As soon as I say ‘Allemagne’, Algérie rises and follows it like its shadow. I note that I say ‘Allemagne’ in French, because it is in French that my mothers wove and sheltered their house and their body aus Deutschland. Hid them, when they thought it was necessary during the war. They ‘smuggled’ their primary truth under cover of French. At home in Oran, Omi always said ‘where we come from’, ‘chez nous’, in French, to formulate a law or an authoritative custom, and this ‘where we come from’ was Germany. On occasion I heard her say ‘Bei uns’, but her imperative way of printing the German order in our brains chose to ‘speak German in French’ to us in order to impose herself. Still today, the word Allemagne has the taste of Dom and Schlagsahne for me, or a Schubertian sonorous fluidity. In my doublelanguage childhood – Dyoublong, as Joyce says – French passed as German and German flowed into French, to my great satisfaction. Invitations from one language to another gave me a playful pleasure that seems to me today like the primal scene of all jouissance: to be two, as two, to be the other with myself, to always have the helping hand of a supplement, to never be enclosed in the cell of the proper-to-myself, of the national, to dispose of all means of transport, to overflow at will. The delight of painlessly foreigning oneself.
Born in Algeria in 1937, from a Sephardic Algerian father and an Ashkenazi German mother, Hélène Cixous moved to France in 1955, where she quickly became Professor of English literature. She created the experimental Université Paris VIII in 1968, and the first French doctoral program in Women’s Studies in 1974. She is now Emeritus Professor and teaches at the Collège International de Philosophie. She has been distinguished with honorary degrees by many universities around the world, and her literary prizes include the Prix Médicis (1969), the Prix des Critiques for best theatrical work (1994), the Prix Marguerite Duras (2014) and the Prix de la langue française (2014). She has been ‘house playwright’ at Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil for more than thirty years. The translations into a wide range of languages attest to the international recognition of her oeuvre. A writer who consistently breaks down the boundaries of genre (and of gender), she poses many intellectual challenges with her texts that are rooted in the practices of fiction, theory, and criticism, and yet depart from them.
Introduction by Antonio Castore
An ICI Berlin event, organized by Claudia Peppel
The keynote is part of the conference Untying the Mother Tongue: On Language, Affect, and the Unconscious, organized by Federico Dal Bo and Antonio Castore
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