Derrida too speaks of language "resisting every meta-metaphorics," but also talks
about going "beyond the difference between the proper and the nonproper" ("White
Mythology," in Marginsof Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass [Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1982], 224, 229). For an analysis of the dispute between de Man and Derrida on
the subject of metaphor as filtered through their discussions of Rousseau, see Suzanne
Gearhart,TheOpenBoundaryofHistoryandFiction(Princeton:Princeton University Press,
1984), 243-57.
34 LeslieW.Rabine

in a self-negating play, there is no feeling of play in Demar's prose, at

least not until the end of each essay. Walled in by a borrowed rhetoric
that she rejects without being able to escape, her writing about direct,
immediate sexuality is marked by unrelieved grimness. She follows her
call to experimental sex by saying: "Let slander come! Let anathema
and persecution come, along with the iron that penetratesthe flesh ..."
("Law,"75). The sense of doom in the form of a punishing iron phal-
lus haunting her images of "the flesh" (lachair)bears a marked contrast
to Cixous's playful metaphor designating her own feminine language:
"0! jeune et chairetoutelangue"(Oh, young and dear [cherespelled
Cixous, in further contrast, even plays with the impossible paradox
of a naked language. In Souffles(Breaths),she associates the empower-
ing mother with nudity: "She is: naked ... I mean: nudity [.... .] [Our]
mother, she who breaks every muteness and makes all cries flow [....]
I know her name: nudity of nudity" (Souffles,50). But if the feminine
can only speak in a language stripped of clothing, language is, paradox-
ically, clothing. Any sentence is a sentence which says "put on veils."
The feminine writer plays with the veils and tries to merge herself with
"the ruses by which nudity protects itself, the silences with which the
truth swaths itself' (Souffles,51) because there is "no word strong
enough to make the impossible nudity burst out, every word adding to
it without grace" (Souffles,52). Thus Cixous makes explicit yet another
irresolvable contradiction at the crux of feminine writing: it is an im-
possibility, but one that must be practiced.
Each of Demar's essays succeeds for a brief moment in approaching
this impossibility. In a writerly place beyond her will, her seriousness
gives way and play takes over. This moment arrives in "A Woman's
Call to the People" after Demar describes the fate of "those unhappy
women whom poverty or the love of liberty have thrown into the arms
of everybody" ("Call," 20). The worst of all fates is for them to "go
throw their bodies . . . on the mutilated corpses of the Cemetery of
Clamar!" ("Call," 21). The place of the "Clamar Cemetery" in
Demar's writing is overdetermined by a knot of uncanny coincidences.
Metaphorically,it signifies the repression or "burial" of ostracized and
condemned feminine erotic practice. Historically, it links Demar not

30. Cixous, LA (Paris:Gallimard, 1976), 82. I am indebted to Maria Brewer for the
notion that the iron in Demar's comment is a metaphor for the phallus.
as Metaphor 35

only to the prostitutes thrown into the common grave, but also to her
revolutionaryforemother Madame Roland, buried there as well.31And
finally, this signifier suggests, along with feminine sexual and revolu-
tionary identifications, another condensation, that of the name Claire
D&naritself. The signifier "Clamar," produced by this condensation,
acts as a symptom through which the unconscious speaks. As conden-
sation, it is a metaphor, but a different kind than the treacherouscloth-
ing in which seducers dress their false words.
For Lacanian psychoanalysis, condensation and metaphor are the
same process. In "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious, or
Reason since Freud," Lacan, analyzing the two operations of the un-
conscious-displacement and condensation-identifies displacement
with metonymy or the syntagmaticpole of language and condensation
with metaphor or the paradigmatic pole of language.32Displacement
works through linguistic contiguity, condensation through substitu-
tion. But although condensation and substitution both depend on a
resemblance between signs, I am arguing here that in the writings of
Demar and Cixous they are two different forms of metaphor. Meta-
phor as substitution is here what Lacanianscall the paternal metaphor.
"The Agency of the Letter"cites as a paradigmaticexample of meta-
phor a line from Victor Hugo's "Booz endormi" (Boas Asleep): "Sa
gerben'etaitpasavareni haineuse"(His sheaf [of wheat] was neither miser-
ly nor full of hatred) ("Agency," 264). Lacan specifies that the sheaf
here substitutes for Boas, and specifically for his "fecundity" which
"announces" to Boas "his accession to fatherhood" ("Agency," 264).
In spite of Lacan's insistence on metaphoric substitution as the con-
stant slippage of the signified under the signifier, metaphor as substitu-
tion always comes back to signify the father, and more specifically the
father's "sheaf' of fecundity. The "Booz endormi" metaphor, says
Lacan, is "all the more efficacious in realizing the meaning of father-
hood, in that it reproduces the mythic event in which Freud has recon-
structed the traversalin every man's unconscious, of the paternal mys-
tery" ("Agency," 266). And indeed, in Freud's Totemand Taboo,the to-
tem, symbol of the resolution of the Oedipal conflict and thus of the
founding of civilization,is a substitutivemetaphor for the father:"They

31. Jules Michelet, Histoirede la r6volution

franaise (Paris:Gallimard, 1952), 993.
32. Lacan, "L'instancede la lettre dans l'inconscient ou la raison depuis Freud," in
EcritsI (Paris:Seuil, 1966), 249-89. Hereafterreferredto as "Agency."
36 LeslieW Rabine

[the sons] revoked their deed by forbidding the killing of the totem, the
substitute of their father. .. ."33
The "paternalmetaphor," a key concept in Lacan'stheory, is defined
byJacqueline Rose as follows: "First, as a reference to the act of sub-
stitution (substitutionis the very law of metaphoric operation) whereby
the prohibition of the father takes up the place originallyfigured by the
absence of the mother. Secondly, as a reference to the status of paterni-
ty itself which can only ever logically be inferred.And thirdly, as part of
an insistence that the father stands for a place and a function which is
not reducible to the presence or absence of the real father."She quotes
Lacan as saying: "So as to make the link between the Name of the
Father, in so far as he can at times be missing, and the father whose
effective presence is not always necessary for him not to be missing, I
will introduce the expressionpaternalmetaphor."34To Rose's definition
could be added a fourth element, that the paternal prohibition is the
law of castrationwhereby language, the structure of substitutive signs,
substitutes itself for the lost object and the absent maternal body.
Metaphor as condensation, on the other hand, when it erupts as a
symptom of the unconscious, disrupts the unity of that symbolic order
and the Oneness of the subject based on it. It frees the difference re-
pressed by metaphor as substitution, since in condensation the two
terms of the metaphor alternate with each other in the same signifier,
and this makes them both different and the same, both separate and
united, both absent and present.
The two kinds of metaphor in Demar's writing fit two definitions of
metaphor found in Cixous's writing. One, the paternal metaphor,
consists of "mechanical substitutions" whose chain may seem to con-
sist of infinite play but always "brings the substitutions back to the ulti-
mate object" ("Laugh," 52)-the phallus (Boas's sheaf) which governs
the system. While the chain of substitutions may seem to engage in in-
finite displacement of meaning, it reduces all signifiers to abstract
identities, all interchangeable with each other, all exchange values in
the circuitof phallic capital.35Their play amounts to an act of repression

33. Freud, Totemand Taboo,in TheComplete Works,vol. XIII, trans.James

Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), 143.
34. Rose, "Introduction-II," in FeminineSexuality,39.
35. For an analysis of the treatment of economies of exchange in Cixous's writing,
see Michele Richman, "Sex and Signs: The Language of French Feminist Criticism,"
EcritureFeminineas Metaphor 37

in which man substitutes his own mirror image for woman-the same
substitutes itself for difference at every level of the symbolic order. The
force which unleashes the feminine "languageof a thousand languages"
and disrupts the stable signifieds of our symbolic order is a different, a
feminine, kind of metaphor: "The mothertoo is a metaphor" ("Laugh,"
44). Such a maternal metaphor is Demar's "Clamar Cemetery" in "A
Woman's Call to the People."
The moment at which Demar confronts in her "Clamar Cemetery"
the ultimate point of woman's (and possibly her own) tragic destiny is
also the point at which traditionallogic fades out. As the maternal met-
aphor disrupts the heavy logic imitating that of the "men of vast sci-
ence," there is a release within her writing, permitting her finally to en-
ter an imaginaryand rhetorical relation with women. She can at last, in
the cosing paragraphsof the essay, succeed in apostrophizing them:
"Women, your grace, your love should reward, soften, and glorify
man: ... no longer the love of slave for master, or of master for slave,
but the free and worthy love of an equal for an equal" ("Call," 21).
Demar can, by immersing herself far enough into the process of writ-
ing, lift a tiny corner of the overwhelming clothing and, for an instant,
write herself instead of being written.

The WriterlyI and the SocialI

She also finds such a release in the longer essay "My Law of the
Future" through a more complex process. Like Cixous in her more
poetic and self-reflective writing, Demar, even in writing an essay of
ideas, succeeds in writing herself out of the oppressed Claire Demar
into a writerly,freer Claire Demar. Cixous, tracing this process in With
ou l'artde l'innocence(Withor theArt of Innocence),
writes herself out of a
cultural I, named Cordelia, immurred in the structures and myths of
the phallocentric system, and into a writerly I, named Aura, who
"run[s] in free letters before me."36
Before tracing Demar's version of this process, I need to describe the
contradictioninherent in it. In writing "My Law of the Future,"Demar

Languageand StyleXIII, no. 4 (Fall 1980): 62-81.

36. Cixous, Withou l'artde l'innocence
(Paris:Editions des femmes, 1981), 74. Hereaf-
ter referred to as With.
38 LeslieW Rabine

works her way out of the first contradiction, that of her dependency on
masculine discourse, at the cost of becoming enmeshed in a second,
while Cixous's text, as it writes itself into freedom, paradoxically be-
comes entangled in both. Cixous and Demar, in different ways, enter a
textual place where their writerly I, by flying to momentary freedom
from social determinations, is also disconnected from them and from
an effect on the "real order" it has freed itself from.
Aura, leading Cixous into a writerlyplace, "compels me to call into
question my all too prudent relationto the law of meaning in language"
(With, 76). This law of meaning molds what we call "reality" into
certain predetermined forms, which appear as natural but in fact, as
Alice Jardine says, "are rather logicsproduced through language as it
constructs and deconstructs representations" (Gynesis,44). What we
consider reality, both inner and outer, are fictions, narrativestructures
(mainly the Oedipal), phallocentric plots that encode experience and
determine our interpersonal relations. The only reality is that spoken
by the feminine unconscious and its drives. Thus, "Cordelia is essen-
tially a being of fiction, Aura is rather a being of writing" (With,47).
A resultant contradiction brings into conflict the practice of decon-
structing the representations we take as "reality" and the practice of
engaging in social struggle to change that "reality."A focus on under-
mining all concepts and representations as fictions and virile illusions
precludes addressing the immediate problems of women whose expe-
rience remains caught in these dominant narrativestructuresand rep-
resentations. If sexual relations are predetermined narratives and
sexual identity a myth, they are no less socially determining; and while
the thought of their fictional status may bring satisfaction to feminist
critics, there are situations where such a thought provides small
comfort. When the welfare money runs out, the cockroaches are
invading the kitchen, the toilet is backing up into the bathtub and the
landlord refuses to fix it, when the children are crying, the cupboard is
bare, and the man can come in the door at any time and beat you, the
question of whether or not this is all a fiction or a reality is a matter of
To say this does not call into question the importance or validity of
writerly practice. Rather, it suggests that even in the case of the same
woman involved in both realms-the welfare mother who writes, or,
in fact, Claire Demar-the realm of social oppression and action and
Ecriture as Metaphor 39

the realm of writing exclude each other. Each leads to the other, but
they do not share the same boundaries. In enacting this problem,
Cixous enlarges to radical dimensions and places at the center of the
text a germ on the margins of much women's writing.The two different
paths to assimilatingthis contradiction taken by Demar and Cixous in-
dicate the historicaldistance and closeness that separateand link them.
Demar begins her journey to the writerly place in "My Law of the
Future" by addressing the editors of La Tribune desfemmes,reproaching
them for "clothing" their style in "the strict forms of debate and
philosophism, whose pages one would much more likely attribute to
the pen of an experienced logician, than to that of a sensitive and im-
pressionable woman" ("Law," 68). She then contrasts this clothed
masculine writing with her own "naked word." Demar's style, how-
ever, at least until she makes her scandalous statement about trial sex,
more than matches theirs for its scholastic formal logic as she veils the
import of what she has to say.
But when she finally utters her naked word, it reveals what feminine
nakedness always shows, that she has nothing to lose. Her writing then
changes, proliferating metaphors and personifications in a torrent of
freer, if conventionally neo-cassical, language and more passionate ar-
gument. As she reveals her own fantasies of sexual desire by claiming
that they are the fantasies of all women without exception, her writing
takes her up and delivers her from being writtenby masculine rhetoric.
She takes her own rhetorical stance, drawing her argument out to its
most ridiculous point, making fun of herself and her audience at the
same time. Feeling her persuasive power enough to express her for-
bidden fantasies and to forget her social self, a writerlyDemar emerges
that differs from the grim Demar we find in most of her writing. This
Demar in turn practices a form of seduction through comedy.
To persuade her imaginary audience, she sets on her textual stage a
"contentious carper" who goes "digging around in the debris of an-
cient Rome" ("Law," 83) in a frantic effort to find a woman that dis-
proves Demar's claim and is virtuous through and through. He wakes
up the "inanimate ashes of Lucretia." Even Lucretia, maintains
Demar, had fantasies of a romantic, sensitive lover, but she says: "Oh!
do not disturb her in her unknown tomb, for her silence is undoutedly
happier for you than her voice could ever be!" ("Law," 84).
40 LeslieW Rabine

Addressing her old audience of male savants, but freed from their
language and logic and enjoying the power of laughter over them, this
Demar is not the same woman who addressed the men of science at
the beginning of "A Woman's Call to the People." That woman was
overwhelmed by the enormity of what she was about to do in breaking
the silence that made men happy; this woman jokes about it. That
woman tried to assuage male unhappiness that could have dire con-
sequences for her by the impotent attempt of taming the men of vast
science with their own logic; this woman dares to tease them.
In invoking as aide and accomplice to her guilt the seemingly virtuous
Lucretiawho, unlike her, has succeeded in winning male approval and
finding the only place of honor a woman can find in male history,
Demar identifies with her Roman foremother. She carries this identi-
ficationand the freedom of her languageto its deepest, and paradoxical,
point in the margins of the text. In a footnote, she defines her Roman
heroine: "Lucretia,figure of rhetoric (and legendary character of Ro-
man history): she killed herself rather than yield (or after having
yielded-what do I know?)to a son of KingTarquinthe Proud"("Law,"
84). In a voice that laughs at its own inconsequential indifference, she
undoes this rhetoricalfigure and messes up the order of classical histo-
ry (as well as the order of classical French syntax), and at the same time
faces in her alter-ego the vision of suicide. Her correspondance to
Enfantinreveals that she was alreadybeing irresistiblyhaunted by such
suicidal visions.37
In "My Law of the Future," meeting her double in the very moment
of freedom and laughter that releases her writerlyI, there intrudes a re-
minder, however disguised and distanced, of the fatal consequences of
breaking the silence and overturning the order, consequences that
Demar has grimly described in both of her essays. While in this foot-
note the concerns of Demar's social I intrude upon the writerlyI, there
is no place for the writerlyI in the world of the social I. While she feels
her power to persuade when she immerses herself in her writing, when
she is out of that writerlyplace she believes herself to be even more iso-
lated than she actually is (Correspondance,34). The growing gap between
her writerly I and her social I leaves Demar the social woman in an
even grimmer position. The more freely she writes, the more the social

37. See the letter to Pere Enfantin,January 1833, in Pelosse and Demar, Textessur
EcritureFeminineas Metaphor 41

woman becomes isolated.

For Cixous,the riskis thatan ever deeperdescentinto the free I of
writingmightseparateher writingfrom the socialrealityof women al-
together through the very process by which she incorporatesthis
contradictionof her projectinto the play of her text. One passagein
Soufflesplayson the signifierfils(threadsand son). The passageseems
to startout as a narrative,but sincefls is a condensation,it defies any
attemptto establishrepresentation(aswell as translation). The son and
the threadsbecome entangled,to the point that "the fatherscheat in
order to break the son/threadsand make the text disappear."The
writerresponds:"In me revolt is added to an unhappinesswhich is
wovenfrom a new fury:I spin/runaway filer,to spin, but also to go at
greatspeed],fuming,to confrontthe fathers:'You're the bad mother.'"
The writerbecomes so enragedthat "I [de]partand screammy fury,
and aggrieved,withouta text, withouta thread,withoutconnection,I
fall on the otherside of the abyss,I no longertie/read[jenelieplus-lie
means tie, and sounds like lis: I read]"(Souffles,129).
The contradictionhere (andperhapsone reasonfor the writer'srage)
is thatthismaternalmetaphor-as-condensation, bornof the "mother...
who resists separation"("Laugh,"44), must inevitablyuntie itself,
separateitself,or "cut"itselfinto two separatesubstitutivechains.As
substitutionsthey cannot help but signal the inevitable return of
representationand conceptualization,the reimpositionof the law of
meaningthatdrawsthe freelyflyingsignifiersunderthe authorityof a
signified.Giventhe coincidencesof language,the two chainsbelongto
the same familyand referto the same signified.As two paternal,and
traditional,metaphors,they are themselvesgendered,one a son, the
othera daughter.One metaphor,used at leastsincethe Renaissancein
the writingsof Montaigne,Du Bellay,and d'Aubigne,comparesthe
text to a son who must separatefrom his father.The other metaphor
associatesweavingwith a woman'stext. It appearsnot only in Greco-
Romanmyth,associatedwithArachne,Philomena,and Penelope,but
also in Pueblo and Navajomyths in the figureof SpiderWoman.38

38. See Paula Gunn Allen, "Prologue" to TheWomanWhoOwnedthe Shadows(San

Francisco:Spinsters, Ink, 1983). See also Leslie Marmon Silko, "Prologue" to Ceremony
(New York: Signet, 1977) and "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Per-
spective," in EnglishLiterature:
Openingup the Canon,ed. Leslie Fiedler and Houston
Baker (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).
42 LeslieW Rabine

Each of these metaphors engenders its own series of contradictions,

which are reinscribed in the play of Cixous's feminine text. The meta-
phor of the text as son leads to the fear of falling under the phallocentric
knife of castration and fetishism: "On aura commande que SOUF-
FLES soit coupe?" ("It will have been ordered that BREATHS be
cut?"; couperle souffle,the expression "to lose one's breath," is in
French to "cut" one's breath) (Souffles,198). The "cutting" here of
"souffles" suggests the castrationthat separatesthe son from his moth-
er, and metaphorically the text from its writer. Once Soufflesis finished
it cannot help but be transformed from a writerlyprocess into a "pub-
lished text" (Souffles,140), a book, an object of exchange, fetish or false
phallus, that consumers will treat as a mirror of an objectified author.
Playingwith this contradiction between text and book, one voice of the
text expresses the hope that the "child deliver [delivre]the mother"
(Souffles,205), i.e., that the child might liberate the mother, but also
"unbook" her, be her "uniquedelivre"(her only unbook) (Souffles,212).
Given the conditions of capitalistpublishing, the hope that the text can
escape the fate of the book seems doomed.
This contradiction between the writerly and the social exceeds its
textual reinscription, both as doomed hope about Soufflesas a real
book and also as an escape from fetishism that slips back into
fetishism. The fear of fetishizing the writing process also expresses the
opposite fear, that of losing authorial self-presence in becoming
subjected to the reader as Other. The threat in this case comes from a
real, exterior Other not assimilable to the multiple I's that inhabit the
writer. Seen in this light, the practice of multiple subjectivity, rather
than undermining self-identity,functions as a more resilient version of
universal closure which protects self-identity, however fractured and
multiplied within itself.
The second substitutive metaphor, that of the text as weaving, takes
the contradiction between maternal and paternal metaphors, as be-
tween textual realm and social realm, into similar spirals. In Cixous's
work, weaving can signify not the Freudian veiling, the necessity of
hiding women's lack of a phallus, but on the contrary, the dream of a
non-phallic, non-fetishistic language. A weaving is not a signifier that
hides a signified, but one that reveals its own production, the warp and
woof of its texture, the very process of condensing the threads of a dis-
course into signifierswhich defy phallicrepresentation.But as a metaphor
Ecriture as Metaphor 43

which represents non-representation, weaving is as paradoxical as

Demar's naked word. While in Illa, the writer dreams of a thread that
unites all women and is never cut, the text also expresses a painful real-
ization that the thread and its weave are only metaphors, that is, only
substitutesfor the "uniquely maternallanguage"that "speaksbefore the
word" (Illa, 61, 66). In that language there is "no thread to bring one
back to the other," because there is "no separation"(Illa, 23).
The mother's voice in the text is always endangered by the paternal
metaphor since the weaving, as a substitutivemetaphor, inevitablyrisks
forgetting the mother, forgetting its ties to woman, in its flight return-
ing to masculine writing: "[Taking]her authority only from herself, as
if she had fallen from the sky, . . . [the weaver] sets to weaving a web
with a concentric network and a theological circumference, which
takes the place of a shield, a tunic, a shutter, a part object.. ." (Ila, 81).
Weaving itself can become a self-enclosed, sterile game, even if the text
can pull this game back into its own infinitely spiraling play by ironi-
cally calling such a phallic weave a 'filosofille"(Illa, 82).
The text comes out of this particularplay by finding again the ties to
other women which circulate in the unconscious: "If in me Cordelia
breathes again, after I expired on her lips, it's because somewhere a
woman heard me go silent in Cordelia, and breathed for me when I
was suffocating"(Illa, 83). But these women can nourish the text only if
they are I's of the writer'sown textual realm rather than other women
in the social realm. Once again, the effort to incorporate the other into
the self fluctuates between negating the closure of self-identity and re-
establishing it.
Both Cixous and Demar, to different degrees, find a way out of the
contradiction. For Demar the contradiction between writerly practice
and social practice became too difficult to sustain, and was overcome
by suicide (which is not to say that this was the cause of her suicide).
For Cixous it risks becoming facile as it is reincorporated into textual
play. These two different paths thus raise the question not of how to
resolve the contradiction between writerlypractice and collective social
practice, but of how to resist resolving it, how to inhabit it, how to live
in it and with it. My article cannot, of course, answer this question. As
yet another piece of writing, it can only reenact (and attempt to re-
solve?) the contradictions it sets out to unveil. Answers would have
44 LeslieW Rabine

to come from the collective writing and social practice of many sub-
jects conjoining their multiple I's.

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