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(Un)grounding the human: Affective entanglements and subjectivity in Hélène Cixous’s Algerian reveries

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This article examines the place of the human in Hélène Cixous’s work. Taking her extended conversation with Mireille Calle-Gruber (‘Entre Tiens’) as a starting point, the article shows how Cixous employs the word ‘human’ to denominate a transformational, embodied process, directed at an ethico-political becoming, rather than to invoke a differentia specifica vis-à-vis other forms of life. She thereby moves our conceptions of the ‘human’ beyond rational subjectivity and universal humanism, and we find a double investment in the term: Cixous’s ‘human’ takes into account our material existences and affective entanglements with other (human and non-human) beings, but it also invokes our specific capacity as human beings to transform and create ourselves and our environments in unforeseen ways. Such a conception of the ‘human’ is deeply embedded in Cixous’s formative experiences in colonial Algeria, as this article argues with particular attention to Les Rêveries de la femme sauvage (2000) and her writings on Algeria published in Stigmata. Escaping Texts (1998). The article takes two recurring images in these texts as central examples to unravel the links between Cixous’s two strands to her understanding of ‘human’ and her experiences of colonial injustice. After first laying out the two strands, which become explicit in ‘Entre Tiens’, the article subsequently turns to the figure of Fips, the dog of the Cixous family in Algiers, and to the image of closed gates as markers of colonial dehumanization and racialized social inclusion/exclusion. By thinking through these figures, Cixous analyses the dehumanizing logic of colonialism and anti-Semitism and develops her own response to it, arguing for human relationality and affective corporeality, for the human as a specific disposition and responsibility within a larger universe, and she is shown to thus challenge the false humanism of the colonial project.
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Keywords: Cixous; affective corporeality; becoming; entanglement; human/non-human; subjectivity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Utrecht

Publication date: February 1, 2013

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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