chapter  7
The Gift: Helene Cixous and Jaques Derrida
Pages 17

The importance of the gift in the thinking of Hélène Cixous around sexual difference is quite generally acknowledged by her readers; this is no doubt influenced by strong statements in some of her best-known works: in The Newly Born Woman she writes: “All the difference determining history’s movement as property’s movement is articulated between two economies [the feminine and the masculine] that are defined in relation to the problematic of the gift” (80).1 I would argue that the gift is equally important in the thinking of her compatriot, Jacques Derrida, although it is not so regularly signposted by his commentators.2 To some critics of Cixous the alignment of Cixous and Derrida may seem strange: she has been charged with a number of suspect tendencies (essentialism, biologism and so on) which appear quite alien to deconstruction. And yet, even before considering conceptual similarities as well as differences in their writing, we might note that in terms of strategic public practices they have been united in a number of significant ways, for example: Derrida as the key speaker alongside Cixous at her first Etudes féminines conference in 1990 or Derrida interviewed in a Boundary 2 special issue on Cixous, the piece entitled “voice ii,” after the interview with Cixous entitled “voice i.”3 Cixous and Derrida have much in common: a certain background, a range of cultural and philosophical references, a radical questioning of much of what had gone without saying in intellectual debate prior to the late sixties, and certain aspirations in the ethical and political domain-all these inflect upon their preoccupation with the gift. However, Cixous’ domain is that of the creative writer and the literary critic while Derrida’s is that of the philosopher. Both have worked to make their respective domains permeable to a range of discourses to the point where the reminder of disciplinary boundaries may seem quite inappropriate; and yet, I

would argue, the difference in the disciplines with which each struggles is part of the gap between them. This article will attempt to bring together some of Cixous’ references to a possible feminine gift economy with Derrida’s theorisation of the impossibility (and necessity) of the gift, in particular in the recently published Given Time: I and in his writings on sexual difference.4 Cixous herself brings them together with respect to their interrogations of the gift in an interview with Verena Andermatt Conley:

The question of the gift is a question on which we have worked a lot, marking it and following it, if one may say, with a step as light and as airy, as “feminine” as possible. The question is of course the following: Is it possible that there is a gift? It is a question that has been treated at length by Derrida in a seminar on the philosophical mode, etc. Is there such a thing as a gift; can the gift take place? At the limit, one can ask oneself about the possibility of a real gift, a pure gift, a gift that would not be annulled by what one could call a countergift. That is also what Derrida worked on. (158)

One: An Intertextual Economy

Relations between texts (or between “authors”) can themselves be modelled according to different economies-hence Cixous’ characterisation of certain writing as écriture féminine on account of its generous relation to “the other/’ Harold Bloom’s theory of the anxiety of influence might be regarded as an account of writing both as fighting over property and fighting with property (an expression sometimes used to designate potlatch). This intertextual relation between Cixous and Derrida could engender and disseminate: it could produce references (direct or indirect) to a series of other intertexts. I want to suggest that this is also a sexed relation between a male philosopher and a female writeralthough each of these designations can be called into question.5