An echo of, and a dialogue with Hélène Cixous, on her writing about temporality, time, and poetry
Or: “to write in the absent of the author?”, according to Cixous)
Berit Bareksten, sociologist at HVL, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences
My old grandfather clock woke me up this morning. Told me to meet this new day, and to write. It’s dark outside, although and at the same time I recognised the darkness, I’m looking into the light of Venice, on my computer. Unlocking it by keying the name of one of my cities in UK, simultaneously I’m also there, in Italy. Although it’s about being here, practising. Words in another foreign language are here with me, I’m thinking. Listening to friends in their own broken English. It’s good enough. It’s understandable. It will come, and some will stay, and expanding both words and meanings, while reading. While writing. Like mice crawling, they are sweety ones but irritating. Sitting there for just a short time, and then they are gone. Coming back and gone again. Unlike mice I like those words to stay, be part of me. I’m checking how to spell them properly. Mixing some letters – as I do in my own language. Nothing new under the sun, so to say.
The French philosopher and feminist has for a long time been a name, but nothing more for me. This last week I found an essay written by Hélène Cixous (yes, I wrote her surname correct!) about volleys. Volleys of humanity, and I printed it. Started to read. The language is so smooth, so inviting. Feeling warm inside. Like pebbles on the beach, affected of words beneath my hands and between my fingers. Tasting them, looking into them, listening deeply. While writing, listening. Trying to taste the words before typing them – or tasting at the same time as typing. By chance they come to my mind, and from time to time they felt for staying. I welcome them.
Volleys, I wonder. What does she mean, I ask myself. Stay in the text, recognise the water coming between and together with those pebbles, on that specific beach – in this inviting text. I’m telling you that they are reaching my toes now. I’m walking into the landscape of wondering and misunderstandings. Moving toes on pebbles and taste the words in my mouth. Still not hurts. Smooth. Smiling sentences, I say to myself. Continuing reading. I’m still invited, but the feeling of being a child seeking care and clarity from the adults around me is still there.
I’m reading her while my cat is on my lap, as she is writing her essay on a sheath of paper between, her two cats. I just read it. And she’s even saying that she would like to tell Jacques Derrida about those two cats, as he knew them, she writes. The essay is about humanity, but also about hum-animal beings (Cixous remember us about that she is, also a cat). Posthumanism: Thinking, re-thinking, make the world of humanity more holistic. I continue reading. It’s starts with humanity; it ends with humanity. A word worth six billion, she says – and I agree.
Her essay is an ongoing dialogue under the gaze of those passed away, but still here – in their texts, in their thoughts. As Jaurés, and Derrida. But also, about them with other forerunners, under gaze of even older thinkers and writers. She listening to them, and they’re listening as well, both to her and those back in history. Derrida insisted on the living-dead relation, Cixous says in her essay. She, herself speaks about the friend: “[…], for the friend is always internal, the human beings lodges the friend, he is inhabited, haunted, we listen, the internal friend listen to us think, before we have ventured to speak. We shelter, we share a same psychic space. On the one hand, everything we think is online, internally.” (2011: p. 268). The theme they are looking at, and have their dialogue upon, is the idea of the magic word Humanity. Cixous is, in her text, inspired from the newspapers name in France: Humanité. Jaurés, and Derrida, invites us to join them in the dialogue, not only about the newspaper’s name, but rather about the idea or figure of ‘Humanity’. What this distant word ‘Humanity’ (among other words as Justice, Truth), from Latin, means to us – today. Cixous speaks further on with both Kant, Shakespeare, and Rousseau, in her essay – asking them about Humanity. Their answering differs in both lifescapes and timescapes.
Jaurés created the newspaper, and Cixous writes: “I try to imagine who provided the maternal kiss to Jaurés. What beautiful face was the secret of his strength?” (2011: p. 282). She kind of answering with a story about her own crying mother, or maybe there is the cat crying. Echoing friends as Piotr Rawicz and his wife Anna – survivors from Auschwitz. With the voice of ageless humanity: “Mama! Oh my god! Mama! Help!” (2011: p. 282).
Looking from a distance, I’m thinking of Ukraine, of women in Iran and Afghanistan, among others: The world is in enormous need of volleys of humanity – or the idea or the figure of it. Dialogues, not tanks, and weapons. Understanding, not misunderstanding. Peace not war. Life instead of death. Castles, towers and defending installations built of sand on beaches, with children, instead of real defences between people and countries. Listening into care of humanity. I have a dream. Imagine.
The grandfather’s clock on the wall remains me of time passing by. Dear dead-ones living here still in their sounds from the clock and from the silent of voices. Thanks to Hélène Cixous showing me her ways of thinking of the world through those not-longer-here, and how they still influence us in our thinking, writing and being. Shaping us as human beings and citizens in the world.
“We are so temporary. I think of my brief grandfather Michael Klein who died a German corporal at age thirty-six in 1916 on the front in Belorussia, for ideas that were morally very great and that would all turn out historically false. I don’t know under whose gaze he signed up, a volunteer as a German Jew, although father of a family but perhaps it was under the gaze of Captain Dreyfus as much as under the gaze of the Kaiser before whom he wanted to defend a Jewish citizen’s loyalty. The poor man, he wants to prove that one can be Jewish and no less a good German, and even, oh horror, a better one.” (Cixous 2011: p. 268)
And her beautiful, insightful, and important essay is worth reading, I will say. Sentences as waves of eternity. Without, in this text, taking notice of her reflections on feminism according to mankind and humanity (my highlighting). And about mothers weeping. Or to even not go deeper into her poetry parts. Next time.
I quote her here, in the end of my text, with her beginning of Volleys of Humanity:
“We are reading, in the morning as soon as it is day, we read – from the cradle, from the first gaze we already want to belong to a gaze and fall under a gaze, already we are reading. We are giving ourselves to (be) read. We are making links. We are mirroring ourselves in the mirror of the other. Is this the beginning of being human?” (Cixous 2011: p. 264)
*In the free dictionary I read the meaning number two of ‘volleys’:
2. A group of remarks,expressions, or actionsdirectedtoward a certainrecipient or audience:a volley of oaths; a volley of laughter.”