Hélène Cixous Names Woman, Mother, Other: “a feminine plural like me”
The (Derridean, deconstructionist) project of theorizing the proper name has concerned itself with disentangling the carefully-woven veil of the “natural” and the “normal” which disguises its hold on right, power, and might. Its emphasis, therefore, has been on the bearers of the name (of the law), rather than on the nameless or those with improper names. To go in want of a name, to be unnamed, in Western culture is very much like being unmanned: men with power, both fathers and sons, are bearers of the proper name. Everyone else-women, mothers and daughters, but also immigrants and the colonized, and certainly slaves-have been forcibly given, have had to align themselves with, a proper name and thus, with the Selfsame who define, hold, and transmit property and propriety. Hélène Cixous has, over the course of two decades, both participated in this critical project and gone beyond it, enlarging its parameters and implications. My purpose here will be first to trace the contours of her extended naming project and then to
contextualize it somewhat differently. Examination of Cixous’ (re) naming project allows for, indeed insists upon, consideration of issues having to do with naming the Other; naming (self and other) and the ability to speak (and, crucially, be heard) are closely related. Attendant to Cixous’ own call that we behave with “delicacy with regard to the other,”2 I contextualize her work cross-culturally, by examining it with that of Other Women, others who have also struggled with the patronymic and who attempt to name female subjectivity (which is to name subjectivity differently) by grappling with the interlocking problems of naming and speaking for(th).