This article is part of a folio on Hélène Cixous. Click here to read the rest of the folio.
Claire Schwartz: In Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, you tell us, “Writing and reading are not separate, reading is a part of writing. A real reader is a writer. A real reader is already on the way to writing.” But while I tend to think of interpretation as making manifest this indelible link—for example, in the Talmud, where exegesis becomes the basis for extending the text—you seem skeptical of interpretation. You write, “The dream’s enemy is interpretation . . . It wishes to make the dream cough up.” What do you mean, then, when you say that reading is a part of writing?
Hélène Cixous: Writing and reading are adventures. You don’t try to catch meaning. You let it gallop like wild horses in front of you or beside you, and just enjoy the experience. I don’t exclude interpretation, but it is limited. It belongs to a certain type of practice, which is scientific, methodical. It belongs to the sphere of psychoanalysis where, indeed, you try to make dreams tell the secret. But dreams are secret; their power is in resisting interpretation. What I call writing is very close to weaving the tapestry of dreams.
What dreams give you is marvelous: You’re surprised all the time—and you feel at once that the dream has something to say to you, and that you don’t understand. But not understanding is part of understanding. Every time somebody tells you, “I understand,” you may be sure they don’t. There’s nothing to understand. You have to receive, to react emotionally—but not catch.
CS: What does catching kill?
HC: Derrida says, “Dès qu’il est saisi par l’écriture, le concept est cuit.” Once it’s caught by writing, the concept is cooked. It’s dead. And it’s true: You’ve tried to fix it, but it is mobile. The concept flies away, emitting sparks—and as you receive the sparks, you’re astonished and enchanted. The moment you want to catch it, you lose it.
CS: The Egyptian Jewish poet Edmond Jabès sees this lack of fixed understanding as the very condition of language. In The Sin of the Book, he writes: “The Tablets of the Law were broken when still only barely touched by the divine hand . . . There is no real first understanding, no initial and unbroken word.” For Jabès, the word—a mark on the blank field of the page—distances us from the primordial nothingness of creation, but also touches the void by displacing the thing in the world to which it refers. Negating as it asserts, the word ceaselessly renews its relationship to nonexistence, becomes strange to itself. I thought of this idea when I encountered your formulation: “Why do we desire to die so much? Because we desire to say so much.” Might you say a little bit about the relationship between writing and death?
HC: Writing was born for me when my father died. I lost him very early. But he gave me death, and death and I came into a dialogue then: Who will be stronger? Is death going to kill me, or is it going to give me visions, inspiration, courage inside the awful experience of a terrible weakness? I think art is always answering to the threat of death. But you don’t throw yourself into it. You just answer.