Thursday, 9 July 2015

“The milky taste of ink!”

Even in its effervescent qualities, writing begins in and with the body. Yet writing brings attention to the metaphysic recesses of body, soul, and experience we may not otherwise “see.”

“Maybe I have written to see…from the tips of fingers that transcribe by the sweet dictates of vision. From the point of view of the soul’s eye: the eye of a womansoul.”
(HC, Coming to, p. 4)

To trace “birth” and writing, in and with Hélène Cixous, I begin with the body. Also, the female body and Cixous’ contemplations of how she-body-writes.

One of Cixous' early tracts dates to 1970s feminism. Her essay, Laugh of the Medusa, was/is well know to North American audiences. This is likely due to its speedy translation at the time, and its absorbing qualities, being a writing-manifesto towards women-of-the-time. All those who voices had been silenced, or not given to the page:

“By writing herself, woman will return to the body which has been more then confiscated from her….Write yourself. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.”
(HC, Medusa, p. 880)

“To become at will the taker and initiator, for her own right, in every symbolic system, in every political process” (p. 880)

SYMBOLIC systems. A pressing idea for me. The importance of symbols and symbolism we live by. Linguistic signing, also coming from my current gift economy reading. The notion that there is a “symbolic order of the mother” (L. Muraro, in Vaughan, 2015), a maternal symbolic order, that is either hidden and/or repressed by the phallocentric. Where the “symbolic order” is usually associated with psychoanalytic theory (Lacan) and the absence of the mother (who is "the real"), and a lot of theory I have to work at more to represent herein. In Lacan, language is the domain of the father, and the "law" (Freud). 

The “symbolic” has to do with language, and our need of symbols for communication in community and culture. In other words, to re-claim a “symbolic order of the mother,” is to say that mothers direct a symbolic order, through introduction of language, symbol, and communication.

I'm coming back to "mothers" over and over in this blog. As the organic inquiry of my research, mothers are arising as a locus of this work. I get it. I am "paying" attention!

In seeking symbolic female/feminine systems, what could be more obvious then birth and birth giving? “Birth” is that ever present and completely under-theorized, under-represented topic of inquiry, from female/feminine philosophical perspectives of its ACTUAL experience, and mothers’ self-described stories of such.

The immediacy with which Cixous recognizes and writes birth (and what I mean by this is female/feminine, woman-centred birth, not the pain-glorified, fear-full, biblically-induced, popular culture version of such), suggests her close and investigative relationship with the topic. Early on in Cixous' life, this was via Eve, her mother. Her mother-the-midwife, who for many years of Cixous’ youth and young adulthood (after the death of the father), ran a birth-clinic serving an Arab, not-French population, in Algeria. Cixous may have attended and witnessed many birth-givings with her mother.

She notes this midwifery in her writing:

“I give birth. I enjoy giving births. I enjoyed birthings—my mother is a midwife—I’ve always taken pleasure in watching a woman give birth. Giving birth “well.” Leading her act, her passion, letting herself be led by it, pushing as one thinks, half carried away, half commanding the contraction, she merges herself with the uncontrollable, which she makes her own. Then, her glorious strength!”
(HC, Coming to, p. 30)

This paragraph goes gloriously on and on in its birthing:

“Giving birth as one swims, exploiting the resistance of flesh, of the sea, the work of breath in which the notion of “mastery” is annulled, body after her own body, the woman follows herself, meets herself, marries herself. She is there. Entirely, mobilized, and this is matter of her own body, of the flesh of her flesh. At last! This time, of all times, she is hers, and if she wishes, she is not absent, she is not fleeing, she can take and give of herself to herself.”
(HC, Coming to, p. 30-31)

This description reaches for the internal experience of birth. What midwives and experienced birth-givers can tell other women of its territory. To surrender to the experience, to be completely present as it demands of us. Yet the feeling of pure focused intensity which birth brings us, which we can both surrender to and direct. The truth of meeting one-self. Doing away with (annulling) the notion of "mastery," which Cixous also goes beyond in her writing. 

Cixous writes MORE, more of birth, and I love it all. Go, go, Cixous!

“It was in watching them giving birth (to themselves) that I learned to love women, to sense and desire the power and resources of femininity; to feel astonishment that such immensity can be reabsorbed, covered up, in the ordinary.”
(HC, Coming to, p. 31)

And so her mother’s midwifery-based birthing brings Cixous to women, and a feminine understanding of life/power that is "hidden" in the everyday fact of birth. This factor of “loving women” (and babies) is common to midwives who attend birth after birth. The connection, inter-connection, and availability of birthing energies to instill a common grace among women. We welcome the new child earth-side through the incredible efforts of the birthing mother, running the line of life and death. Does the midwife-woman recognizes the female effort of the m/other as sacred, as blessed and fierce in its vulnerability, seeing a mirror of her-self, her own potential?

“Loving women” is not a central factor of medical practice, which tends to exploit the vulnerability of women giving birth in power-over relations. Perhaps based in the exchange economy of medical work, where the medical officer must give something that the woman herself does not have (i.e. machine-based assistance, meant to alleviate female experience of itself). There is something in midwifery of being mother to women, of which medical practitioners cannot, do not, or will not “give” in their practices (is it a missing gift economy, that only that midwife can practice?). There are exceptions of course. Some doctors may practice the gift, and view women lovingly. I would like to add Cixous’ paragraphs into midwifery and medical school curricula.

What do you think? Who does birth belong to, in our human condition? Cixous also asks, who does writing belong to? Writing being akin to birth. The creation of other beings—our relationship to creation in its effort, anguish, and ecstasy.

“—just like the desire to write: a desire to live from within, a desire for the swollen belly, for language, for blood…the unsurpassed pleasures of pregnancy which have actually been always exaggerated or conjured away—or cursed—in the classic texts. For of there’s one thing that’s been repressed here’s the place to find it: in the taboo of the pregnant woman.”
(HC, Medusa, p. 891)

And so Cixous conjures the pregnant, birthing text, source of life, and new (old) ways of writing body/soul. I suppose, without in my own life making the jump from art to midwifery, and back to art again (adding the craft of writing), would I so admire these passages. The declaration of female creativity they evoke from within the female birthing body. To claim and fall into writing is both an anguish and divine pleasure. The pregnant, birthing pleasure of women and goddesses.

“She gives birth….She has her source. She draws deeply.  She releases. Laughing. And in the wake of a child, a squall of Breath! A longing for text!....A child! Paper! Intoxications! I’m brimming over! My breasts are overflowing! Milk. Ink. Nursing time. And me? I’m hungry too. The milky taste of ink!”
                                               (HC, Coming to, p. 31)

Breath / Text
Child / Paper
Milk / Ink

Ahhhhhhhh……The milky taste of ink!

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