Vol. 2 No. 4, Winter 1997/1998 (#8)

Rootprintsby Helene Cixous and Mireille Calle-Gruber

Rootprints

Memory And Life Writing

Hélène Cixous and Mireille Calle-Gruber
translated by Eric Prenowitz

Routledge ($17.95)

by David Clippinger

Rootprints is a wonderful introduction to the complexity of Hélène Cixous' ideas and the various types of her writing. The text offers an intermediary position between the forms of theory and the forms of fiction; it is a hinged door that opens onto both her theory and fiction, and demonstrates that either path is worthy of serious exploration.

Cixous' place in the literary theory canon is firmly established; her widely anthologized essay "The Laugh of the Medusa" is usually granted a cornerstone position in feminist post-structural theory. So it may seem somewhat surprising to stumble upon this remark early in Rootprints:

What is most true is poetic because it is not stopped-stoppable. All that is stopped, grasped, all that is subjugated, easily transmitted, easily picked up, all that comes under the word concept, which is to say all that is taken, caged, is less true. . . . There is a continuity in the living; whereas theory entails a discontinuity, a cut, which is altogether the opposite of life. I am not anathematizing all theory. It is indispensable, at times, to make progress, but alone it is false.

Cixous' theoretical texts are indeed "circulated and appropriated," as she says--"they were made for this, by the way"--but the body of her fiction has been relatively neglected. While not disparaging her theoretical writings, the above comment touches upon the root of the matter: her novels aren't read because they reflect multiplicity and irreducibility, while the theoretical texts offer a more limited and limiting perspective--a perspective that fiction must strive against.

Writing that resists categorization reflects the ever-unfolding, ever-evolving nature of living, and if nothing else Cixous' work argues for the absolute contingency of life and writing. Rootprints demonstrates that the autobiographical figures largely into Cixous' own written life, offering a re-vision of her theoretical texts; its concluding section, "Albums and legends," attempts to unearth the roots of Cixous' writerly desires within the scope of her family genealogy. The autobiography moves effortlessly through time and weaves a rich tapestry of events, experiences, and people that deepens the context of her writing, offering wonderful insights into the entire body of Cixous' work. In fact, the final section can be regarded as the triumphant enactment of Cixous' theory. An excellent primer to one of literary theory's major thinkers, Rootprints also contains a series of theoretical "appendices," including an appreciative essay by Jacques Derrida and theoretical "vignettes" on the writing of Cixous by Mireille Calle-Gruber.

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