“The Laugh of the Medusa” by Helene Cixous
In “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Helene Cixous attempts to explain her strong feministic theory regarding composition. Cixous argues for a renovated world in which women’s composition, and thinking of such, is essentially opposite of what it was when she wrote this piece. She describes several, almost all, of the instances in which women are “repressed”: philosophy, government, representation, medicine, writing, love, etc. The perpetrator, she claims, is man. They have forced women from writing just as they have forced women away from sexuality while they (the men) have written history. Helene yearns for the day when woman are no longer “othered.” Cixous brings in elements of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and applies it (mainly in regard to the phallic stage) to her theory of feministic repression in the world and in writing. In short, Freud claimed that since women do not have a penis, they are not as valuable as men (or are devalued in society)— Cixous believes her theory has strong ties to this. She talks of a “Woman” (not any woman, but a particular one) that encompasses all of the things Cixous and other feminists stand for— one that will stand up to the male dominance, speak for all females, and shed light on the future of women representation in all areas of life. Cixous ultimately wants women, or at least (to start) Woman, to liberate themselves: bodies, sexuality, and imagination.
This article is strongly related to “Composing as a Woman” by Flynn. Both articles explore the oppressed feministic composition compared to the dominant accepted composition produced by males. Flynn also explores the social and psychological development of men- just as Cixous does when explaining Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Flynn argues for the inclusion of women’s composition studies in the classroom in order to open doors for female students— Cixous argues for Woman to come forth to open doors for other females.
Another relation is to Malinowiz’s “Queer Texts, Queer Contexts.” Malinowitz argues that ignoring the topic of sexual identity does nothing to help limit discrimination. This is along the lines of what Flynn argues, and strengthens Cixous’ claims of Freudian theory. Malinowitz, Flynn, and Cixous would all agree that oppression of one group in composition, or in society as a whole, is limiting and must be changed.
Also relating to this article is “Autism and Rhetoric” by Paul Heilker and Melanie Yergeau. The relation is in the sense that Heilker and Yergeau do not want autism to be viewed as a form of “otherness” just as Cixous doesn’t want women to be “othered” anymore from men.
More distantly, Cixous can be linked to Elbow. Elbow details the use of voice. Cixous argues for a Voice— particular voice from Woman—a voice to rally around.
My Personal Reflection:
I thought this article was slightly difficult to follow- more than likely because it was a translation. Also, I feel that Cixous’s points were very real and relevant, and she had great detail, however, she revisited several points too often. Thus, the paper had a repetitive nature to it. I was really thrown off by relating actual writing to phallicism. Freud was an odd man, with an odd theory; this was an odd section of the article. With that said, I am a psychology major and have recently studied the phallic stage of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. I understood what Cixous was trying to say, but it might have been useful for her to explain it further for readers unfamiliar with such psychological terminology. At first, the title made no sense, but after reading her passionate words and her reference to Medusa- it all came together. Overall, despite the flaws, I liked this article. Exploring views from feminists, especially in different time periods, is very interesting to me (even off the wall references such as the Freud one catch my attention).
I researched Helene Cixous herself, and she was an interesting woman. She is a professor, literary critic, playwright, philosopher, French feminist writer, poet, and rhetorician. Now, she is 75 years old.
This work was written in 1975 (explaining how demand for such Woman was so imperative … women’s inclusion in society has advanced since that era).
[Here is a link to her biography: http://www.egs.edu/faculty/helene-cixous/biography/]