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Cixous, Hélène

In the English-speaking world, the Algerian-born French novelist, philosopher, and playwright Hélène Cixous is recognised for the idea of 'écriture feminine' - as well as for the prolificacy and distinct style of her own writing, which, fiction and not, freely crosses the critical with the poetic. Although often viewed as a proponent of French feminism, the term used by Cixous is, instead, ‘feminine’. Rather than as an adjective that is exclusively applied to women, the feminine is understood by Cixous as a position. Écriture feminine therefore is not writing authored exclusively by women, but rather a way of writing that demolishes a normative ‘male’ syntax that is associated with the grammatical and rhetorical conventions and limits primarily associated with a Western canon of knowledge. (Thus the work of James Joyce is an example of écriture feminine.) Cixous is also noted for her role in initiating and developing new models of education. In post-1968 Paris, she was appointed ‘chargé de mission’ in the founding the experimental Université de Paris VIII at Vincennes - designed as a place of learning with an alternative structure to the usual hierarchies of institutional education and counting Michel Foucault, Tzvetan Todorov, Félix Guattari, and Gilles Deleuze amongst its faculty. In 1974 she founded the Centre de Recherches en Etudes Féminines at Paris VIII, and initiated a permanent weekly seminar on the poetics of sexual difference. From 1975 until the late 1980s, she worked closely with the Des Femmes publishing house, with which she published her own work and initiated the first translations of the novels of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. The borders between the visual and verbal, seen and unseeable, have been one of a number of recurrent motifs, and in more recent years, Cixous has developed a number of close collaborations with visual artists, including Roni Horn and Alexandra Grant.

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