Giving Strunk and White the Nightsweats

Go for a walk. On the corso alongside La Zurriola beach in San Sebastian, Spain stands a sculpture by the Polish artist Igor Mitoraj. Like the other works in this public exhibit of Mitoraj's work, "Torso di Ikaria" is a postmodern revisioning of classical studies of the body; unlike the others, it stands as a statue of Hélène Cixous' Woman writ large: smooth breasts and chiseled torso taper downward to a pubis guarded by the head of Medusa, writhing snakes the coarse tangle of hair crowning a face whose lips snarl. Is the sight of her so terrifying that it conjures the vagina dentata?

Or is she beautiful and laughing?

* * *

In her essay "The Laugh of the Medusa," Hélène Cixous highlights two important systems that Woman must liberate if she is to gain freedom from patriarchy and take control over her self: the language/writing system and the body system. It is not by coincidence that Cixous relates these two systems as both constitute sites of inscription, with writing an inscription of language, thoughts, and expression on some archival substrate; which in turn corresponds to and facilitates the inscription of ideology, rationalism, and medical-scientific discourse on the woman’s body.

This inscribing leads to a homogenizing of the potential of Woman, a potential that becomes subservient to the patriarchal imperative. In this version of history, a woman's body is but an empty vessel, a metabolic vehicle to be filled — with cock and child and milk; with imaging technologies, surgical devices and codes of conduct; with reason.

Man said:
I hold the stylus in my hands — with its original thick white ink — and dear God I hope I don't get writer's block!

But Cixous isn’t interested in revisiting, rearticulating and thereby perpetuating this patriarchal version of history and the mechanisms by which it is enabled and embodied. Instead, she wants to write a new Woman into being by seizing language as the tool that had heretofore been the tool of oppression, both of discourse and of the body. In this, Cixous echoes Paulo Freire's attempt to create a pedagogy of the oppressed for native populations to take control of language, to understand and ultimately destabilize the hierarchical power binary and achieve liberation.

There is a problem, however: "It is impossible to define a feminine practice of writing, and this is an impossibility that will remain, for this practice can never be theorized, enclosed, coded — which doesn't mean that it doesn't exist" (p. 392). But if one cannot define feminine writing, then how can it be blithely opposed to a masculine writing? Let us suggest instead that Cixous misplaces her italic emphasis, intentionally or otherwise. Move it one word to the right and conceivably you have something more appropriate: there is no "a", no singular feminine practice of writing that can be defined. It seems, however, that if there is to be a universal Woman subject, as Cixous seeks, certainly She can share ideas, hints, intuitions of such a diversity of practices around the synapses of her cerebellum? Theorize, perhaps not, but anti-enclose and anti-code most assuredly.

As an example, can we articulate such a pedagogical practice for writing-Woman in the age of the electronic, to situate but one type of feminine writing in the potential anti-enclosure of the internetwork? Consider the following a contribution towards a preliminary sketch:

As the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto so grandly (naively?) declared at the height of the dot-com boom, "Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy." Yes, but not as a necessary condition of their existence. Hyperlinks may still be pressed into the service of the hierarchical at the microlevel of the text, and most certainly at the macrolevel of "new economy" reform, as we see, for example, with the majority of media corporations in their coming to terms with the character of network society. For them, the hyperlink must be controlled, must be walled off from an exterior, from departing the moneyed spaces of regulated communication.

But Woman will not be an old Gray Lady; she will be young and dynamic and … noisy. As her body produces heat, so will her writing produce noise (cf. Haraway). Noisy as doubled meaning: as concerns volume, intensity, passion, on the one hand, and as regards signal and error on the other. The noisy hyperlink will dissociate internet communication from its military genealogy. Make rhizomes, not war! Create associations where none previously existed. Write the universal Woman subject into being through the synapses of an electronic cerebellum.

HCixous said:
u r beautiful ;)

Medusa said:
LOL

This is not to say that Woman must hereafter talk in internet slang, but rather to demonstrate how grammar, syntax, words, and the very purpose of letters and punctuation are fragmenting, realigning and/or dissolving in the age of the network. It is to suggest how the poet plays with language, how opportunities for noise or polyvocality may emerge with electronic communications.

In fact, polyvocality itself becomes polysemic through the network. Not only must Woman use many different voices in her writing, but many different tools as well. How can there be writer's block when both voice and tool are multiple? Reject the exclusivity of the stylus! Cixous' Woman writes with her whole body — not only her eye-hand-(phallus) — and she is noisy while doing so. A poetic teledildonics of language to negate the "conceptual orthopedics" that inscribe feminine bodies with reason. A writing that emerges from the empty vessel of the captured body to flow forth and sing. A telematic nightmare for Strunk and White. And if the patriarchal contingent reductively dismisses this noisiness as discursive masturbation, well then … yes! (…yes! yes!)

GDeleuze said:
from this we can get the triple definition of writing: to write is to struggle and resist; to write is to become; to write is to draw a map … kthxbye

Though Deleuze was describing Foucault and his investigation of power relations in various institutions, we may easily repurpose the passage as a concluding statement for the work by Cixous. Through their writing women will struggle and resist the patriarchy that has oppressed for so long; through their writing women will become-Woman; and through their writing women will draw a map, not in the diagrammatic sense of visioning and rationalizing an open, uncharted space, but in first mentally locating their bodies as creating-place and thereafter in physically connecting them with one another through the network. "[W]riting is precisely the very possibility of change, the space that can serve as a springboard for subversive thought, the precursory movement of a transformation of social and cultural structures" (p. 390). And this process of subverting — of writing new passages and the places between — constitutes part of the language that is but one element of a feminine writing.

Tricky said:
you and me, what does that mean? it means we’ll manage, i’ll master your language, and in the meantime i’ll create my own, by my own

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  1. sportsBabel » Skin Tectonics, Surgery and a Question of Autonomy says:

    [...] Medusa: LOL [...]

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