Week 1: The Laugh of Medusa

Apr 02, 2021

This week I focused on a work of Hélène Cixous, an Algerian feminist, literary critic, and philosopher. Her essay, “The Laugh of Medusa”, focuses on feminine writing and its role in women’s liberation. Her work is as fearsome as it is brilliant. The main argument, similar to that found in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, is that the act of writing is liberating. Additionally, through writing, women will reclaim their bodies and assert themselves in history, literature, and the world. Cixous uses the mythic story of Medusa as a metaphor for gender relations. Medusa, who was cursed for her beauty by the goddess Minerva and turned into a hideous figure, was famously slain by Perseus. Cixous compares this slaying to the way that men have silenced women throughout history. Cixous notes that it is impossible to define a practice of feminine writing, and I agree. To define would mean to limit, to enclose. It is difficult to construct an accurate definition using words steeped in centuries of phallocentrism. So, as Cixous states, feminine writing will be “conceived only by subjects who are breakers of automatisms”. 

Perseus with the Head of Medusa

Antonio Canova (Italian, 1757–1822). Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1804–6. Marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher Fund, 1967 (67.110.1).

Medusa with the Head of Perseus

Moon, Jeenah. Medusa with the Head of Perseus. The New York Times. 13 Oct. 2020.

In the context of my project, this essay is fascinating. Not only is Cixous urging women to write their own narratives, but she also justifies her plea with an allusion to Greek mythology. When I begin to read my main texts, I’m curious to see if Cixous would consider these examples of feminine writing. Since they are reinterpretations of classical myths attributed to men, I wonder if Cixous would argue that they fall into the category of phallocentric. One could argue that they do since Cixous notes that looking to the past and writing within the phallocentric confines of literary tradition is the enemy of feminine writing. However, I would disagree. Although I absolutely loved this essay, I believe that excluding the experiences of our collective past is another set of shackles to place on women and their work. Either way, I believe we would agree that feminine writing must cast aside the terms and paradigms dictated by the patriarchal past.

Having engaged with Cixous, I’m especially excited to dive into Silence of the Girls next week.





4 Replies to “Week 1: The Laugh of Medusa”

  1. Asha W. says:

    I absolutely love the work you’re doing Elizabeth! Including the two photos for comparison was amazing, you can see the different emotions in the sculptures as well. The pride that Perseus exudes with his chest out and shoulders back, and the anger and passion in Medusa as she keeps her head down and her eyebrows furrowed. Really great work, I’m excited to hear more!

  2. Liam D. says:

    This is very interesting! When I read the literature I tend to forget that there is a tremendous amount of historical background and context. I thought that the idea of Cixous urging women to write their own perspectives interesting but also how they were originally attributed to men and how that could affect the outcome.

  3. Brett G. says:

    It is quite interesting how you are able to see multiple different arguments with regard to Cixous’s writing, and how you interpret the information that you have learned. I look forward to reading your next post on the second literary critic, and seeing how that compares to this first one!

  4. Jacob H. says:

    I really enjoyed your analysis of phallocentrism in language, and how that relates to feminine writing as a means of liberation. It’s incredible how you engage your own perspective with the text and build up a dialogue with Cixous. Wonderful use of media to show the mirror images of Perseus and Medusa, I can’t wait to read your next analysis!

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