As a white woman, Cixous draws upon the oppression placed upon her black “sisters” (to steal a term from popular culture), expressing the double negative placed upon black women because they are both black and women. On page 887 of “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Cixous speaks of women “from afar, from always,” returning to reclaim and write their selves. She describes the condemnation of these women by men (interpreted as the patriarchy in general) as well as “the sex cops [who] bar their threatening return” as follows:

You can incarcerate them, slow them down, get away with the old Apartheid routine, but for a time only. [Sidenote: I was reminded of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” while reading this sentence.] As soon as they begin to speak, at the same time as they’re taught their name, they can be taught that their territory is black: because you are Africa, you are black.

This essentializing viewpoint describes the process of colonization, segregation (and the “old Apartheid routine”) as well as other ways in which “whiteness” has powered over – in fact has written over – “blackness” and other racial and ethnic differences. She continues to give the reasoning behind the atrocities:

[These women are taught] Your continent is dark. Dark is dangerous. You can’t see anything in the dark, you’re afraid. Don’t move, you might fall. Most of all, don’t go into the forest. And so we have internalized this horror of the dark.

After pointing out the stereotypes surrounding this racialized other (and this is my favorite part), Cixous decides to vocally reject these notions of fear, repression, and ignorance. She does not avoid the dark forest, unafraid of the difference constructed by our cultures. She speaks up against other-ization by attempting to embody the voice of the oppressed, which, as a(n angry) woman, she can do with some ease:

We the precocious, we the repressed of culture, our lovely mouths gagged with pollen, our wind knocked out of us, we the labyrinths, the ladders, the trampled spaces, the bevies – we are black and we are beautiful.

We’re stormy, and that which is ours breaks loose from us without our fearing any deliberation. Our glances, our smiles, are spent; laughs exude from our mouths; our blood flows and we extend ourselves without ever reaching an end; we never hold back our thoughts, our signs, our writing; and we’re not afraid of lacking.

…From now on, who, if we say so, can say no to us? We’ve come back from always.

As I read this, I think about bell hooks and her notions of talking back and speaking out, of spreading black female voices and infiltrating a world of writing which is still male- and white-centered. There is also an obvious Freudian allusion in the passage where she states, “we’re not afraid of lacking,” of being seen as inferior, of being ostracized for who “we” are. The intersection of race and gender (as well as sexuality because each is inseparable, especially when looking at Cixous’s texts) is present here and is being deconstructed to produce a new and transgressing viewpoint of blackness as beautiful and as something to be embraced rather than avoided. Cixous is stating that there is not a lack in oppression; there is no inherent fault or flaw in the individuals or in the race itself, but rather in the institution causing the fear of darkness.


Daphne Gottlieb’s poem “haircut” reminded me of a discussion we had in class yesterday about gendered appearance and stereotypes about butch/femme. (I’m including the entire poem this time)

My baby keeps her hair
Number 2 guard, 1/4 inch white oster clippers short
short hair.

Not I’m-depressed-and-I’m-going-to-shave-my-head short,
just short.

She’s got beautiful baby-short hair.
Baby short, not basketball-player short
or concentration camp short or
or military short or militant short:
not monk short
or cancer short.

Her gray hairs shine like
flashbulb filaments,
one for each brilliant
idea she has.

She’s getting more and more
gray. She says it’s my

My baby keeps her hair
Nothing to cling to desperately,
nothing to get tangled up in.
My baby keeps her hair short–
she likes it that way
and so
do I.

I feel like Gottlieb is using hair, an aspect of the body, as a marker of an identity. She makes sure to distance her lover’s hair from both “military short” and “militant short,” images often tied to women with short hair, but does not create a hierarchy between the concepts; she just points out what Is (reminding me of the reading Safe Trip in which calling the narrator’s lover a bull dyke is like yelling “Trees!” at a forest).

Because hair (specifically long hair) is so closely tied to what could be considered hegemonic femininity, rejecting the ideal is a way of subverting gender norms. Although Daphne herself has long hair (from any pictures I’ve seen), which could lend itself at first glance to the butch/femme sexual stereotype, Daphne rejects that as well with her language usage. In other poems in which she is the first-person narrator, she uses strong and sometimes masculine language, which would tend to conflict with her outward appearance. Likewise, she refers to her short-haired lover as “my baby” repeatedly, calling her hair “beautiful” and “Baby short,” also conflicting with norms relating to such short of hair.

On a personal level, I love this poem because it deals with short hair as an identity marker. Although this may seem silly, as soon as I chopped my own hair off (which seems slightly longer than the subject’s in this poem) I immediately felt more connected to the “queer” label that I claim as an act of moving outside of the gender binary.

In this poem on pages 73 and 74 of Why Things Burn, Daphne Gottlieb describes how she chose writing poetry as a teenager:

“forgetful, I spent a year writing poems
feverish, as if each was the first
about girls, me, and all
the things that happened to those girls, me
and all those poems, monsters the way
adolescence is monstrous”

Using writing as a sanctuary from a “monstrous” adolescence, she reconnects with her self despite, “the isolation of the unfamiliar body / that no longer even remembers itself.” However, as the poem progresses the reader learns that she accidentally left her notebook out, which her father finds and reads. In describing her father’s response, she says that he witnessed puberty like a disease invading his daughter, and she was “a 14-year old host vulnerable to foreign bodies / the enemy, the trembling, the bodies”

By using the metaphor of an illness, a “wild, unchecked growth,” young Daphne takes on the role of the plagued and disease-ridden, being preyed on and used by the “foreign bodies,” both hers and – more importantly – others’.  However, the lack of symbiosis/healthiness in the relationship Daphne had with these invasive bodies escapes her father, the doctor, who responds to her confessional poetry by saying: “you know who / that girl is / don’t you? / that girl’s / a whore.”

In he language her father chose (“that girl” and “whore”) he distances himself from her, furthering her feelings of being misunderstood and preyed upon. Now, Daphne has not only been betrayed by a multitude of things: the invasive bodies of others, her own body during the turmoils of adolescence, her father, as well, in part, by her poetry. In an attempt to be honest and confessional, she is outcasted once again, which clearly has emotionally scarring effects on young women. Although she does not recall in this particular poem the specifics about her sexual encounters with other boys (or men), I assume they are intense and difficult for her to process at a young age. This sexuality seems to be placed opon her by Other Bodies and is now labeled as deviant by an outsider, her father.

As a woman, I could think back to the invasiveness of not only puberty but also young men who attempt to test their limits and take advantage of our “unfamiliar bod[ies],”  could remember feeling disconnected and unsure about my own sexual impulses and those of others. This sexual ostracization was difficult for me to read because it felt so real and personal, which is only one of the many reasons why Daphne’s poetry has such an impact on me each time.