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Last Updated on August 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478

Cixous's essay "The Laugh of the Medusa" addresses the fact that language has been a discourse constructed by men with biases obvious and encoded throughout. She suggests écriture féminine—women's writing—as a way for women to reconstruct and discover themselves.

If the male-dominated writing is "A," then a feminine writing...

(The entire section contains 478 words.)

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Cixous's essay "The Laugh of the Medusa" addresses the fact that language has been a discourse constructed by men with biases obvious and encoded throughout. She suggests écriture féminine—women's writing—as a way for women to reconstruct and discover themselves.

If the male-dominated writing is "A," then a feminine writing would seem to be "not A." However, Cixous warns that this is still defining women and women's writing in terms of the male discourse. She urges women to think of themselves as emerging from their own imaginations (both as individuals and collectively as women). So instead of "not A," she might suggest B–Z as a variety of alternatives for what women's writing and experiences can be.

Cixous draws on the psychoanalytic work of Freud and Lacan. She notes that Lacan's Imaginary Order stage is more feminine—associated with the mother-child relationship and the infant's first notion of self (in its mirror image). Lacan's Symbolic Order is more historically male in that it orders subjects (males and females, classes, etc.) to accept their roles in society. Again, since this historical order has been patriarchal, the Symbolic Order necessarily contains those encoded suppressions of women. The Imaginary Order, as a stage in life, precedes the Symbolic and thus is seen as a liberating space/time in which to at least illustrate a concept of liberating space for the woman (before the conditioning of that Symbolic Order).

Because females have been historically defined as "not men," their sense of self has been determined by how they must lack something that men have. She challenges Freud's notion of penis envy. This has particular relevance to her deconstruction of the presence/absence binary that is related to male/female genitalia. She then continues on this deconstruction of presence/absence, discussing how this absence or lack has been associated with notions of being incomplete, mysterious, and even similar to a "dark continent." Men have historically conquered or suppressed that which is dark, mysterious, or "other" than they are. Women's writing, as Cixous puts it, is not just a discourse that is wholly women's (beyond male dominated language). It is also a means of challenging all of these misguided perceptions of women as incomplete or lacking something.

Cixous uses the laughing Medusa to replace the monstrous Medusa of myth, in order to deconstruct the idea that a powerful woman is something to be feared and therefore must be conquered and/or suppressed (by men). In this swoop, she challenges phallocentric discourse and its suppression of women and fights back with a loving gesture (laughing), rather than reversing that suppression.

This essay is rigorous and difficult at times, but it is cogent and thorough, covering a great deal of ground in a short space—feminist theory, psychoanalysis, linguistics, post-structuralism, sociology, biology, and deconstruction. Women's writing, particularly poetry, is an initial move toward liberation.

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