Hélène Cixous, a French writer of German- Jewish heritage,is fascinated by power, psychoanalysis, and language. In her poeticprose the abuse of the first leads to the necessity of the second and ifthoroughly accomplished, produces a new way of seeing and describingthe world, indeed a new language since one’s existence is so alteredthrough this process. So in Reveries of the Wild Woman, theauthor explores what it was like to be born in a beloved, thoughforeign, land and to live through the process of becoming a pariahbecause of one’s Jewish ancestry and because of Algeria’s civil war. HerMuse in this collection is “the Comer” who inspires and then removesthe memory of a totality of text, instead exploring remembered segmentsthat create a new context for her memories of this childhood time.Exemplifying this state, the author recounts and analyzes the advent of ayellow dog with a cat-like face who arrives during her father’s dyingdays. “We lock up our own brother, for the Dog it is hell…the world istopsy-turvy and the Dog has been betrayed. Am I Jewish, the Dogwondered I say…But what does Jewish mean wondered the Dog, and Arab,and dog, friend, brother, enemy, Papa, liberty nothing exists saveinjustice and brutality…” Her mother admits to their Jewish backgroundbut that is another “Jewish history…and not to be repeated in frontof strangers, she says.” Therefore the secret earns her an empoweringeducation where she learns to do battle from a Muslim perspective,“…making it incumbent upon me to take up a critical space considerablylarger than my dreamy inner space…” But the affected “wild woman” cannever deny the true identity that has shaped the very rebelliousessence of the poet seeking meaning in a world that would annihilate herreligious 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 clinicwhere his grandmother will be his only familial contact. The abandonmentparallels the grandmother’s status as a refugee from Nazi Germany. Themother never accepts the “lack” of this child, perhaps related to neveracknowledging her own Jewish background. In both situations, the motherhides a “defect,” defying attentive definition or love. “A madconfidence is manifest. Next to the face of her son all the newbornfaces project a sour little something, a little line of defense, ascribble, a grimace. He is smooth, abstract. As if he hadn’t risen.Pale, as if he hadn’t finished baking.” Another parallel is made withthe three-legged dog her parents gave her, representative of theever-present looming attempt to understand Jews, “All thesedistinctions, says my mother, Jews too, they make distinctions…butthey thought only Polish Jews were deported as if they were more Jewishfor being Polish and they more German albeit Jewish thus both more andless Jewish at once…But all this depends on how you look at it and issecondhand.” Is there any need to say more? The author’s rage isobvious.
These pages by Cixous are packed with the honesty andforthright satire of religious, political, and linguistic prejudicepermeating European and Middle Eastern culture to this day. The languageis intense; the psychoanalytical, literary, and journalistic approachesare fascinating in addressing what really matters about the value oflife, whether one is trying to live an observant or non-observant Jewishlife anywhere in the 21st century world.