Helene Cixous 'Laugh of the Medusa'
I should have begun with this essay as it contains some of the most impressive writing I have ever read. It's also related to one of the most awkward moments I've ever had. I was in another English MA seminar; I can't remember the subject. Anyway, for some reason I brought up style and started talking about this essay because one of the beautiful things about it is that she is trying to write differently. Her point is that writing is male, and women need to find a way of writing female texts. So even the female writers of the past have written as men: 'the woman who writes cuts herself out a paper penis', or haven't written publicly; the woman writes in 'white ink'. Cixous is trying out writing as a woman though, writing bodily (hence white ink/breast milk) and rewriting myth, psychology, philosophy, politics and theology as a woman: 'in the beginning are our differences'. She even manages to pre-empt mobile phones: 'we're going to show them our sexts!'. And part of this is reflected in her style which is highly rhetorical and runs in waves over the reader, the entire essay is a long drawn out, pulsing orgasm, reflecting playfully a metaphor between women's writing and women masturbating. Anyway halfway through my explanation I realised that I was about to talk to a class full of people about women masturbating. Awkward. Well I pressed on and regardless of my dislike of the word itself (sounds too much like masticating, which makes me think of cows) I made my point. This wasn't the embarrassing bit though. At the time I had developed a new side to my relationship with my mother by discussing these classes each week (she has a phd in English - helpful common ground). And in the evening I'd call her to discuss the seminar. well somehow I didn't see it coming and once again started making my point, realising with horror the approaching wreck where I was taking the conversation. So yes I am one of the few boys who has managed to discuss women masturbating with my mother. Awkward.
Anyway, all that is pretty irrelevant (although in a pleasing meta- way it's nice to have managed to have a third chance to relive this experience), because until you have read this essay, you do not know what beautiful, powerful writing is. This essay made me jealous of women. Think Martin Luther King's speech, but wait! 'The new history is coming; it's not a dream, though it does extend beyond men's imagination, and for good reason. It's going to deprive them of their conceptual orthopedics, beginning with the destruction of their enticement machine.' Think the Communist Manifesto, but 'A feminine text cannot fail to be more than subversive. It is vol-canic; as it is written it brings about an upheaval of the old property crust, carrier of masculine investments; there's no other way. There's no room for her if she's not a he. If she's a her-she, it's in order to smash everything, to shatter the framework of institutions, to blow up the law, to break up the "truth" with laughter.' This is the laugh of the medusa reclaimed: 'You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she's not deadly. She's beautiful and she's laughing.' Think of the sexual revolution but taken further: 'We will rethink womankind beginning with every form and every period of her body. The Americans remind us, "We are all Lesbians"; that is, don't denigrate woman, don't make of her what men have made of you.'
This essay should have changed the world. It should have been played on every radio station, when it was written in the summer of 1976. It should not be possible to be sexist in the way that society and the church remain sexist - as if one were to say that no black man can be a bishop. The writing here is not on the wall, it is on the body; and that body is the female body of Christ. What I would like to see is a legion of women in synod on the terrace laughing; laughing so hard that all the women-haters, men and women, could no longer speak. Laughing to destroy all this anti-love with an orgasm that will send waves of jouissance throughout this flacid, impotent structure.