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The Day I Wasn't There (Avant-Garde &…
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The Day I Wasn't There (Avant-Garde & Modernism Collection)

by Helene Cixous

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Hélène Cixous is the greatest writer/thinker of the last 50-ish years. There have been great writers who don't think as well, and I love some of their books just as much. And great thinkers who do not write as well, and I appreciate their efforts, at times. But Cixous is a great modern thinker because like the Rodin sculpture, she thinks with her whole body, thrust forward. Not only in the mind, headcase, skull-numbed knocker, but also the visceral venereal contagion of the body, and the emotional rut and rot of the gut, she is a full-body thinker. Which is fine and good, but how often do you find someone like that who can also match such thinking-skills with writing-skills?

For that is exactly how you must read her, with your own full intellect, emotion, and bodily-thrust. That is the only way to fully comprehend her thought, which is so well-proportioned along all three axis. There have been others with comparable thinking/writing skills, for example Musil is great at both, but then he is a very male thinker. He thinks mostly with his head, and thus he is top-heavy, prone to toppling over if it weren't for his sense-of-humor which keeps him slightly more light-headed than he would otherwise be (this is totally not a dig, Musil being one of my favorite writers).It's this human porosity that bothers me and that I can't escape since it is the faith of my skin, the extra sense which is everywhere in my being, this lack of eyelids on the face of the soul, or perhaps this imaginary lack of imaginary lids, this excessive facility I have for catching others, I am caught by persons or things animated or unanimated that I don't even frequent, and even the verb catch I catch or rather I am caught by it, for, note this please, it's not I who wish to change, it's the other who gets his hooks in me for lack of armor. All it takes is for me to be plunged for an hour or less into surroundings where the inevitable occurs--cafe, bus, hair salon, train carriage, recording studio--there must be confinement and envelopment, and there I am stained intoxicated, practically any speaker can appropriate my mental cells and poison my sinuses, shit, idiocies, cruelties, vulgar spite, trash, innumerable particles of human hostility inflame the windows of my brain and I get off the transport sick for days. It isn't the fault of one Eichmann or another. I admit to being guilty of excessive receptivity to mental miasma. The rumor of a word poisons me for a long time. Should I read or hear such and such a turn of phrase or figure of speech, right away I can't breathe my mucous membranes swell up, my lips go dry, I am asthmaticked, sometimes I lose my balance and crash to the ground, or on a chair if perchance one is there, in the incapacity of breathing the unbreathable.But yes, Cixous. . . her writing is very raw, it's like this lidlessness she talks about, it allows you straight into her thinking and emotion with very little membrane in between. And she's quick to dispose of all writing conventions, grammar, and rules in order to convey whatever she wants most directly. Look, she's already abandoned her writing ship. 'Whatever it takes!' she says above the thunderous roar.But I remember the string beans. The title of the scene would be: "betrayed in the nick of time by a handful of beans snapped too fast." p.99 But it is also this ability of hers that makes her books difficult: to read her on multiple levels you must read her both carefully and carelessly. Because you must catch all her senses, you need to slow down to get the intellectual sense, but then you have to go back and read it again fast to get the rush of the words, the intonations and catch of her breath, the whats-said beneath the immediate sense of the words. Just as she herself does constantly when she thinks: as when she thinks about the conversation with her mother, she interprets her words one way but also observes the way she handles the string beans as saying something completely different with her body.

This book is a personal investigation, a thinking-back to her firstborn son's early death, a coming to terms with something she had not fully thought through before. What gets me in the end is how simple the 'solution' was. Being such an intelligent person, how did she not think to ask her brother for the cause of death? Was it that part of her really didn't want to know, that she was holding out on the answer which she must have suspected right in front of her the whole time? (this would line up with the whole "give me the poison pill but don't tell me that you're going to do it" theme of the book) Or was it that she was thinking in such subtleties that the obvious answer was always out of reach?

This book further solidifies my high opinion of Cixous upon reading her for the first time in [b:Double Oblivion of the Ourang-Outang|17028457|Double Oblivion of the Ourang-Outang|Hélène Cixous|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1356002739s/17028457.jpg|23344907]. But it also opens up the deep sorrow (or one of the many deep sorrows) that drives her forward. Although there were playful parts, the book as a whole was less 'balanced' than Ourang-Outang, it was a serious personal and emotional journey. Ourang-Outang, on the other hand, though also serious, was the best mix of serious and playful, intellectual and personal, a perfect light-but-not-too-light introduction to her I could have hoped for. Now I can't wait to read all the others.But later, I take the metro under the earth to go to the Cinema. I was going to see a film that I do not want to see but it's a duty I know. Un Specialiste. Repellent name. But impelled by my son the wind and drawn by the word that repels me, pulled this way and that off I go taking the way through the dark. As soon as there is species, special, I grow tense. Going to see the specialist was like delivering my myopia to the Cyclops to size up. More precisely handing my two quivering eyes like two fuzzy-eyed lambs over to be judged. In order to see the film called A Specialist it is necessary to have in your soul a region which is carefully insulated from the rest of your being so that the evil cannot ooze out indefinitely. To say I wanted to see it calls for an explanation: It is precisely the film one especially-does-not-want to see one wants nonetheless to see, just for that reason, because there is refusal repugnance and danger, that's how one day I ended up reading a book I especially-did-not-want to read because the minute I opened it I saw that everything took place in one sanatorium or another, places I force myself not to write satanorium by mistake, because for one reason or another if there is one place in the world I dread more than a prison or camp, because of the evil sorts of metamorphosis that happen to us there, it's the place called by the Latin word sanatorium: And likewise I have a repugnance for the Latin word in French specialiste, and likewise for the same Latin word in German. And in the same way after a losing battle with myself I end up writing a book that I especially-did-not-want to write. ( )
  JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
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