Miriam Schaprio, Baby Blocks

Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Literature: an Introduction to Hélène Cixous

Instructor: Paige Sweet
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

How can psychoanalysis be used to understand literature—not as an object of study, but as a mode of experiencing life through reading and writing? For Hélène Cixous, the “French Feminist” perhaps best known for the controversial practice of “feminine writing” (écriture feminine), literature offers a means of engaging and subverting systems of sexual hierarchy and difference, rendering accessible “hidden signifiers” and expressions otherwise inexpressible in ordinary socialized language. In Cixous’s hands, questions of sexual difference in writing are brought into contact with concerns about politics, ethics, and the unconscious, as well as displacement and marginality. How does language structure thought, and how, for Cixous, does “feminine writing” enable new experiences and understandings of self, identity, sexuality, and gender?

In this course, we will read a wide range of Cixous’s work, grappling particularly with her applications of psychoanalysis to literature and the means literature offers for engaging with and undoing social hierarchies. In what ways does textual experimentation (“broken” grammar, new words, rhythm, etc.) allow writers and readers to develop alternate economies (different value systems and models of exchange)? How might grammar and literary conventions correspond to normative ways of speaking about experience, and how might literature experimentally engage with otherness? How does sexual difference come to be embodied in texts? Taking a cue from Cixous’s method, we will read her work alongside several of the authors about whom she writes, including Clarice Lispector, James Joyce, Heinrich von Kleist, Franz Kafka, and others in order to understand what is at stake in her claim that writing is about pleasure, the body, and a lesson in living.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
April 14 — May 05, 2022


Registration Open