Approximating ‘some living feminine’ with Hélène Cixous, women’s art cinema and experimental film
Intermittently from the 1970s to the present, feminist film theory and film-philosophy invokes the work of Hélène Cixous, a writer most well-known in the anglophone sphere for ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ (1975). Typically, this Cixous of the Medusa manifesto is summoned to articulate a transgression of the body or the senses into the text, to horrifying or humorous effect. However, various Cixous exist, with various implications for feminist film theory and film-philosophy.
Across the thesis, I trace three restorations of vision in Cixous’ work. Cixous’ turn to vision is not a return simply to the objective, transcendent gaze. It is situated in the subjective. It is acknowledged as a gift not to be taken for granted: susceptible to erasure and failure, to the blindness and the darkness that came before. With a new acuity of vision, Cixous nonetheless moves away from the feminine as connotative of either monstrous multiplicity or death, the Medusa or the abyss, to approximate ‘some living feminine’ as consonant with women who exist in the world.
In the thesis, I go by way of this Cixous to films by Chantal Akerman, Joanna Hogg, Angela Schanelec, Helena Wittmann and Laida Lertxundi. In images of the bed and the window, of water and apples, oranges and lemons, the privilege of vision is used by these women filmmakers to complicate associations of the domestic and the feminine with the passive and also to attend to the world outside of the home, the world women equally inhabit.
If there is some sense in feminist film theory and film-philosophy that we would be better off blind, that the gaze under the sign of women is blurred, dazzled, unreliable, or otherwise only occurs against the grain, or that a recuperation of vision is possible only in a translation of it to touch, then this thesis sees things differently with Cixous, at the window of contemporary women’s art cinema and experimental film.