Reserach of a Cat: To Feminsit Approaches in Art and Literatur

A Reading with Ella Eßlinger & Clara Richard Gostynski, Paula Henrike Herrmann, Noha Mokhtar & Sahar Suliman and Nadja Schmid
at Sputo, Dienerstrasse 33, 8003 Zurich

If we were about to listen to the philosopher, writer and professor Hélène Cixous today, she would perhaps tell us: A lot has happened since 1975, some things have remained the same, some things are still unseen and some things are still in troubel. Much still hovers in the unconscious, subterranean and hidden, unsaid and unthought. Cixous' essay "The Laughter of Medusa" (1975) refers to abody-related poetry in writing and script that allows the body (with all its experiences) to become the pen, which, like the lines it traces, draws along, does not assimilate the script, but follows the fne lines of a language. Through this gesture, the writing changes, (as it) never remains its own (Cixous'). Hélène Cisoux is concerned with the act of writing. Meaning can only be created and transformed through doing-it and the act of writing a text. "[...] When I write, all those who we do not know we could be write themselves from me, without exception, without foresight [...]. We will never miss each other."1 Cixous thus calls for a close reading and subsequent rewriting. An encouragement to take a closer look at the script and narrative, to drive up close, and not-to-get-tired of depict over and over again. Only the sum of the individual subjects who write down their experiences becomes a whole - the writing.

In addition, there is a process of translation of the written word, which generates something new and overcomes and blurs the supposedly "feminine" way of writing, which Cixous sees as never completed. Cixous thus understands writing as "over"- coming gender and gives writing a garment in the form of poetry, a garment contrary to that moulded by society. Right at the beginning of her text, Cixous warns us -"not to confuse the biological with the cultural."2 Cixous goes on to argue that female or male writing dissolves and recomposes itself into bi-sexual or non-binary writing. In other words, Cixous deconstructs a binary form of writing.
If I have just spoken of the translation process, which speaks of overcoming gender and the separation between biological and socio-cultural conditions, it can be argued that meaning - that is, the interpretation of language - is constantly shifting. It is lost in translation, stolen, appropriated. Small, different, "[...] secret cross-connections are created. It is no coincidence that "voler" plays with both meanings of "vol", steal and fight, enjoying one and the other and confusing the agents of sense."3 The ambiguity of "vol" and "voler" is lost when translated into German as "stehlen" and "fiegen" or into English as "steal" and "fly", but Cixous example shows that she does not understand it as an incorporation or an act of stealing texts, but that she can - "escape" her fxed meaning in writing. "[...] She is not concerned with herself, the airborne swimmer, in fight, she does not cling to herself; she is dispersible, prodigious, stunning, desirousand and capable of others, of the other woman that she will be, of the other woman, she is not, of him, of you."4 The fying thief is many things, which I will briefy attempt to describe below.

Because the (het)erogenous zone of women is an argument that should be added: To write in, to feel, to write in rage: „What's the meaning of these waves, these foods, these outbursts? Where is the ebullient, infinite woman [...].“5 There have been countless attempts (e.g./exempli gratia Freud) to accuse women of hysteria, loss of control and strong emotionality and to present them as something defcient and dysfunctional - as something that women should be ashamed of. A latent accusation that sees this behaviour as undesirable in the structure of education, society and cultural value creation. The flm "Poor Things" (2023) by Yorgos Lanthimos is a Gedankenexperiment on how female desire can exist or develop in a patriarchal system. In the Victorian, rigid 19th century, the monster of Dr Frankenstein6, now a researcher himself (Dr Baxter), implants the brain of her unborn baby into the brainpan of a suicidal woman. A child in the body of an adult woman (Bella Baxter). Bella quickly develops a sharp mind and intellect from her early childhood phase - she discovers masturbation with childlike curiosity, writing to philosophy and the injustices in life. Bella knows no shame, fear, inhibition or morals. A feminist monster, as the flm reviews often say. Dancing and provocative, Bella moves through a society that suppresses all surging energy, whether sexual or intellectual.
The flm can certainly be accused of having a male gaze. But perhaps a look at the roles of the protagonist and the audience offers a different reading, because this relationship is where the flm's strength lies. The potential lies in the relationship between the cinema-goers and the protagonist, because it takes the form of a dialogue. What is interesting about this Gedankenexperiment is the pleasure - recognising oneself or not, the erogenous zone, identifying with it and being able to act against morality. Nevertheless, with its steampunk aesthetic, the flm does not propose any instructions for our real lives, but rather poses the question of how and why we should feel pleasure, fear, shame and morality.

Now the story of Medusa (who appears in the title of Cixous' "The Laughter of Medusa") and Bella could not be more different. The beautiful Medusa (according to Ovid) was raped by Poseidon in a temple of Athena. As punishment, Athena made Medusa so ugly that everyone froze to stone at the sight of her. While Bella engages in different kinds of sex almost of her own free will. Why does Medusa's gaze in Cixous' essay not petrify us, but smile at us? "Cixous thus puts seeing, gazing and staring on a lower level than the tactile practices of writing. The latter are thus particularly emphasised in order to emphasise the dynamics of writing and speaking as opposed to the petrifed or thus encrusted side of writing."7 Cixous thus points out the opposites. Thus the history chiselled in stone, the petrifed writing, is to be seen in contrast to the dynamic writing and speaking. We cannot simply eliminate what has been chiselled, but we can take action or allow the word to be handed over. We can resist attributions by actively writing against them. Bella symbolically writes against it with her body and smiles at us. Medusa laughs against her condemnation.
Feminism is primarily about combating discrimination, oppression, inequality and other enormous restrictions. They are many, diverse and are perceived as feminine with different realities. Some struggle for bare survival, others are privileged. In order to do justice to the diverse conditions of women, I would therefore speak of feminism in the plural - feminisms. Examples of diverse feminist movements include Afro-international feminism, postcolonial feminist critique, queer feminism, etc. and their discussions of care work, sexualised violence or disability.8 But I don't want to presume to propose the theory of body-related poetry or the translation process here. To say that the experience of discrimination can be resolved by unravelling writing and overcoming gender would be fatal. But what all feminisms could have in common: Is the agency to write, to give space to write about the experiences, to make it tangible that one can write about them, at least the encouragement to try to expand the story, to imagine and begin to encourage others in turn to continue writing it. To demand free-spaces!

Over the arc of the fying thieves, the Bella and Medusa story and feminisms, I would like to draw on one last story. The story of ourfrst cultural-historical objects. In "The Carrier Bag Theory of Evolution" from 1979, the ethnologist Elizabeth Fisher explained that a container or vessel was at the beginning of the hunter-gatherer existence. This is evidenced by the climatic and physiological conditions four to fve million years ago. These led to humans feeding mainly on seeds, plants and proteins provided by small rodents and fsh. The constitution of our teeth and our eight-yard-long gut are indications of such a food.9 Fisher argues that containers were used to collect the harvest and nets and baskets were woven to catch fsh and small animals. Found and made objects that served as vessels, such as tree bark or animal skins, were used not only for gathering but also for carrying small children so that their hands were free for work that needed to be done. In her chapter on "Woman the Hunter"10, Fisher refutes the spear and spearhead stories about the hunters, which were often wrongly attributed only to the men. The division of labour was much more equal than is often said. Women also hunted, while men worked and gathered plants and edibles when more food was needed.
Of course, different communities and peoples have their own rules and division of labour, but it is worth asking questions that go against the usual heroic stories. As this cultural history shows, language has become a container that carries on attributions through the collecting and rewriting of stories.

Should the fying thieves now carry on their stories in different containers and should Bella and Medusa take their attribution and arrested agency with humour? What does this mean for all those who do not see themselves as being read as female? They can also adopt these strategies. A body knowledge, playful, erogenous zones, with a smile, implicit and situated knowledge, encouraging writing, juxtaposing terms and formulating the plus, transferring into the plural and back into the singular. "This exchange between the self and the other, the I and the you and fnally to the "we" - it shows [...] the changing relationship between author and reader"11reader and listener, in between – us.

1 Cixous (1975), S. 60
2 Cf. Cixous (1975), S. 39
3 Cixous (1975), S. 53
4 Cixous (1975), S. 55
5 Cixous (1975), S. 40
6 If we assume, as is usually discussed in the flm reviews, Mary Shelly's book Frankenstein is the precursor to the novel and the flm.
7 Ruf (2022), S. 99 f
8 Cf. Knapp (2001), S.12
9 Fisher (1979), S. 58
10 Fisher (1979), S. 70–75

Literature reference:

  • Cixous, Hélène, "The laughter of the Medusa". In: Postl, Gertrude et al. Hélène Cixous: Das Lachen der Medusa : zusammen mit aktuellen Beiträgen. German frst edition, 2nd, revised edition. Vienna: Passagen Verlag, 2017. print, p. 39 – 61
  • Fisher, Elizabeth. Woman's Creation : Sexual Evolution and the Shaping of Society. Garden City,
    N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1979. print. The Carrier Bag Theory of Evolution: pp. 56 – 61
  • Postl, Gertrude et al. Hélène Cixous: Das Lachen der Medusa : zusammen mit aktuellen Beiträgen.
    German frst edition, 2nd, revised edition. Vienna: Passagen Verlag, 2017. print. p. 13 – 37
  • Ruf, Oliver. The Writing of the Medusa: Insistences (Cixous - Derrida). In: Activity, Agentiality and Actants of Writing, In: Bartelmus, Martin and Nebrig, Alexander , Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2022. online. S. 83 -102
  • Knapp, Gudrun-Axeli. Foreword. In: Feminisms today: Positions in theory and practice. Mozygemba, Kati et al. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014. online. S. 9 -14