Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Flicker 2: Reflections on Cinematography and Literature in the Works of Helene Cixous

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Flicker 2: Reflections on Cinematography and Literature in the Works of Helene Cixous

Article excerpt

Je suis le V. Lever? Leve. Levee ...

--Helene Cixous, Le detronement la more

Je suis film muet.

--Helene Cixous, Les commencements

"Whoever has never contemplated une veilleuse, la veilleuse ...": as I have tried to argue in the preceding essay, "Flicker 1," whoever has never contemplated the veilleuse-effect, whether under this or another name, will have a hard time appreciating the unique literary venture that has been Helene Cixous's for well over four decades now. That is the hypothesis that I have already advanced by considering the relationship between Cixous's work and photography and it is the one that I will now try to justify even further by looking at her relationship to cinema. One need not, of course, look explicitly at either photography or cinema or even at the veilleuse at the center of Cixous's The Day I Wasn't There in order to understand Cixous's work, since these are all just examples, exemplary examples but examples nonetheless, of what Cixous is attempting to do in her work. But without some understanding of the unique way in which Cixous's narratives move from one letter, phoneme, word, name, phrase, theme, image, or even book to another, without some understanding of the principle of this hyper-rapid substitution or replacement, this unique form of splicing or of editing, of making the most unanticipated jump cuts, one will always consider Cixous's writing to be precious and pretentious at best and capricious or whimsical at worst.

It is what we have ventured to call the veilleuse-effect, another way of naming the art of replacement, that makes Cixous's work so compelling and so difficult, so fascinating and so frustrating. Despite the appearance of her work in the light of so many publications, conferences, and colloquia, despite the many probing, scholarly colloquoscopies (to borrow a word of Derrida's that Cixous herself cites in Insister of Jacques Derrida [1148/98]), her work remains for us today barely visible, scarcely readable. In short, it remains and perhaps must remain in the penumbra, not quite present, en veilleuse, in a state of flickering that, oddly, goes faster and faster the more we read and so, the more we read, requires us to go more and more slowly. I must myself admit it: I do not always know how to read her, at what speed, if it is legitimate or necessary to go more slowly or more rapidly than my understanding, assuming that understanding rather than perception or, simply, reading is the right modality for this work. "Look, look" (I 24/24), one is tempted simply to say, look at the father coming back, and the dead son, and look at the Clos-Salembier, and look at the brother in this armchair beside her, and look at Omi, and look over there at Eve, and look at the tower that, click, has become two towers that, click, have now become four, and....

Reading Cixous can thus be compared to trying to read in a rapidly flashing light what Gilles Deleuze in 1972 already called a "Writing in Strobe." As Deleuze wrote in a brief review of Cixous's then recently published Neuter: "Cixous has invented a new and original kind of writing, which gives her a particular place in modern literature: writing in strobe, where the story comes alive, different themes connect up, and words form various figures according to the precipitous speeds of reading and association." (1) He takes this image of the strobe from a line in Neuter--"the effect of the movement is such that by stroboscopy the trees produce a sort of paste, smooth or barely striped with dark vertical markings, the ghosts of generations" (N 61/58)--which he reads as both an example and a description of Cixous's unique "narrative in process, which includes itself or takes itself as an object," a narrative that is composed of various elements: "fictive elements made of desires; phonological elements made of letters; linguistic elements made of figures; elements of criticism made of citations; active elements made of scenes, etc. …

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