Reveries of the Wild Woman: Primal Scenes

Reveries of the Wild Woman: Primal Scenes

by Helene Cixous

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All the time when I lived in Algeria, my native country,
I dreamt of one day arriving in Algeria.

Born in Oran, Algeria, Hélène Cixous spent her childhood in France's former colony. Reveries of the Wild Woman is her visceral memoir of a preadolescence that shaped her with intense feelings of alienation, yet also contributed, in

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All the time when I lived in Algeria, my native country,
I dreamt of one day arriving in Algeria.

Born in Oran, Algeria, Hélène Cixous spent her childhood in France's former colony. Reveries of the Wild Woman is her visceral memoir of a preadolescence that shaped her with intense feelings of alienation, yet also contributed, in a paradoxically essential way, to her development as a writer and philosopher.

Born to a French father and an Austro-German mother, both Jews, Cixous experienced a childhood fraught with racial and gender crisis. In her moving story she recounts how small events—a new dog, the gift of a bicycle—reverberate decades later as symbols filled with social and psychological meaning. She and her family endure a double alienation, by Algerians for being French and by the French for being Jewish, and Cixous builds her story on the themes of isolation and exclusion she felt in particular under the Vichy government and during the Algerian Civil War. Yet she also concedes that memories of Algeria awaken in her a longing for her home country, and ponders how that stormy relationship has influenced her life and thought.

A meditation on postcolonial identity and gender, Reveries of the Wild Woman is also a poignant recollection of how a girl's childhood is, indeed, author to the woman.

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Product Details

Northwestern University Press
Publication date:
Avant-Garde & Modernism Collection
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

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Reveries of the Wild Woman
Primal Scenes

Northwestern University Press
Copyright © 2000

Éditions Galilée
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8101-2363-2

Chapter One Reveries of the Wild Woman

"The whole time I was living in Algeria I would dream of one day arriving in Algeria, I would have done anything to get there, I had written, I never made it to Algeria, it is right now that I must explain what I mean by this, how I longed for the door to open, now not later, I had scribbled, in the fever of the July night, for it is now, and probably for dozens or hundreds of reasons that a door has cracked opened in the Oblivion Wing of my memory, and now for the first time I may be able to return to Algeria, therefore I must ..."

I had written that in the middle of a July night and as sometimes happens when a book shows up, always in the middle of the night, awaited of course, yearned for with extreme patience, capable of all conceivable and inconceivable acts of trust and humility, I had written these lines, under the influence of the longed-for but unimaginable upwelling of the book which therefore did wish to respond to my infinitely timid supplications and therefore as usual in such cases of nocturnal manifestation, I had written without turning on the light so as not to risk scaring the Comer off, quick, without a sound, I grab the pad of paper that never leaves my bedside and the thick-tipped pen for scribbling big across the page, and I had noted the first lines that the Comer dictated to me, hastily covering a good-sized page with the priceless sentences, yeast of the book, gift of gods whose names I don't even know. Once the absolute viaticum had been received I ventured to switch on the light, and as though I held the Host to disperse the Comer's flesh and blood through my body in my mouth, in my soul's mouth and my hand's, and on my night tongue, as I let it dissolve, in the trace of that initial seeding, I had scrawled four big, single-spaced pages, fragrant with ink earth galloping sweat panting nostrils, but pages vivid fleshed-out, powerful dense, full of a stirring generosity, I was jubilant, I'll thank the donors tomorrow morning, I thought, four immense pages with every sign of being viable, which for me means I have only to forge ahead, once I've been given the beginning, I have only to press on, you have to work with all your might, naturally, but the essential is there, the rest is possible and requires only an extraordinary mustering of energy.

So I was up at dawn, ready to set to work, radiant. Fulfilled: all night long, through an abundant flow of dreams and the chaos of civilizations Algeria had sent me a sea of traces, visions, relaying packages across thousands of obstacles, bringing totally forgotten people to life, good as new, you imagine there's nothing left in the rubble, but have a peek over the railing here, what do you see?! Mohamed! I saw: Mohamed! who must have died ages ago, and not only did I see him but I could smell him and I thought I am not so poor and deserted as I believe. Mohamed in person ensconced in the stairwell on the Philippe Street. I had scrawled a few words on the paper to give an idea of Mohamed: tin pans burlap bags and who knows what else.

And now I couldn't set hand on them. Of the five pages I had written with unrestrained joy, which I am not making up, for I saw them written down, I could find only half a sheet, the first one, upon which I had written, without even switching on the light, the lines "The whole time I was living in Algeria, etc." up to "therefore I must" the rest had disappeared, which was not possible.

I started searching, there are lots of papers around, hundreds, a thousand maybe, and I didn't find them. I began searching again, more and more methodically and more and more irritably, I was boiling and pulled off a sweater, I riffled through files where only madness could have induced me to put those sheets, I searched the same files again immediately afterward, pretty soon I couldn't stop searching and not finding them, thinking deliriously there was no way I could stop looking for them without having found them it was getting to be a matter of life and death, but I could do nothing except sift, turn over, leaf through hundreds of pages, nothing on earth could have put a halt to my frenzy, two hours had passed already, two hours which means the hours most precious to me, the ones I'd set aside for rewriting in the light of day the famous pages night had granted me, hours which had veered from hope to the most raging despair, beyond a doubt I was digging my grave, the idea of suicide began to permeate the pit of paper, and even as I told myself to desist I stepped up the pace of the deadly digging, it never entered my mind to try and recall those pages, the idea of reconstituting them was unacceptable, I wanted those ones, the very ones that had been given me and which by an utterly inexplicable sleight of hand had vanished into thin air.

Of course, it stood to reason they existed somewhere. But I stood facing a wall that I groped at sobbing without finding the door. In addition, around eleven a.m. there was an inexplicable heavenly phenomenon: the sky grew totally black, and night fell. This is a fact. This incredible night rumbling with thunder, but dry, lasted an hour. In the midst of this night which held day off until noon, all lamps ablaze, I searched and searched. I could do nothing else. I took note in passing of the concordance of the signs. But nothing could release me from my moral obligation, and nobody could have broken the atrocious spell that bound me. I pondered this in a corner of my mind: only a death my mother's maybe could have snapped the chains, yes maybe only that. Some kind of suffering able to vie with the suffering that held me clamped in irons. All that in the gloom and dark. I couldn't renounce It. One is going to die and there is no death. There is nothing worse I was thinking the way a candle flickers toward extinction my mind flickered there is nothing worse, but almost. To lose but incompletely to lose almost and to be relegated to the suffocating verge of death without being able to do a thing about it, and no other port or portal than die or dead. It's a horror film, just a movie we say perhaps but the horror is heartstopping.

Okay, I tell myself slowly between two cardiac spasms (and during this time, my mother who could see me fading away in anguish was searching everywhere, in the kitchen, in her buffet) at the end of the lost morning, devoted to madness, now this is exactly what used to happen with Algeria, when I was living there: I had it, I'd got a grip on it-I didn't have it any longer, I'd never had it, I'd never held it in my arms. Precisely: I'd go after it, and it wasn't too far off, I used to live in Algeria, in Oran to begin with then in Algiers, I was living in the city of Oran and I used to search for it after that I was living in the city of Algiers and I'd be looking for the entryway and it kept eluding me, on its own earth, beneath my feet I could never touch it, I wanted the door to open, now I have to find a way to tell about the expedition I threw myself into heart and soul looking for Algeria, how I spent the first part of my Oran life looking for the four pages, feverishly and relentlessly how I finally gave up, thinking I'd be able to when I got to Algiers in the second half of my day, how in the Clos-Salembier I had the glimmer of an illusion, corresponding to my mother's entry into my study half an hour ago, her face alight in hopes of resuscitating me, holding out a pad of paper! oh! I know it! from afar! my writing! and for a moment I believed I was saved but this pad no it's my dreambook which I've already leafed through ten times, it's not that it's not that, just as in the garden of the Clos-Salembier I would nestle against Aïcha the minute she lowered her veil in the little courtyard at the end of the section of the driveway that runs along the right side of the house, at the kitchen door, with as witnesses the hens opposite and to the right locked in his cage the character of Fips the dog, in imitation of whom my brother and I weren't yet aware we were alive-there, in this little cement plot called the yard, I snuggled up to Aïcha's body and laughing she let me hug her country for a fraction of a second and that was all, except for the hundreds of doors of the Clos-Salembier which, from beyond the garden grill, slid lowered eyes in our direction.

As a matter of fact the following pages had been about my mother and what she called her suicide that is the way she had occasioned her own loss in other words the Clinic, her work of art, her creation and her extraordinary mill for turning babies out into the light of Algerian day, an immense loss without equivalent, for unlike me she would never have left Algeria otherwise (other than by the misfortune called involuntary suicide). "The whole time I was living in Algeria" as I told myself with broad luminous strokes in those pages I couldn't yet bring myself to believe were gone, I had desired it and not just vaguely, distractedly, but urgently, with the doggedness of the head-over-heels-in-love, I could spend days and months posted in the streets, demanding a miracle, an arrival, an apparition, convinced I would obtain what I never did get by the sheer power of thought.

And to think that one day I about-faced and broke with this attachment. To think it is I who left, and my mother the German who stayed behind.

But in the end the one who didn't leave and who had never longed for nor broken with nor sought the one who always found her way without the least difficulty in the hairpin turns of the cities and shantytowns and who had never feared nor desired nor awaited nor gnashed her teeth and who with great regularity had kept the Clinic going turning out year after year several hundreds of newborns the one who unlike me was in the center and in the middle and in the interior, she's the one who once and precipitately was dismissed and given twenty-four hours to be out of the house. She who had never so much as dismissed a cleaning lady or midwife. She was furthermore so firmly implanted in the great uterus that only a violent abortive maneuver could have dislodged her. While I on the other hand had never ceased to hang by a thread to what was most uncertain right up to the day when exhausted by the work of joining that I myself performed I chose to call it quits.

It was this same anguish that was driving me crazy, the anguish of not finding the thing itself, whose author and creature I am, which I had in my hand, which is under my roof, among me, and which starts to take over, to invade me, invest my lungs, my ears, my head, saturating me with its absence, its withdrawal, which turns my whole body into a searing pain. But perhaps, I thought suddenly, this incomprehensible accident is not merely the sudden yawning of an abyss smack in the middle of my study on whose lip I crawl, perhaps it's not a hole in the universe or in my skull. Perhaps, I started to tell myself, during the thick night of noon which could hardly have been more realistic and nonetheless never-before-seen, it is not a weird and inauspicious occurrence. But quite the contrary. It is incredibly like that sort of Algerian disorder I used to get in Algeria or that Algeria got to me, that feeling of being possessed by a feeling of dispossession and the response I produced to this, that struggle to vanquish the unfindable that can lead to self-destruction, just like old times, here, in my study, after so many years. Prey to the unmournable my soul gnaws at me till it draws blood.

Then with an excruciating effort I broke with myself I severed myself I don't know how, it's as if I took hold of myself, and I dragged myself away from this scene of being sucked up. Next, still not knowing how, I made myself in two. And I put my own madness into my own work. By some kind of magic, I faced myself in the other direction. I had lost a treasure I couldn't replace. And this irreparable loss was going to take the place of the pages whose demise I could not yet admit, even if, as time went by, I was getting closer to giving up the search that is to giving up a limb of my soul.

-You didn't know Algeria, says my brother, he too given twenty-four hours to leave the known country, this was his sentence and its conclusion. This is how he attacks the subject. As usual we were sitting in the armchairs in which we take our places every time the scene in which we are the first couple gets underway again unbeknown to us. Naturally I don't see this scene when I am in it I am in the armchair it's only now stepping off to the side of the page that I see us and recognize the need for the chairs as guardrails. The room however calm it may appear is in fact buffeted by great gusts of violence, it looks as though we are talking to one another, but no idle chatter, in truth without appearing to leave our chairs it is titanic what we lift and overturn, a coastal country edged by a sea that we do not cease to heave up, bore into, traverse in all directions, the whole of the cemetery with its tombs whose stones monuments poor boxes we shake, putting our sorrows and anger together, like the crumbs of a filthy carnivorous banquet, the Cities, City of Oran and City of Algiers, beneath our bare feet-each time I catch sight of my brother's feet, his big toes curled over the steps, his way of gripping the world with his toes, I see my own feet of old, it is by our feet you see the relationship, the same feet, and they are my father's feet, the same way, my brother-my father, of taking Algeria by the soil-my brother never having stopped holding on and being held, I on the other hand having one day relaxed my grip and let go-and our bare feet feel the flexing of the seismic muscles of this ever-quaking earth. My brother's move. Always he who starts. The chess game is a fiction. A frail shadow of our give-and-take, a remains of the battle our father taught us. But I've noticed that each time we take our seats in the armchairs or almost, my brother leans forward, and each time I think he's going to play the knight. And me, the minute I can open up lines for the bishop I send him out. And both of us obviously protect the Queen. But in fact we have never set the chessboard up between us since our Clos-Salembier days.

None of what has gone back and forth between the armchairs over the decades has ever been insignificant. At the very least it is a plowing up with bones exhumed and the wreckage of moves, and it is often a war in which we are the original sworn brothers, shoulder to shoulder against the successive masks of the world enemy, joined in the battle against the world by the fire of an internal struggle which flares up again, which we rekindle when we meet by the friction of our equally sharp temperaments.

The minute we sit down in the chairs, my brother launches his attack. Always him who starts, I thought, head on, while when it's my turn to speak, I come from behind, over a shoulder or under a knee, but my brother is frontal. To be more precise: we head for the armchairs each time the demon of brotherhood nudges us in that direction. For the armchairs are the seat of brotherhood. In the armchairs I am next to my brother at his side and by his side on the one hand as the sister of a brother and on the other hand as an extra brother. Because if at home we rub one another till we flare up, facing the world we were always a single camp multiplied.

-You didn't know Algeria, he says, to conclude my opening remarks, after I read him the sentences salvaged from the disaster saying how I would have done anything to arrive in Algeria in the days I used to live there with my brother, at which point my brother bats it back with a flick of his wrist, an old trick, left over from our ping-pong games in the garden of the Clos-Salembier where we slashed mercilessly at the balls-the balls being needless to say condensed sentences.

"Because when after waiting for five aching years which at our young age was as good as twenty we saw it appear at last that which had been looked for-begged for hoped for praised to high heaven its imaginary wheels stroked by our overexcited palms at each sacred occasion when it was logically if not reasonably permitted to imagine it coming" I had jotted these lines on my pad, when my brother took the words out of my mouth as if he feared or foresaw rightly or wrongly that I might pinch the Bike story.


Excerpted from Reveries of the Wild Woman by HÉLÈNE CIXOUS
Copyright © 2000 by Éditions Galilée. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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