Hélène Cixous, a French writer of German- Jewish heritage, is fascinated by power, psychoanalysis, and language. In her poetic prose the abuse of the first leads to the necessity of the second and if thoroughly accomplished, produces a new way of seeing and describing the world, indeed a new language since one’s existence is so altered through this process. So in Reveries of the Wild Woman, the author explores what it was like to be born in a beloved, though foreign, land and to live through the process of becoming a pariah because of one’s Jewish ancestry and because of Algeria’s civil war. Her Muse in this collection is “the Comer” who inspires and then removes the memory of a totality of text, instead exploring remembered segments that create a new context for her memories of this childhood time. Exemplifying this state, the author recounts and analyzes the advent of a yellow dog with a cat-like face who arrives during her father’s dying days. “We lock up our own brother, for the Dog it is hell…the world is topsy-turvy and the Dog has been betrayed. Am I Jewish, the Dog wondered I say…But what does Jewish mean wondered the Dog, and Arab, and dog, friend, brother, enemy, Papa, liberty nothing exists save injustice and brutality…” Her mother admits to their Jewish background but that is another “Jewish history…and not to be repeated in front of strangers, she says.” Therefore the secret earns her an empowering education where she learns to do battle from a Muslim perspective, “…making it incumbent upon me to take up a critical space considerably larger than my dreamy inner space…” But the affected “wild woman” can never deny the true identity that has shaped the very rebellious essence of the poet seeking meaning in a world that would annihilate her religious and political reality.
An even more haunting quality permeates the entire memoir-novel, The Day I Wasn’t There, about a child born with Down syndrome and then abandoned to a clinic where his grandmother will be his only familial contact. The abandonment parallels the grandmother’s status as a refugee from Nazi Germany. The mother never accepts the “lack” of this child, perhaps related to never acknowledging her own Jewish background. In both situations, the mother hides a “defect,” defying attentive definition or love. “A mad confidence is manifest. Next to the face of her son all the newborn faces project a sour little something, a little line of defense, a scribble, a grimace. He is smooth, abstract. As if he hadn’t risen. Pale, as if he hadn’t finished baking.” Another parallel is made with the three-legged dog her parents gave her, representative of the ever-present looming attempt to understand Jews, “All these distinctions, says my mother, Jews too, they make distinctions…but they thought only Polish Jews were deported as if they were more Jewish for being Polish and they more German albeit Jewish thus both more and less Jewish at once…But all this depends on how you look at it and is secondhand.” Is there any need to say more? The author’s rage is obvious.
These pages by Cixous are packed with the honesty and forthright satire of religious, political, and linguistic prejudice permeating European and Middle Eastern culture to this day. The language is intense; the psychoanalytical, literary, and journalistic approaches are fascinating in addressing what really matters about the value of life, whether one is trying to live an observant or non-observant Jewish life anywhere in the 21st century world.